Emotional Regulation and Dysregulation: Calming the Storm

Introduction

Emotional dysregulation is a serious issue, especially for those who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. This and other mood disorders affects about 1-3 percent of the general population according to Current Psychiatry Reports.

 

The issue of emotional dysregulation is often misunderstood. It’s easy for those who don’t deal with it to wonder why others can’t simply “control their emotions” or “keep it together.”

 

The more people learn about emotional dysregulation, the easier it is for them to respond with empathy.

 

In the case of those who have trouble regulating emotions, increasing their knowledge can also help them to experience less self-judgment and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

 

Below are answers to some of the most common questions people ask about emotional regulation and dysregulation.

 

Why Is it So Hard for Me to Control My Emotions?

This is a common question among those who struggle with emotional dysregulation. Adults who think that they “should” have it all together from an emotional standpoint are particularly prone to asking it.

 

It’s important to understand why it’s so difficult for some people to control their emotions. We can do this by looking at what emotional dysregulation is.

 

Put simply, emotional dysregulation describes an inability to manage one’s emotional responses healthily and effectively.

 

People who deal with emotional dysregulation may experience more extreme mood swings than others. They may also respond to situations with levels of anger, sadness, or frustration that seem irrational to those around them.

 

It’s not uncommon for these people to scream, cry, throw things, and even harm themselves or others when they’re overwhelmed or upset.

 

Emotional Dysregulation and Mental Health

Emotional dysregulation, as mentioned above, is often associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD). It’s linked to other mood disorders and mental health conditions, though, including the following:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

 

If you struggle with emotional dysregulation and dramatic mood swings, one of these issues may be the culprit.

 

What Does it Mean to Regulate My Emotions?

Many people struggle with emotional dysregulation. It might be hard to imagine what it looks like to regulate emotions.

 

According to a report from Cornell University, emotional regulation describes the ability to respond to emotional experiences in healthy ways.

 

People who have learned to regulate their emotions appropriately use coping mechanisms to keep themselves in check and manage their stress. They can also separate themselves from the stressful situation and work backward to understand the events that led to the initial emotional experience.

 

The American Psychological Association also explains the difference between explicit emotion regulation and implicit emotion regulation.

 

Explicit regulation involves conscious monitoring of one’s mood and responses. Implicit regulation occurs without the person deliberately monitoring their emotions.

 

What Causes Emotional Dysregulation?

There are lots of potential reasons why people experience emotional dysregulation.

 

As mentioned above, mental health conditions like BPD, ADHD, and ASD can all make one more prone to trouble regulating their emotions. There are other possible causes, though, including the following:

  • Early Childhood Trauma
  • Parental Example
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Unhealthy Relationships

 

Early Childhood Trauma

If a child is abused or neglected by a caregiver early in their life, they may be more prone to emotional dysregulation.

 

This may have to do with the fact that abuse and neglect can contribute to some mental health conditions, such as Complex PTSD.

 

Early trauma can be a significant contributor to adult mental health issues.

 

Parental Example

What happens when parents don’t model healthy emotional regulation and expression? Their children are more likely to have problems regulating their own emotions.

 

Children may assume that it’s normal to have over-the-top reactions. As a result, they will continue practicing that behavior as they get older.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, people who have experienced a concussion or another brain injury may be more prone to emotional dysregulation. This can lead to having trouble calming down when they’re angry or frustrated. Traumatic Brain Injury (or TBI) can also cause mood swings too.

 

Unhealthy Relationships

Unhealthy relationships can include friends, family, or romantic partners. These relationships can impact one’s emotional health, for better or worse.

 

Traumatic romantic relationships can significantly affect people’s mental health.  Poor patterns learned from friends, family members, or co-workers, can also create mental health issues.

 

Also, turbulent conflict styles can lead to poor patterns later in life.

 

It is important to understand that our relationships influence our behaviors.

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What Is a Healthy Amount of Emotional Expression?

Some people assume that emotional regulation is synonymous with being “robotic” or not feeling any emotions at all. That’s not the case, though.

 

Emotional expression is essential to our health and well-being. According to an entry in the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, failure to express one’s emotions may even contribute to emotional dysregulation. After all, if someone is holding in their feelings at all times, eventually, the dam will burst.

 

It’s hard to say what is or isn’t a healthy amount of emotional expression. After all, everyone is different and responds to situations and challenges uniquely.

 

In general, though, a healthy emotional expression looks like responding in a way that’s fitting to the situation. It also includes acting in a way that doesn’t harm oneself or those around them.

 

Healthy emotional expression includes identifying emotions, accepting them, and respond with effective coping mechanisms. If one can do that there is a good chance they are healthily expressing their emotions.

 

How Do You Fix Emotional Instability?

There are many different techniques one might use to manage emotional instability and learn how to regulate their emotions effectively. The following are some of the most common practices experts might recommend:

 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT was originally created for those dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, it can also be helpful for those who struggle with other mood disorders. DBT teaches them how to be more present and cope with emotions in healthy ways.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices (such as meditation) can benefit those with emotional regulation issues, too. Learning to be present and recognize one’s feelings without immediately acting on them (while also not being judgmental toward oneself) is essential to becoming more emotionally regulated.

 

Lifestyle Changes

Living a healthy lifestyle can also improve one’s emotional regulation and general well-being. The following are some simple (but powerful) changes that improve one’s mental and physical health:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthfully
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol

 

There is now a group at ALL IN that was designed to help participants enhance their ability to emotionally regulate. It is called “Mastering the Mind: A 4-Part DBT Skills Group”.

Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people's lives by providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.