Do you know what a window of tolerance is?
Don’t feel bad.
I only learned about it a couple months ago when I took a trauma treatment class held by The NICAM.
And guess what.
My W.O.T needs some work.
Let me explain.
According to Dr. Dan Siegel (who came up with the term) a Window of Tolerance is the ability to feel, withstand, and regulate your emotional state.
It’s about you being able to TOLERATE your feelings and the physical sensations they create in your body.
And I can do that! I’m great with sadness and sorrow. I’m an ACE with anxiety, fear and overwhelm. I can sit with these feelings and receive the brilliant messages they have for me.
But anger? Rejection? Criticism?
Turns out I’ve been playing hot potato—off-loading those painful emotions as fast as I can so I don’t have to feel them.
I have to admit, this was a huge revelation.
Because I’m a Consciousness Coach. I help people become aware of their inner process so they can connect with the deeper truth of their life.
I understand the language of emotions!
And yet, for as much work as I’ve done in this area, I've been missing out on something important.
The gorgeous energy (and wisdom) of my own anger.
I only THOUGHT I was engaging with it. (Because, hey, I express it so openly!)
But here’s the thing.
Reacting isn’t feeling.
Exploding, shouting, yelling, is the exact opposite of feeling.
So, regardless of how much Mind/Body work I've done, or how good I am at my inner process, my emotional comfort zone (for anger/criticism at least) isn’t very big.
Here’s a diagram that shows how it works.
Now let’s break this down so it doesn’t feel so . . . textbook.
HYPER-AROUSED (Flight or Fight) Think of this as the FREAKOUT ZONE or the DANGER ZONE. You’ll know you’re in it when you're suddenly water-boarded by intense emotions—overwhelm, panic, anger, racing thoughts, anxiety. When you hit this zone, IT FEELS LIKE AN EMERGENCY RIGHT NOW. Instead of trying to fix the feeling of urgency by reaching for something outside of yourself, you need to go INTO your body and consciously control your breathing so you can bring the intensity down.
WINDOW OF TOLERANCE This is the AWESOME AREA where you’re at your best. When you're in it, you feel like a normal, calm human being (without fangs and claws) which means you can perform and communicate in ways that are effective because your brain hasn’t been shut down by the body’s alarm system. The larger this area is, the more you can allow feelings of discomfort in and manage them from a position of self-leadership. This makes for happier, healthier relationships because you can interact with people (and communicate difficult feelings) in a less threatening way.
HYPO-AROUSED (Freeze) This is the ZOMBIE ZONE or THE SUCK ASS ZONE where you basically shut down and numb out. You can’t feel, you can’t think, and you don’t have the energy to shower or brush your teeth. You'll know you're in this zone if you feel immobilized by shame, disconnection or depression.
Do you see why the size of your Window of Tolerance MATTERS?
And while mine isn't as small as some, it could definitely use some improvement.
Which means I have some remodelling to do.
Thankfully, this is actually possible.
Every single one of us can widen our Window of Tolerance through emotional awareness.
In my case, I'm learning to sit with my anger—to feel it, instead of immediately discharging it.
The results have been astounding.
When I made room for that hot, searing HIGH LEVEL of EMOTION , I discovered my inner container is much larger than the intensity.
And as I stayed with myself, the BIG ENERGY softened and dissipated, allowing me to connect with what was underneath the anger.
l wouldn't have gotten the aha if I'd immediately acted on my feelings instead of stopping to feel them.
That's the thing about intensity. It can sweep you right out of mindful choice into an automatic response.
SO I'M LEARNING TO DIAL IT DOWN.
Since I experience BIG emotions, I've had to learn how to adjust the intensity by using an inner (imaginary) emotional dimmer switch.
The psychologists call this self-regulation, and it's a vital part of healthy balanced living and healthy, balanced relationships.
True adult intimacy mean sharing yourself (your thoughts, emotions, and experience) with the person you’re in relationship with and being PRESENT so they can share their reality with you.
But we need to be able to share our feelings and personal perspective in a MODERATE way so that the person we're talking to is able to receive it.
Think about it. Would you rather be given a glass of water or be blasted in the face by a fire-hose?
Being able to adjust your own energy is a skill worth learning!
Want to try?
Here's a quick and easy technique developed by Ron Davis that you can use the next time you're interacting with others. It will help you become aware of your own energetic frequency so you can manage it more effectively.
Imagine a dial from 1 – 10.
First determine your own number on the dial. (1 is you when resting and 10 is you at your most active.)
Determine where the person you want to connect with is on the dial.
Mentally shift your dial so your number is closer to the other person’s.
You can shift up and down the dial to ensure your energy is appropriate for anything—from sleep to high activity.
This can be fun, so play around with it!
Being in right frequency with someone (or a situation) is an incredible thing.
JUST KEEP CATCHING YOURSELF.
A big part of emotional awareness is recognizing when you've entered the danger zone so you can bring yourself back to the safety of your own wellbeing.
How do you bring yourself back?
Ground in the present moment.
Self-soothe (be kind and loving to yourself)
Take control of your breath
If you find that you're in HYPOArousal (the zombie-zone) then you'll want to add MOVEMENT to the list. Stretch and move your body so you connect with the NOW (instead of past memories that are causing you to shut down). This is where you need to raise your energy levels, dialing UP instead of down.
But truly, one of the best ways to get back to YOU is to put your hand on your diaphragm and bring your attention to your breathing.
When you change how you breathe (by exhaling more slowly, for example) you take charge of your body.
And this is what it's really all about.
If you want a beautiful life that's filled with true intimacy, you've got to take charge!
It's up to YOU to create something that works.
If your Window of Tolerance is cramped and mouldy, it's time to remodel, sweet-pea.
And that means doing the INNER work that will allow you to live a healthy, happy well-balanced life.
Feeling your emotions is the really the best form of Interior Design.
I'm doing it . . . and so can you.
Sending you so much love,
PS. If you've experienced trauma or had an unhappy childhood where one or both parents were a threat to you, your window of tolerance is probably pretty narrow.
Which means you don't have a lot of room inside you to fully experience life.
Is that you? Do you have so many triggers that it seems like EVERYTHING causes you to go off? Or shutdown? Or both?
Do people say they feel they're walking on eggs when they're with you?
Do you blast people instead of having a conversation with them?
Then you could really benefit from working with a good therapist.
And if you've had therapy and just need a coach to help you continue the work, then let's get busy! Click here to book a quick consultation