The Window of Tolerance. A Model for Emotional Regulation.

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” – Deepak Chopra

There is a place within each of us that allows us to respond as apposed to react. It is the place Psychiatrist Dan Siegel has termed “The Window of Tolerance”. A desirable place of emotional regulation from which we can think clearly and respond effectively. We can think of it is a state of calm without moving to over or under responding.

We each have an individual window (some larger and some smaller) from which we interpret and respond to our own emotions, the emotions of others, and the environment around us. When our window is small we are more likely to become dysregulated and over or under respond, essentially moving out of our window and into a dysregulated state. When our window is larger or broad we have more emotional space to manage our feelings and experiences.

Dysregulated emotion, within the window model, exist in two forms. These are the states of Hyperarousal (causing over response) and Hypoarousal (causing under response). The desired state (the window of tolerance) is between these two states and is considered a place of “optimal functioning”. Hyperarousal is the state of increased and intense emotion in which one may feel highly alert and anxious, among other intense and uncomfortable feelings. Hypoarousal in a state of emotional disconnect in which one feels very little emotion, and can be considered a state of emotional numbness.

Our ability to manage emotional experiences is linked to early learning, and subsequent reinforcing experiences, around the safety of emotion. If we grew in a home where our emotions were routinely recognized and validated we will likely have a broad window from which we operate. If we grew in a home where our emotions were routinely missed, dismissed or minimized, or we experienced traumatic events we will have a much smaller window and may move into hyper or hypo arousal more quickly.

It is important to recognize that any of us can experience anxious feelings or feelings of disconnect in circumstances that are overwhelming. We are born with the capacity for automatic response to stress (sometimes referred to as the fight-flight-or freeze response) which allows us to move to a place of self protection when threat exist. It is an essential survival mechanism. For those who have experienced accumulative (or even singular depending on the circumstances) traumatic event the body’s stress response can become overly primed causing quicker movement to dysregulation and hyper or hypoarousal.

In circumstances where a trauma history is present it is more likely the window of tolerance will be limited. The early stages of trauma work involve working to expand the abilities to identify and tolerate emotions. This is essential prior to attempting to process traumatic content. The Window model is a highly useful roadmap for understanding what is occurring in the brain and body and how one might navigate these responses. (For a visual representation of the Window of Tolerance model in working with Trauma see The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine’s (NICABM) diagram. How Trauma Can Affect Your Window of Tolerance).

In general, understanding our Window of Tolerance is highly beneficial. Knowing our baseline, what proceeds (or triggers) a dysregulated response, recognizing when the response is beginning, how we typically respond, how we want to respond and what soothes us are important pieces of information. Once we have this information we can begin to practice strategies to recognize when we have moved out of our window and strategies that bring us back in. In example, if movement toward anxiety and anger occur engaging in calming strategies is important. If movement toward disconnect occurs, engaging in strategies that increase awareness or focus are important.

It is equally important to engage in routine self care. This means balanced nutrition, adequate hydration, regular and restful sleep, exercise, social connection, recreation, things to look forward to and engagement in things that are of interest to you. Consistent participation in these activities calms the brain and body, providing a calmer foundation from which to operate.

All of this said, it is important to recognize we will make mistakes. They are inevitable and part of being human. Our willingness to own our mistakes and offer repair to those we may have hurt, due to our dysregulation, is highly important. This allows room for the essential elements of trust, reciprocity, empathy, and accountability to grow in relationship

As always, my hope is you find something that resonates here. Resources for further reading and/or support follow.

My deepest care to each of you, LaDonna

Copyright Protected Material: © 2020 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW. All rights reserved. Written content on this blog (Perspective on Trauma) is the property of the author LaDonna Remy, MSW, LICSW. Any unauthorized use or duplication without written permission of the author/ owner of this web log is prohibited. Excerpts or quotes may be shared in the event the author is fully cited with reference and direction to this blog.

Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational. It is not intended to provide advice, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis. Content is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, or to engage in an informed treatment relationship within this format. If you or a loved one need support; it is important that you access this care from your own (specifically assigned) health care provider.

Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the Perspective on Trauma blog. As noted; it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. In the event; support is needed it is your responsibility to seek care from your own health-care provider.

National Hotlines: 
Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)

Photo: Image found on Pixabay


Web Based Resources:

How Trauma Can Affect Your Window of Tolerance. The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine.


Copper, Hoffman, Powell: (2017) Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom. New York: Guilford Press

Copper, Hoffman, Powell: (2005) The Circle of Security Intervention: Enhancing Attachment in Early Parent-Child Relationships Illustrated Edition. New York: Guilford Press

Livine, Peter. (1999) Waking The Tiger. Healing Trauma Pesi Inc.

Siegel, D.J. (2012). The Developing Mind. How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. 2nd Ed. New York: Guilford Press

43 thoughts on “The Window of Tolerance. A Model for Emotional Regulation.

  1. Oh my goodness LaDonna, what an amazing analysis of our ability to manage emotional experiences linked to the way we were conditioned to learn early in life. I never gave much thought to how you interpret a trauma history, and how its connection is more likely linked to our window of tolerance. 🤗 After reading your message, it is clearer to digest outside of the clinical realm.

