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Polyvagal Freeze vs Shutdown Video Quiz

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

I have a brief lesson on why it's dangerous to confuse freeze and shutdown of the Polyvagal Theory. And after that, I have a video quiz for you to test your ability to spot the difference.

Why this confusion is important

Freeze and shutdown of the Polyvagal Theory both refer to immobilization.


But the flavor of immobilization is very different.

This is important when it comes to therapy or working on your own process of getting unstuck from trauma. The flavor of your immobilization is going to affect what getting unstuck looks like for you. The intensity of freeze could benefit from active fidgeting, while the slowness of shutdown could benefit from being immobile in an environment with reduced stimulation.

Immobility and freeze don't go well together unless you are capable of tolerating the frozen flight/fight energy. That is, unless you can tolerate the experience of fear.

As a therapist, it will affect what interventions I implement with my clients as well. With someone in shutdown, I allow more time and quiet and stillness. With someone in a panicky freeze, I am more talkative and directive as they ground themselves.

From shutdown, you need to allow flight/fight energy back into your system. From freeze, flight/fight energy needs to be discharged.

  • Shutdown immobilization needs to be allowed and slowly come out of.

  • Freeze immobilization is experienced as fear and needs to be thawed through titration and pendulation.

The experience of these two states is different and so is the path of getting unstuck.

You're maybe in the phase of learning about the Polyvagal Theory, so this is probably too far down the road for you. But I designed the third phase of my Polyvagal Trauma Relief System with this key difference in mind.

Coming out of shutdown and freeze are not the same thing.

If you're brand new to this Polyvagal stuff, I don't recommend jumping to the third phase of my System. You're probably a better fit for Polyvagal 101, which is the first phase. Click the link below for more information.

Freeze or shutdown video quiz

I also thought you might like this. It's a little video quiz for you to see if you can decipher freeze vs shutdown.

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