Emotional Regulation Systems

Building upon an evolutionary model, Paul Gilbert proposed that human beings have a tripartite emotional regulation system. The model argues that people can be in states of 'threat' (focused on dangers), 'drive' (with a mindset attuned towards achievement or competition), or 'soothing' (which promotes safeness and feelings of interpersonal connectedness). Each of the states are associated with distinct feeling-states, motivations, purposes, and neurochemistry. A healthy response would be the adaptive use of all three of these systems in appropriate measures. Dysfunction comes about because of limited flexibility, or over-use of one system to the detriment of others. A less functional soothing system can be a product of fewer opportunities to learn soothing from important caregivers. Compassion Focused Therapy uses this model as a foundation and encourages the development of a compassionate mindeset. The Emotional Regulation Systems information sheet is a one-page outline of this model.

This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout - use as a psychoeducation resource
  • Discussion point - use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
  • Therapist learning tool - improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
  • Teaching resource - use as a learning tool during training
  • Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15, 199-208 apt.rcpsych.org


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