People whose childhoods were characterised by a lack of emotional stability sometimes develop problems regulating their own emotions. They may be quick to become anxious and instinctively pick up on signals that their environment is not safe, settled and stable.
“I developed a terrible drink problem. It ruined my relationships with my partner and with my family. For many years I battled back and forth with different ways of managing my alcohol problem. But it was only when I started to think about my lack of emotional stability, to think about the way that alcohol destablised me, that I began to find a way to start to live better. I came to see that I didn’t so much have a drink problem as an emotional stability problem.”anonymous client
We may not tend not to think of our problems in terms of our emotional stability but my work has shown me that it can be very helpful if we can learn to do so.
When we lack emotional stability our lives become complicated in all sorts of ways. When we learn to recognise this we can do things to improve our emotional stability.
Emotional Stability and Retroactive Jealousy
It is common for people to refer themselves to me, or to look for help, for issues and symptoms that they are having problems with. All of these problems have one thing in common; they upset emotional stability.
Frequently the issue of emotional stability is overlooked and the focus, as in this case, becomes the experience of jealousy. Sometimes this is referred to as retroactive jealousy. In retroactive jealousy, one partner becomes jealous to a point of obsession with the idea of their partner’s former lovers and love life. the issue of emotional stability is often neglected.
Emotional Stability and Addiction
Similarly, people might look for help because of problems managing their addictions, be that to alcohol, drugs, pornography, food or gambling. All too frequently the underlying problem of emotional stability is overlooked.
Instead the person will look for help with one of their problems, so they might look to get their drinking or their gambling problems under control. In my experience these are actually symptoms of a more urgent underlying problem, a problem that is often referred to as emotional instability.
When people find a way to start to take their need for emotional stability more seriously and start to put emotional stability at the front of their minds, a lot of other problems fall away.
- Alcohol, cocaine, food, gambling, sex, may not be problems in themselves, but they all have a capacity to significantly undermine emotional stability.
Psychotherapy and Emotional Stability
One of the ways in which psychotherapy and counselling works is through developing a pattern of regular meetings. 50-minute sessions are arranged that take place at the same time, in the same day, for the same fee, each week. The reason that psychotherapy works like this is because it introduces a weekly experience of stability.
You might think that your psychotherapist is going to provide you with a set of answers or give you homework that you will follow. There may be some truth in that, but more typically one of the reasons psychotherapy works, is because it’s a very predictable and regular kind of therapeutic relationship. It introduces stability.
- Emotional stability tends to be overlooked as people focus on symptoms instead
When Our Early Lives Lack Emotional Stability
If you lack emotional stability this tends to reflect the fact that you may have grown up in a home in which emotional stability was not available.
The period of austerity that we have experienced in the UK has made things harder for people. One of the effects of this will be to undermine emotional stability.
Coronavirus, Lockdown and Emotional Stability
Living through the coronavirus and lockdown may well have a long term effect on emotional stability.
Emotional Stability and Relationships
in relationships, it’s common for people who lack emotional stability to become fixated upon their partner’s previous emotional or sexual life.
People can become quick to feel that they might be rejected. If this is left unattended it can have a very bad effect on the relationship. It may lead to the relationship breaking down and the person being left. But often the problem isn’t with the relationship the person is having now, it isn’t that the person is going to be rejected now, it isn’t that our partners want to leave us, it is more the case that in our own pasts we have grown up in complicated emotional environments in which we did not feel safe and secure and we may have been rejected and so we’ve become very quick to identify these kinds of threats in the present.
- What is complicated is that we become caught up in fears that belong to our earlier years, to things that went wrong in our early lives.
- We are projecting and seeing the anxieties that troubled our past experience in our present relationship and often, they do not belong there.
That’s why it’s imperative that we pick up on these problems with emotional stability because left unchecked, they have a capacity to create destructive patterns that wreck any possibilities of living a more satisfying, fulfilling and creative life.
Emotional Instability – Breaking the Destructive Spiral
These are the kinds of insights that psychotherapists have been working with for a long time, trying to help people understand the way in which present fears are actually a new version of old fears.
Learning how to understand the way in which our early experiences have shaped us can be a gateway into liberating ourselves from the negative consequences of emotional instability.
The key point is learning that we acquired this experience of emotional instability
It isn’t that there is something wrong with us, the fact is that we have lived through difficult experiences, traumatic experiences, experiences which have unsettled and destabilised us.
Emotional instability can all too easily create a destructive spiral.
“I would use drugs, alcohol too. When I started to feel the instability get hold of me, I would become very self-absorbed. Now I can see there was a pattern to it. Back then I didn’t think about anything other than getting more vodka, more cocaine. When I sobered up I would have this terrible sense of shame. That would cause its own problems and lead me to isolate, sometimes I would start drinking again.
