Systems for regulating emotions


Our emotional systems are there to guide us through life. Sometimes, when we don’t listen to them carefully, they lead us down the wrong path. As part of the Compassion-focused therapy, three systems for regulating emotions were developed:

Red is activated when we are threatened and it initiates self-protection. It is similar to the fight or flight response. It is therefore associated with feelings of anger, hatred, anxiety, fear, depression, despair and many other, similar emotions.

Blue is activated when we are searching for resources to help us cope with challenging situations. The emotions associated with blue are excitement, pleasure, or desire. When our blue system kicks in, we become energise to pursue valuable goals and solve our problems.

Green is activated when we are feeling safe and content. It motivates us to self-soothing and expressing kindness.

Learning about the systems helps us become more aware of our emotions and realise what we need to do to feel better. For example, when experiencing the red system of fear, we can ask ourselves what type of resources do we need to tap into in order to feel better. This way we are initiating the blue system. Alternatively, we may set out to find activities that calm us down, help us self-soothe, or compassionate activities that will help us get out of the red system, into the green system.

The more we practice self-awareness of the systems for emotional regulation and take action to change them to more useful systems, the easier it will become for us to feel better when we feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. It requires practice and patience to change.


Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind: A new approach to the challenges of Life. London: Constable & Robinson.