Window of Tolerance
Updated: Nov 3, 2018
Many people have never heard of the academic term "Window of Tolerance", but are likely more familiar with the everyday expression "comfort zone." People talk about being in or out of their comfort zone, and this is another way of saying they are inside or outside their Window of Tolerance (WoT).
Simply put, the WoT is your experience of safety and presence, your range of optimal arousal. Daniel J. Siegel, who coined the term, defines it as "the arousal levels in which a person is awake, calm and safe enough to have the potential for curiosity, sociability and learning in the social context." If you feel safe and comfortable to a large degree doing what you are doing or just being, you are inside your WoT. If you feel stressed, challenged, stuck, or unmotivated, for example, you are likely outside your WoT. A person who has had a traumatic experience may find himself outside his WoT in situations that in some way or other remind him of the experience.
The WoT varies from person to person. Some people find themselves outside their WoT very quickly, while others feel safe most of the time. Some go way outside their WoT and become very overwhelmed, while others experience most challenges as small, which they manage well, in general.
An example of a therapeutic goal is to support people in expanding their WoT, and to build resilience, so that they are able to feel safer in a wider range of situations. Another goal is to train the ability to return to the WoT, on the occasion a person has been outside their window. There are a variety of techniques that can be learned and practiced which empower people to take charge of their own experience.
 Siegel, D.J. (1999). The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. New York: Guildford Press.