A Coming out of Shutdown Pathway

This is a pathway to help you transition out of shutdown, or dorsal vagal states. Sometimes dorsal vagal states manifest as depression, or spaciness, or a feeling of surreality. If you know that you are dealing with a serious trauma history, please engage this pathway with the support of a licensed somatically-oriented trauma therapist. Part of the challenge of developing this pathway, and of healing trauma generally, is that the re-tuning of the nervous system happens not necessarily because of the event itself, but how we relate to it. For this reason, an event can be debilitating to one person, while barely impacting another. This also means that the dorsal vagal response can surface in response to a wide variety of experiences, so while we can speak in generalities about it, there are a limitless number of potential triggers for this response. It could be the result of a profound adverse childhood experience, or the result of having been humiliated in grade school. What is important is not what happened, so much as how our nervous system responds. For this reason, we'll encourage you to think about this pathway more as scaffolding, with the awareness that if a video doesn't respond to your situation, skip it, or look on your dashboard for a practice that more accurately addresses what is happening with you. What is likely to remain relevant is the general progression: from addressing the state, to its emotional structure, to turning social engagement physiology back on.

Shut down is the primal, body-based expression of the dorsal vagal response. Its primal signature is immobilization and going away. Dr. Porges describes it as a state of social invisibility. At a bodily level, the experience is so life threatening, or perceived by us to be so life threatening, that we want out. It operates therefore on a continuum of dissociation. It is often accompanied by a profound sense of collapse, or being stuck. When this system is dominant, cognition is not online, and stimulation is overwhelming. When we work with it, we think about creating the conditions where ice can melt in the warm sun. There is very littledoing involved. It is more of an allowing.

A Brief Illustrated Guide to the Polyvagal Theory

6 minutes

The second film is Coming out of Shutdown, and goes deeply into an understanding of working with shutdown.

Coming out of Shutdown

55 minutes

The third film is focused specifically on working with grief. It is important here that in this stage of the practice, we are working a bit more directly with the event. This is also connected with what got your system into dorsal vagal in the first place. Generally speaking, we go to dorsal vagal through the roof of the fight or flight response, so coming out of dorsal we often encounter the state we passed through on the way there. It's possible therefore that in this step you might work with Coming out of Fight, or Calming Anxiety. In this stage, you may have a bit more clarity about what issues are driving the shut down response, so if you know that you might go to your dashboard and use a filter or keywords filter to try to find them.


17 minutes

Our goals so far in this pathway are to:

  • accompany you with beginning to understand why your body goes into a shutdown, and how to support it
  • begin to give your system the space to thaw
  • begin to track the sparks of life at the edge of the shutdown, and accompany ourselves back toward the event that re-tuned us
  • help the body begin to re-tune

Now we are going to spend a bit of time evoking ventral vagal (Connection) physiology.

Hacking Your Connection System

4 minutes