Window of Tolerance

Person with hands raised in the air, smile on their face and in a sunflower field and picture was taken by Andrea Piacquadio on

Your Window of Tolerance is basically when you’re not too overwhelmed to deal with the intense stuff coming your way.  You can see why we really want to understand and maybe even expand your window of tolerance if we’re doing EMDR therapy together.   Dr. Dan Siegel first explained that the Window of Tolerance is the ideal place for someone to be to be able to handle emotions/triggers and still move about in their day to day life.  If we don’t know someone’s window or push them too far one way or another then we may be pushing them outside of what they can reasonably tolerate and therefore they may experience more trauma.  Now it can be a little tricky because of course you’re going to feel tired and metaphorically stretched or even “achy”, BUT you should still be within what you can handle as far as your arousal goes.  If you’re so shut down or so activated you may not only be retraumatized, but you may not want to come back for more healing.  

Sometimes people’s windows may be really tolerant meaning they may sort of rock with the wind until it becomes a storm.  Sometimes people’s windows may be more sensitive and their fight/flight/freeze may be more easily activated in these states.  Again, that’s perfectly okay.  For example, whenever I move I’m always, literally always scared the first couple of nights in my new home.  I’ll hear echoes in my apartment more loudly than I normally would and the creaks will be creakier. It’s perfectly understandable for our windows of tolerance to be smaller sometimes too and in the moving situation it’s not the worst thing safety wise to be a little more alert when I lay my head down in a new place.  

Dr. Tracey Marks explains the window of tolerance in a really helpful way here.  If you’re doing any EMDR, whether weekly or an adjunct/intensive EMDR I’d recommend watching the video and getting an understanding of where you’re at so you know how much to go in before overwhelming your system.  It will help you have a more sustainable healing practice and not leave feeling more raw, shut down or activated than you really need to.  I think there’s a lot of value in not avoiding intense stuff and really staying with what’s there in a way that’s gentle and not over doing it.  Think salt is delicious, and too much salt is cringe.  Or is it cringe that I’m in my late 30s saying cringe?  Okay, but you know what I mean.  Be expansive, but don’t push yourself past a place of gentleness.  

There’s a time several years ago when I was doing some healing work and pushed past my window of tolerance and started emotionally eating.  It was fine.  It was what I needed at the time.  I’d like to think that now, I might tune in to what I can and cannot do and stay with that these days.  So all that to say, if you do stretch past your window of tolerance by accident, do you have someone in your corner to help you regulate and come back down?  Do you have something to help you settle if you went a little too far by accident? There’s so much you can do to get back within your window of tolerance so it’s not about good or bad or right or wrong, just that your healing provider can notice if you’ve been pretty checked out or if you’ve been pretty anxious/irritable.  In addition, this article can help you either come back from zoning out or bring you back from too much activation.  As always, I’d love to hear how this stuff is landing for you.  In the meantime, you can get started in therapy with me here!     

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