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3 Emotion Regulation Systems – Lewis

Three Emotion Regulation Systems (Compassion Focused Therapy) by Teresa Lewis

In this video I describe Paul Gilbert’s three emotion regulation systems and explore what the systems look like when both balanced and unbalanced. Paul Gilbert is the founder of compassion focused therapy and he suggests that individuals have three emotion regulation systems. A threat system that focusses on threat detection and self-protection. A drive system that focuses on doing and achieving. And a soothing system that focuses on caring, kindness and safety. Related topics discussed in this video include trauma and the brain, neuroplasticity and how to self-soothe.

Soothing Rhythm Breathing Exercise :

Pour lire les sous-titres en anglais ou traduire automatiquement en français, la version YouTube :

Lien YouTube :

  • 00:00 – Introducing the three emotion regulation systems
  • 00:43 – The threat system
  • 2:10 – The treat system unbalanced
  • 3:00 – The drive system
  • 3:56 – The drive system unbalanced
  • 4:31 – The soothing system
  • 6:18 – The soothing system unbalanced
  • 6:55 – How to self soothe and dampen down the threat system

The threat system has been fined tuned over thousands of years of evolution and has evolved to detect threats quickly and mobilise a response that’s geared towards survival. And It’s not just physical threats that will trigger this system but emotional or social triggers too. For example, feelings of rejection, isolation, criticism and exclusion. So the function of this system is to alert and direct our attention to things that are threatening, and motivate a response that will protect us and get us to safety. Threat emotions will be activated such as fear, anger, anxiety and disgust and a fight, flight or freeze response will be stimulated.


The function of the drive system is to motivate and encourage us to seek out resources for ourselves and for those we love and care about. The emotions and feelings of the drive system such as excitement, anticipation and joy – function to help and energise us to pursue resources that would be advantageous such as food, shelter, work, qualifications and social position. The drive system is active and centres around striving, achieving and consuming.


This system is a completely different system all together. This is the capacity for feeling soothed, to feel at peace, to feel connected with others and to feel content. Emotions in the soothing system are warmth, calmness, contentment and a sense of well-being. Affiliated behaviour is caring and kind, peaceful, relaxed and playful. This system taps into the hormone oxytocin which is sometimes known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’ because it’s released when people snuggle up or bond socially.


All images and additional video segments contained in the B-roll segments are used in strict compliance with the appropriate permissions and licenses required from and in accordance with the YouTube Partner Program, Community guidelines and YouTube terms of service. All graphical diagrams are produced by Teresa Lewis.


Teresa Lewis is a Senior Accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP Snr. Accred). Qualified in 1995, Teresa has been providing counselling and psychotherapy treatment for over 25 years. Teresa holds a masters degree in counselling and psychotherapy and is also an accredited mindfulness teacher.

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