Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is a term that describes problems maintaining emotional equilibrium or mood. In most cases, this is a product of events and is an indicator that at an earlier period, someone has lived through trauma, often repeated trauma, which has had the long-term effect of confusing and upsetting their emotional balance. It has dysregulated them.

A great many emotional and psychological problems are characterised by periods of emotional dysregulation. Yet typically we tend to focus on symptoms and overlook the events that caused us to suffer emotional dysregulation in the first place. When we focus on the symptoms we can get drawn into thinking that it is the symptoms that need attention and lose sight of the longer-term nature of the problem.

From childhood traumatic bereavements to divorce, redundancy, and chance disturbing events, our emotional stability is something we might take for granted, yet it can prove to be more vulnerable than we imagine.

Suppressing the root causes of emotional dysregulation

For many of us the simplest response to overwhelming events is to try to suppress them. We tend to bury our head in the sand and try to forget them. This creates the impression that the problem has gone away but generally this isn’t the case and the underlying emotional distress sits like a buried reservoir within us. This then returns when we least expect it to. This is what we experience in the symptoms we suffer. How do we find ways to start to treat the underlying emotional reservoir, the place that our emotional dysregulation comes from and stop ignoring it.

Understanding emotional dysregulation

Caught in the grip of a period of emotional dysregulation it can be extremely difficult to understand what’s happening. The intensity of feelings and moods can fluctuate and cycle very quickly, with more problems following problems. The capacity to make sense of what’s happening becomes diminished.

Consequently, issues around emotional instability or ‘affective dysregulation’ are often very draining for the individual concerned.  In some cases this can fit with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is often identified through assessing emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour, and the quality of relationships. The problem is that unless we find ways to consider and work on the underlying emotional experience that created the dysregulation or BPD, we are always treating the surface problem and never getting to the deeper issues that create our emotional dysregulation.

It is characteristic of the emotional dysregulation that fits with BPD, that people who are suffering from periods of emotional dysregulation may experience problems in their relationships which may become intense and unstable.

There are a range of symptoms that an individual will experience when it comes to emotional dysregulation

If you have problems with emotional dysregulation you may experience powerful mood swings where your thinking may become dominated by a powerful sense of your worthlessness, shame, negativity, and bad feeling.

When in the grip of such intense negative emotions you may find it hard to communicate well, and at those times you may be more prone to self-harm. Rejecting loved ones, cutting yourself off, physically cutting or injuring yourself, these impulses often go with emotional dysregulation. It can be common to experience powerful mood swings, to feel suicidal with despair, and then to feel reasonably balanced.

In all cases, the experience will vary from individual to individual based on the severity and duration of the period of dysregulation.

Learning to manage emotional dysregulation

We can become better at managing our emotional dysregulation. The tendency towards states of emotional dysregulation is sometimes understood by paying more attention to our early psychological experiences. When we were raised in families that were difficult and unpredictable it can leave us more prone to complicated reactions. Learning more about the history of your emotional dysregulation can be helpful. If you have lived through such experiences then doing things that weaken your emotional regulation are generally better avoided. Alcohol and drugs tend to undermine self regulation.

It is important to speak to someone about your experience

If you notice that your patterns of thinking are becoming more disturbed it is important to get help and to speak to someone. Start with your GP, if it is out of hours when you need help, then contact the Samaritans. If these kind of feelings are left unchecked they may start to develop into hallucinations and psychotic symptoms. If you can tell someone about it and contact you GP or other services, then you are more likely to start to find ways to regulate your emotions.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how to pay better attention to our emotional regulation.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.


Email: toby@tobyingham.com