Pre-Emptive Strike Leadership: Window of Tolerance

Window of Tolerance by Dr. Dan Siegel

Window of Tolerance by Dr. Dan Siegel

Imagine you are in a small, tight room about the size of a closet.  The only ventilation in the room is in the form of a small window that is open, filling the closet with fresh air that makes the cramped space somehow tolerable. Now, picture the window slowly closing. Imagine the way it becomes more difficult to breathe with every inch of open window you are losing.  By the time the window is almost closed, the room is stifling and you are gasping for air.  You might even feel yourself panicking, kind of like getting trapped in an elevator.  

The longer you are in that room struggling to breathe, the more irrational you become.  You’ll find you’re telling yourself stories about the danger you’re in, the loss that you’re going to experience, that no one is there to help you, that you’re completely alone with the craziness you feel inside and if you don’t get out immediately, you’re going to lose your mind. Ultimately what you’re feeling is that your very sense of survival is being threatened.  

Even if someone is in that room with you, the more they talk to you in a rational way, the more you want to attack them because you’re in such a state of fear that they now become the enemy. And, as with all enemies, they must be defeated and you’ll do anything to eliminate whatever is causing the extreme distress you’re feeling.

This is the image that illustrates a person’s window of tolerance.  This is where adversity and stress clash at their worst.  It’s what triggers the well-known “fight or flight” reaction in an individual – meaning a person is likely to flee the situation, become confrontational, or act in a way that is detrimental to everyone around them because, for them, they feel as if they are literally fighting for their life.

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