Tolerating Your Emotions

Many people come for therapy when they cannot tolerate their emotions. When emotions are tolerable, people do not usually need or want any help. Sometimes just understanding more about the territory of emotions helps. 

There is a common metaphor about emotions in therapy called “the window of tolerance”, which I find useful. Inside of the frame of this window are variations of all sorts of emotions, and they are all tolerable. Even if they are not entirely comfortable all of the time, we can “handle it”. However, on the outside of the window is where our “out of the window” experiences lie. Our “out of the window” experiences are those that we find excruciatingly painful, overwhelming, and scary. These emotions seem to wreak havoc in our lives, both outwardly, in our relationships, internally as well. 

At the top, above the window of tolerance have high voltage, fast, frenetic, and chaotic emotions that pop out of the window of our zone of tolerance at the top. At the bottom of the window of tolerance we can experience very low, slow, lethargic, shut down, and depressive emotions that can paralyze and overwhelm. Most people are familiar with what it feels like to be out of the window of tolerance, and yet what is tolerable to some, may not be tolerable to the next person, as our experiences are so unique. 

Mindfulness is the first step in any healing process. So, next time you find yourself “out of your window of tolerance, see if you can catch yourself noticing just how that feels without judgement or blame. In so doing you are taking a step toward tolerance of your experience, simple by way of your awareness. When we can see our experience, we are no longer 100% consumed by it, and the steps to making ourselves more comfortable become more accessible.