Understanding and Working with the Window of Tolerance

As infants when we have healthy attachment interactions with attuned, consistently available, nurturing caregivers this lays the foundation for the optimal development of our brain and nervous system. Over time this co-regulation (assisted regulation) allows us to learn how to effectively auto-regulate (self-regulate independently).

“Window of Tolerance” a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel is now commonly used to understand and describe normal brain/body reactions, especially following adversity. The concept suggests that we have an optimal arousal level when we are within the window of tolerance that allows for the ebb and flow (ups and downs of emotions) experienced by human beings. We may experience hurt, anxiety, pain, anger that brings us close to the edges of the window of tolerance but generally we are able to utilize strategies to keep us within this window. Similarly we may feel too exhausted, sad, or shut down but we generally shift out of this. Below is a diagram demonstrating the ebb and flow of an optimally regulated nervous system experiencing activation followed by a settling.

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