I heard someone say something the other day that stood out to me as what many people experience when they are going through the process of therapy.
"We strive for change, but cling to what's familiar".
One of the most fascinating things about the human mind is how it's influenced by both emotion and cognition. We often desire change, especially when we find ourselves in difficult or unpleasant situations, but the compulsion to stay with what is familiar and comfortable creates resistance to that change.
Facing this resistance in therapy can be very challenging, as changing our ways can feel really uncomfortable. You probably were seeking some kind of change, maybe specific or general, when you sought out therapy. And now, therapy is pushing you to dip a toe outside that comfort zone. That comfort zone can also be referred to as the 'window of tolerance'. Window of tolerance is a term used to describe the zone in which a person is able to function most effectively. When people are within this zone, they are typically able to readily receive, process, and integrate information and otherwise respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty.
Each individual's window of tolerance is different. Those who have a narrow window of tolerance may often feel as if their emotions are intense and difficult to manage. Others with a wider window of tolerance may be able to handle intense emotions or situations without feeling like their ability to function has been significantly impacted.
So how do you work on widening your window of tolerance, and become accustomed to challenging yourself to tolerate change?
One of the best ways you can expand your comfort zone and window of tolerance is through grounding skills. Grounding and mindfulness skills can often help people remain in the present moment. By focusing on the physical sensations currently being experienced, for example, people are often able to remain in the present, calming and soothing themselves enough to effectively manage extreme arousal.
Many individuals are able to widen their window of tolerance and, by doing so, increase their sense of calm and become able to deal with stress in more adaptive ways. Therapy can fit into this puzzle as individuals are often able to make contact with their emotions without becoming so dysregulated that they cannot integrate them. Increasing emotional regulation capabilities in this way can lead to a wider window of tolerance.