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Developed in the work of Dan Siegel, The Window of Tolerance is one of the most important concepts in working with our trauma, the ways in which we suffer, and the simple rigors of daily living and relationships. It can also help strengthen our compassion toward the suffering of others when they are acting out. This, in turn, can increase our capacity to stay in safe connection with both our own self and other people.
The Window of Tolerance (WOT) is range in which we can tolerate and manage the felt sense of what is happening right now. It’s your ability to “roll” with the stimulation of the now. It’s the skills available to you in the moment for self-regulation and self-soothing. It is significantly a function of neurobiology, our history of attachment, and our trauma stories.
It also fluctuates circumstantially and can be influenced by "simple" things such as eating and sleeping. If you wake rested and have a good breakfast, feel fabulous about how you look today, have a nourishing spiritual practice time, pet a street dog, and someone says something kind to you, then your WOT is likely stronger. If not, then probably not. If you did not sleep well and rushed out the door without breakfast, feel disheveled, did not take time for a spiritual practice, a dog growled at you, and someone said you look like a mess today (and it was true), your WOT might have be rather fragile and break easily today.
Dysregulated means that on a neurological level we unconsciously surrender more and more control to autonomic responses and become reactive. Whatever else might be happening, it is a function of feeling unsafe, danger, or "life threat." In truth, sometimes we do "jump out" of the WOT on our own (e.g. not noticing our level of irritation, agitation, or anxiety when reading news or social media).
Hyperarousal is dysregulation that carries a lot of energy: anger, fighting, fleeing, anxiety, or other "active" reactions.
Hypoarousal is dysregulation with low or suppressed energy: depression, freezing, shut down, spacey, or other "low and slow" reactions.
Dysregulation looks different in different people and different circumstances; but three important things to remember about dysregulation: