The polyvagal ladder here shows the 3 primary states of the autonomic nervous system, which are slightly different from the concepts of stress or trauma responses.

These 3 states operate on 3 different electrical circuits in the body. The ventral vagus complex is responsible for shutdown or freeze, the sympathetic spinal column is responsible for fight/flight, and the ventral vagus nerve complex is responsible for safe & social mode.

You can think of these like primary paint colors — they are the base responses, and every other response is a shade or mixture of these states.

Fawn is a mixed state of fight/flight and freeze. Play is a mixed state of fight/flight with safe & social. Stillness, which is safe immobilization such as cuddling or meditation, is a mix of safe & social and freeze.

I’ll add a page on mixed states to my next graphics set, because this is a really common question.

Janae Elisabeth is a researcher-storyteller and neurodiversity advocate from western North Carolina. #actuallyautistic #traumaismyspecialinterest

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store