Our window of tolerance: what is it and how does it affect us?

Our window of tolerance: what is it and how does it affect us?

Imagine that you remember a lot of your personal experiences with an uncontrollable emotional overflow. When we are in hyper or hypo-activation states, we stay out of our window of tolerance, whereasbeing inside the window helps us optimize our operation.

But what is this tolerance window?The tolerance window represents the range of emotional intensity that each of us is able to feel.Individuals can feel safe, learn and enjoy life in this range, in this window.

What does it mean to be outside the tolerance window?

Emotions sometimes overwhelm us for different reasons. Mistrust, lack of strategies to manage emotions, inability to think, denial of the need to feel …The two limits of the tolerance window correspond to two extreme states of optimum activation of the body:

  • Hyperactivation: it is a state in which certain emotions are strongly felt (fear, anger, joy, shame …). It corresponds to the increase of the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Hypoactivation: it is a state of avoidance to be felt for various reasons, such as internal experiences that block us or the inability to experience new enriching experiences. It corresponds to the increase of the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system.

According to everyone's experiences, we are configured to feel life in one way or another. Thus, for various reasons, some people become reactive. For example, they suffer from panic attacks or anger. But at the other extreme we find people who are disconnected from their bodies and / or their minds. The thought flows slowly and it is even difficult for them to move.

In situations of danger and / or trauma, the body acts to survive. It puts in motion mechanisms that sometimes fail to regain their "normal state".People who are outside the window of tolerance are usually those who have had to deal with this type of difficult situation and in which their basal state of security and relaxation has been changed..

"No matter what they did with us, otherwise what we will do with what they did with us."
-Jean paul Sartre-

How to stay in the tolerance window?

Neuroscience research has shown that the only way to change what we feel in these cases is to become aware of our inner experience, to respect it and to learn to live with it. The practice of full attention,mindfulness calm the nervous system. It helps us recognize our emotions and better control them.

Teachers, such as Pat Ogden and Peter Levine, have developedbody therapies, psychomotor psychotherapy and somatic experimentation to recover the normal functioning of the body.In Peter Levine's therapeutic approach, the story of what has happened takes second place. Indeed, are the physical sensations that are explored. This process of entry and exit into the internal sensations and traumatic memories is called the "pendulum process". It therefore contributes to gradually widening the window of tolerance.

Opening the tolerance window can make us feel calmer and more focused in the present. It can also allow us to enjoy new experiences, not to feel too overloaded in certain situations … Different strategies can help us:

  • Mentalization
  • The contention: for example through the use of "mental images"
  • The creation of internal feelings ofsecurity
  • Positive routines: physical exercise, relaxation …
  • Stimulation cognitive

7 basic steps in the practice of emotional regulation

The "limits of our window of tolerance" is a concept developed by Siegel (see, Simon, 2011). It connects them to the practice of mindfulness, which allows to stay in the window of tolerance. The mindfulness develops prefrontal structures. The latter thus facilitate both the modulation of emotions and the maintenance of emotional balance.The practice of emotion regulation has seven steps. Their order and number can however be alternated:

  • stop
  • Breathe deeply to calm down
  • Takeconsciousness emotion
  • Accept the experience and the emergence of emotion
  • To have affection (Self-pity)
  • Let it go or release the emotion
  • To act or not, depending on the circumstances

"The vision of the mind allows us to direct the flow of energy and information towards integration … and this implies the absence of disease and the appearance of well-being."


Our attachment story largely marks the breadth of our window of tolerance. This can be seen in the way we take care of ourselves. We can therefore consider taking care of oneself positively as an attitude or a mental state in which the person accepts, acting and leaving a space for personal growth and development. So,living in our window of tolerance allows us to live a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life.

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