Predictable patterns of disruption followed by repair in relationships act as a neural exercise that improves the child resilience (Porges, in Mitchell, Tucci and Tronick). These sequences enable self-regulation to emerge out of predictable co-regulation. As co-regulation develops between infant and caregiver a trust emerges which allows short-term violations and becomes the neural platform for humour and play.

When we do not feel safe, we are dysregulated (Hill, 2015). We might be detached and our reality feels ‘off’. Perception is narrowed and reflective capacity is diminished. Instead of spontaneousness there is reactivity. Representations of self and other are less accurate. The regulation of the organism is fundamental to survival. To function adaptively we must have the capacity to stay regulated in the presence of strong affect and be able to return to regulation after loss of homeostasis. Affect tolerance and resilience are signs of an adaptive emotional system. Regulation theory claims that the regulation of affect is foundational for functioning effectively. Mental states are organised around affect. Regulatory deficits are central to all developmental psychological disorders.

The ‘window of tolerance’ represents the boundary where affect can be tolerated without becoming dysregulated. The ability to tolerate affect is linked to the capacity to modulate the intensity of affect. We can be in high or low levels of arousal without becoming dysregulated – getting angry without lashing out, being sad without becoming depressed. If we exceed our affect tolerance, our capacities become compromised – thinking can be sluggish or scrambled in hypo or hyperarousal.

Resilience can be understood as the capacity to recover functioning after becoming dysregulated (Hill, 2015). Deficiencies in affect tolerance, modulation and resilience emerge as psychiatric symptoms. The ability to regulate affect tends to be passed down from caregiver to infant in the attachment relationship as the regulatory deficits of the former are internalised by the latter.


Hill, D. (2015). Affect regulation theory: A clinical model. W. W. Norton & Company.

Tucci, J., Mitchell, J., & Tronick, E. (2019). The handbook of therapeutic care for children: Evidence-informed approaches to working with traumatized children and adolescents in foster, kinship and adoptive care. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.