So life would continue. In the end, when it stopped I had generally wrecked relationships, lost partners, lost friends and created financial problems for myself. Yes, I had to get my drug and drinking under control, but the real change came when I learnt how to focus on maintain my emotional stability.”
Emotional Instability and Psychiatric Diagnoses
In the past, there has been a stigma about getting help for issues that involve emotional stability. They very quickly become or used to become classed as mental health problems. The kind of language that was used to describe them was derogatory, depersonalising, and unhelpful.
People might be told they had Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD. This is very unhelpful language. The more recent way of referring to such problems is as Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder – EUPD. The idea of a personality disorder is not very helpful or friendly language. It encourages people to hide from it.
I think it is possible and more helpful to think about this in ordinary human terms as relating to problems maintaining emotional stability.
Medication and the confusion of symptoms and emotional stability
It is often the case that people present to their GPs reporting problems with anxiety, sleep problems or depressed mood. Medication is often prescribed but it’s unlikely that the medication will do anything for the underlying problem with emotional instability.
As discussed earlier, in my view, emotional instability is something that’s been acquired and the way to address it isn’t through tranquillizers or SSRI type medication. It isn’t through things that create further symptoms and side effects, a talking therapy is often the best type of approach.
How To Improve Your Emotional Stability
Our emotional stability developed because of very particular events, circumstances, relationships that we have lived through.
Improving our emotional stability often depends on developing a better relationship with ourselves and with the individual experiences that we have lived through.
- I do not think that you can give everybody the same treatment and approach.
- I think you can find out about the individual’s experience and from that you can develop a bespoke way of approaching a person’s problems.
Once we’ve got a grasp of the fact that our problem relates more to our emotional instability than it does to our anxiety about our love life, or our partners approach to us, or feelings about us, or something like that, then we can develop a way of reminding ourselves, at exactly the points that we begin to feel triggered, that the problem is more to do with our emotional instability than anything else.
- As soon as we detect the anxiety starting to run we can become better at reminding ourselves to remember our own emotional stability.
- As we get better at practising this habit, we find that our lives become more stable. It may take us many many repetitions, but each repetition is practise. Each time we practise the art of maintaining stability, the more stable our lives become.
- Where in the past we would become obsessed with our ideas about our partner’s unfaithfulness, or previous partners, those things start to become less important.
- Instead, we remind ourselves to focus on our emotional stability. Just to remember that around these kinds of subjects we tend to lack stability. Every time we do that, we bring ourselves back to a new stable point. This becomes the beginning of a new sense of maintained emotional stability.
Practising and Improving our Emotional Stability
Our lives improve almost straight away because we are no longer having to recover from the terribly destructive episodes that we put ourselves and our partners through. We don’t wake up feeling ashamed of what we did the night before. We don’t have to repair relationships. Instead, we protect and preserve our emotional stability.
- We may even start to feel good about ourselves, because at the point that we could have become disruptive or anxious or obsessive we stopped ourselves. And instead did something constructive. We took responsibility for ourselves.
- We didn’t let our imaginations and our anxious fears runaway with us, we reminded ourselves to be stable to look after ourselves.
We learned to practise this habit again and again, like a musician practises, like a runner trains, like an artist draws. Use whatever metaphor works for you or fits into your life. Whatever you do we can find a vocabulary that will help you to remember to practise stability at these emotionally complicated moments.
- And as you do, so you get better at it, and instead of a negative spiral we build up a constructive spiral. We become able to keep ourselves stable, spinning like tops that don’t fall over at the merest threat.
- Instead of dealing with difficult feelings like shame, we start to take some confidence and pride in ourselves.
- The more we practise these habits the greater our emotional stability becomes.
- My work is all about helping people identify the language, habits and patterns that will help to remind them how to nurture and cultivate this new constructive way of living and practising emotional stability.
- My work has led me to this point again and again, to share what I have learned about the cultivation of emotional stability in people who have previously a very limited sense of that.
- I am convinced that we can all learn much more about how to keep ourselves emotionally stable and that this is a helpful and accessible and encouraging language for thinking about our emotional health.
- I like the idea that we don’t so much need medication as help to find the right language and the right way to think about ourselves.
If you feel stuck or that you cannot find the energy to get through the challenges you are facing now, then it might be helpful to talk about this.
I have been working with people on issues such like this for twenty years. My work is built around helping people to develop greater confidence in themselves, a better understanding of why you feel the way you do, and of helping you to develop confidence that you can manage these experiences without feeling out of control.
Contact me to arrange a free 15 minute conversation to discuss how my work might be useful to you. I have a lot of experience of using telephone and online platforms and I would be pleased to hear from you.
Telephone: 01494 521311
Mobile: 07980 750376