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The Polyvagal Ladder

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

The Polyvagal Ladder is a concept from Deb Dana. It's really a simply wonderful metaphor for how the autonomic nervous system is organized within each of us. I took that, added the three basic state and also the mixed states based from Dr Porges.


These are the three primary autonomic nervous system states.

  • At the top of the ladder is the safe/social system, responsible for social engagement, connection, critical thinking, problem solving and use of the head and neck area.

  • In the middle is the sympathetic flight/fight system, responsible for using the limbs for evasion or aggression.

  • And at the bottom is the shutdown system, responsible for collapse, death feign, dissociation and numbness.


It's possible for these primary states to mix as well.

  • Play = Safe/Social + Flight/Fight

  • Freeze = Flight/Fight + Shutdown

  • Stillness = Safe/Social + Shutdown

Feel free to download the image and share.

You can read more about "the polyvagal ladder," "story follows state," "glimmers" and more in Deb Dana's phenomenal book (links to Amazon where I get a portion of the sale at no extra cost to you). Also, make sure you listen to my interview with her!

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