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Emotional Regulation Systems

At the heart of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is an evolutionary model of human emotion regulation systems model developed by Paul Gilbert.

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.

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