    I resoundingly agree with your assessment:
    “It is equally important to engage in routine self care. This means balanced nutrition, adequate hydration, regular and restful sleep, exercise, social connection, recreation, things to look forward to and engagement in things that are of interest to you. Consistent participation in these activities calms the brain and body, providing a calmer foundation from which to operate.” 💯

    Now, if only we can just connect the dots between realization and implementing our window of tolerance and emotion. Thanks for sharing such an introspective message, my dear! Have a FANtabulous weekend! ✨💐🌟

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you as always for your well articulated, plainly expressed and thoughtful posts, LaDonna.

    I think so much about emotional regulation, as you know, and I noticed that through the last few years, my own window of tolerance has, let’s just say, been tested.

    The context you’ve provided around the importance of a nurturing home where thoughts and feelings are routinely heard and validated really resonates with me. As does the notion of self care and self forgiveness.

    A very timely (for me) post as always. Thanks and enjoy your weekend!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ab I am glad the post resonated with you. I am always impressed with the commitment and love you hold for your son. I can certainly understand what you are saying. There is so much to pour into our children and remembering we get to matter too sometimes gets lost.💗 I hope you have a good weekend ahead .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This post is so amazing. I too have had to learn a lot about self care and self forgiveness. Perhaps this is even more difficult than forgiving someone else. This article and its focus on emotions really resonates so much.
    May I ask if you have a structured method for dealing with emotions and about self forgiveness?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Parneet. I do agree, self forgiveness is a much harder but essential part of our journey. There are many processes, but I think truly understanding ourselves and separating our intentions from our inevitable mistakes is very important. We are all just human. There are many methods or strategies to this process. I think the most important is knowing ourselves, recognizing when we mess up, offering repair to the other, and working to not repeat ( though we sometimes will). And mostly understanding ourselves and the reasons we may have a propensity toward one particular or set or mistakes -or opportunities as they truly are. I hope this answers your question. And I hope all is well for you💗.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderfully educational and informative post, as always, LaDonna. As someone that once had a small window of emotional regulation, the need for all of us to be in touch with our emotions – to understand them, acknowledge them, and work through them, is so important. The single most transformational experience, which has increased my emotional intelligence is meditation, with an experienced teacher. Super helpful. In my work, I see the need more and more for classes and training on EI, due to increased levels of stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. Thank you for sharing this post. I love it. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jeff. I appreciate your kings words and insights. I genuinely agree with your thoughts on meditation and the very real need to support emotional intelligence. And, as you point out in our current world this is needed more than ever. ♥️
      I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead ♥️

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I have to admit I needed to look up the meaning of your beautiful language in google translate, and I appreciate what you have shared here. I hope you are well and have wonderful day ahead. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A most helpful post, LaDonna. I must admit, when I first started reading it, my mind was filled with “yes, but, we can work to expand our window,” but as I continued reading, the thought occurred to me that walking away from difficult people and situations, acts I’ve perfected throughout my life, could have been the result of an overriding small window of tolerance. Thank you for yet another thought-provoking post. 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lisa. I appreciate your insight and comment. We can expand our windows of tolerance it takes awareness and consistency but it can be done. Sometimes we do need to walk away ♥️ . Sometimes the situations or participants aren’t in our best interest ♥️.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. LaDonna, What an informative, well-written post…relatable, insightful, and practical!

    I looked back over my own life as I read. While I have grown somewhat less patient with hands-on tasks over the years, I find that I have improved in empathy and patience in relationships. Maybe some of these changes are part of the aging process. I am seventy-two.

    Thank you for a helpful and thought-provoking post. I try to learn something new every day, and the “window of tolerance” is a new concept for me.

    Take care! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cheryl. Both for sharing your thoughts and experiences. 💗 The window of tolerance is such a solid model in navigating our emotions. I am glad you found something that spoke to you. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your weekend 💗♥️

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful post LaDonna. I think sometimes it takes age or a wider perspective to reach the state of mind you speak of, this “Window of Tolerance.” Speaking for myself only, when I was younger I was much more volatile and reactive. Immediate outbursts, though, are often counterproductive, but it takes a bit of training to gain control of our emotions. Some time back I was introduced to the phrase that we must learn to “become as tolerant as a tree.” I don’t think that is the same as allowing yourself to become a doormat, it just means to learn what truly merits our emotions. And not have so much control that you become hypo-responsive. Just measured. I’ve had a lot of people tell me how calm I am during stressful situations. Oh, I’m still stressed alright, I just learned how not to allow that stress to control me.

    Most times, not all, I can hit the pause button and ask myself why I’m feeling a certain way before I react or take any action. Sometimes the answer is that I am not the owner of that emotion at all, but rather, I had picked up on someone else’s emotions and feelings. We have to learn to know and distinguish ourselves too. I’m not always good at this, and sometimes I do become hyper-responsive, but that has become less and less with time. I also don’t ever want to feel that it’s inappropriate to “feel” – we are not machines. At one point in my nursing career, I feared I was going to lose the ability to cry. Intensive care is a very hyper-stimulating environment. Fortunately, that has never happened. Anyway, thanks for a wonderful post and for allowing me to ramble on 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You Harold ♥️. I appreciate your insights and the sharing of your experience. These are good emotional regulation and relational skills. I too agree, if we aren’t taught to tolerate and manage our emotions ( and many of us aren’t) it takes time to master these skills. I always appreciate you. I hope you have a wonderful evening ♥️.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s