Labile Mood

Labile mood is associated with severe mood swings and with intense emotional reactions.  Typically the emotional experience will be particularly strong and disproportionate to the actual situation the person is in.  Labile mood indicates that there is little control around emotional responses.  It indicates a low ability to handle and process frustration.

Labile mood is a medical, psychological and psychiatric term, it is used to describe people who experience irregular emotional responses.

Someone who experiences labile mood may find it difficult to understand their emotions and will quickly move to an extreme response and reaction which would appear to be out of proportion.

A labile mood can sometimes be related to conditions such as borderline personality disorder (also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder, or EUPD).  It might be recognised as involving emotional instability, or may appear as part of a presentation that would include manic and hyper manic episodes.

How and when does labile mood develop?

Often this change of mood becomes more evident and pronounced during and after puberty. It may develop suddenly as a reaction to a head or brain injury.  It may develop as part of a response to growing up in an environment in which there was poor emotional or affect regulation.

  • If as a small child you were exposed to sudden and unpredictable changes in your parents’ mood.
  • If the environment you were in suddenly became dominated by a parent’s or carer’s difficult mood swings, then it is likely that you will struggle to learn how to regulate your emotional responses.

Ideally, a parent helps their child learn about and make sense of the moods and emotions they experience

In an ideal situation, if a child gets into a heightened emotional state, then a parent or reliable figure will be there to help them make sense of it.  All being well, this leads to the child gaining confidence and learning how to move around their emotions. 

A child in this situation would grow up knowing their emotions are part of them, and they grow up becoming increasingly emotionally literate.

But if it didn’t work like this, and if the parent or carer was themselves someone who was prone to sudden powerful and possibly very frightening mood changes, then the child has very limited opportunities to learn about mood regulation and how emotions can be managed.

As a consequence, emotions are likely to provoke anxiety and stress. Stress leads to the overproduction of hormones like cortisol and noradrenaline which have a powerful effect on our brain chemistry which in a small child can easily lead to embedding states of anxiety and stress. These hormones take time to be metabolised.

As the child grows and matures their emotional response system is set to hypervigilance rather than a more ordinary manageable and constructive setting.

What is it like to experience labile mood?

  • it can be disorienting and frightening
  • it may make relationships difficult
  • it is likely that you will find it hard to trust,
  • may see the worst in a situation,
  • become very anxious over the smallest thing.

Left untreated it may lead to isolation, loneliness, and in an extreme form, paranoia.  It may make it hard to concentrate and do well at school or on your career and so make it hard for you to develop your potential.

How to treat labile mood?

If you are coming to the question of your own labile mood there are probably two support systems that you will need to try to put in place to help you.

One, will be medical.  It may well be helpful to see your GP to discuss this.  It may be possible to be referred for a psychiatric assessment.  There are drugs and medicines available that can help balance the extreme range of emotional swings.  These drugs may have side effects and you would need to work with your GP and psychiatrist to check on the way the medication is affecting you.

Two, working in psychotherapy or counselling may give you the chance to build up a greater understanding of the mood swings you experience.  Psychotherapy can help you develop insight and understanding into yourself and into where these mood swings started. 

If you can start to develop a sense of trust in the psychotherapy relationship you may well be able to build upon that and start to develop other areas of your life as well.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of what might be behind our labile mood, and of how experience may have shaped us in ways that we haven’t fully acknowledged or come to terms with.

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