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emotional dysregulation

When Emotions are Always Running High: Understanding Emotional Dysregulation

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Everyone experiences intense feelings from time to time, but if your typical response is always on the extreme side of the emotional range, you may be living with a condition called emotional dysregulation. While this can cause serious problems in your day-to-day life, it is also very treatable with professional support.

It is important to be able to experience and honour our emotions as they arise. However, if you are continually caught between significant mood swings and out-of-control outbursts, you may feel exhausted or even anxious about your feelings. Emotional dysregulation is a brain condition that causes frequent and intense emotional responses that can negatively impact both mental and physical health. Understanding what emotional dysregulation is and its consequences is important in determining the next steps toward gaining control of your emotions. 

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation is a condition in which people experience strong emotional responses that are out of proportion to that which has triggered them. Those with emotional dysregulation may not always be able to identify what has caused their emotions, and may feel overwhelmed by the situation or the feelings themselves. 

While emotional dysregulation is not considered a mental health disorder on its own, it can be a symptom of several types of mental health disorders, and may cause significant disruptions to a person’s life, including in relationships at home or in the workplace.

What are signs of emotional dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation can result in symptoms such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Angry outbursts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulsive decisions or acts
  • Perfectionism
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky sexual behaviours or other behavioural addictions like shopping or gambling

People who are emotionally dysregulated rarely experience a sense of calm or balance, and may try to control their environment or others in an attempt to subdue their emotions. 

What Causes Emotional Dysregulation?

Who we are as individuals – our experiences, our neurochemistry, our personalities, and our perceptions – can shape how we feel and manage our emotions. There are a variety of potentially contributing factors to emotional dysregulation, including both environmental and biological influences. 

Childhood Trauma

Childhood is a critical period in human development which can be profoundly altered by traumatic circumstances. Abuse, neglect, or other situations in which a child’s needs were not met can result in emotional dysregulation both in childhood and in adulthood. 

Genetic or Biological Factors

Some people are born with greater sensitivity to the world around them, and may be more prone to emotional dysregulation as a result. This is further fueled by adverse environmental factors that cause stress and can lead to intense emotional responses.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Research has discovered that injury to certain parts of the brain, particularly the frontal lobe, can result in emotional dysregulation. This can be due to damages sustained by the brain’s impulse control center, or areas that help to control the input of sensory information.

Harsh environments

Environments in which a person’s needs are not acknowledged or validated can contribute to emotional dysregulation. This can include at home, school, in the workplace, or within peer groups or other social networks. 

Mental health disorders

Though emotional dysregulation is itself not a mental health disorder, it can be a symptom of other mental health disorders. This underscores the need for evaluation if you are experiencing emotional dysregulation in order to understand the cause and take the proper steps to improve your mental wellbeing. Mental health disorders linked to emotional dysregulation include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Frontal-lobe disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorders

What are the Effects of Emotional Dysregulation?

If you are unable to regulate your emotions, you have very little control over how you react, and tend to lack the resilience and flexibility needed to manage stress or hardship. This can result in significant challenges to most aspects of daily living, and a lower overall quality of life.

Emotional dysregulation and relationships

Impulsive and uncontrolled behaviours can wreak havoc on both romantic and friendly relationships. People with emotional dysregulation may do things like abruptly hang up on a conversation, walk out the door in the middle of a disagreement, respond with angry or anguished outbursts to perceived slights, or use extreme statements like “you always” or “you never.” In severe cases, verbal or physical abuse may also occur. These interactions can leave both parties feeling drained, hopeless and unsatisfied, and heighten the chance for an eventual termination of the relationship.

Emotional dysregulation and addiction

People living with emotional dysregulation often feel like their nervous system is under constant assault by stress, worry and anger. For those who attempt to cope or seek relief through activities that provide distraction and escape, the risk for addiction is high. Studies have shown that emotional dysregulation is significantly associated with both the severity and frequency of substance use, and the potential for engaging in addictive behaviours. Unfortunately, while such activities may temporarily alleviate the discomfort of emotional dysregulation, addiction is a major contributor to the further deterioration of one’s emotional wellbeing.

Emotional dysregulation and health

Because emotional dysregulation involves sustained high levels of stress, increased risk for addictive behaviours and impulsive decision-making, it can have marked effects on a person’s physical and mental health. An increased potential for suicidal ideation and self-harm among people with emotional dysregulation also poses a serious risk for injury or death. These health concerns highlight the need for treatment in order to ensure a better quality of life. 

How Do You Treat Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation is a treatable condition that often benefits from professional support. Common forms of treatment for emotional dysregulation include:

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Described by some as the “treatment of choice” for emotional dysregulation, DBT focuses on managing intense emotions and navigating the complexities of social relationships in both individual and group therapy sessions. DBT teaches acceptance and tolerance of negative emotions, mindfulness around emotional responses, and tools for effectiveness in interpersonal relationships, thereby empowering people to take control of their feelings and reactions.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

A highly effective form of talk therapy, CBT often takes place in a one-on-one setting with a therapist and focuses on identifying and working through problematic patterns of thought and behaviour. Often a therapist will introduce a range of healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness, breathing techniques and emotional regulation tools to help support you as you learn to manage your emotions.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy, also known as a process group, is a highly effective way to begin to notice, unpack and reform negative patterns of thought and reaction. Typically involving a small number of individuals and one to two therapists, interpersonal therapy first focuses on building trust, commitment, and a shared understanding of confidentiality among the group members. When that is established, members then begin interacting with each other while also noting the thoughts, feelings or reactions that arise as they do so. These are then reported to the group, and the therapist then helps to facilitate a process of understanding, reflection, and revision. 

Seeking professional support for emotional dysregulation ensures that you have the tools you need to bring your emotions into balance and thrive in your interpersonal relationships.

Finding Balance at The Dawn

Finding Balance at The Dawn

If you’ve been struggling with emotional dysregulation, The Dawn can help. The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers highly personalised treatment for a variety of mental health and addiction issues, including emotional dysregulation. Our unique Twin Pillars approach addresses emotional dysregulation holistically through a seamless blend of modern psychotherapies and highly effective wellness practices like yoga, mindfulness meditation, and fitness training. 

Our signature mental wellness programme has been specially designed to help clients gain a deeper understanding of their symptoms, and learn skills needed to effectively manage their conditions. 

A Mental Health Retreat in Thailand

Stress, worry and lack of downtime are known triggers of most mental health issues. Located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in beautiful northern Thailand, The Dawn’s tranquil riverfront location immediately transports you into an oasis of calm, completely removing you from all your stressors, while enveloping you in comfort and support. 

Internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers tailor made programmes that cater to each client’s needs. Clients leave The Dawn feeling healthier, happier and well-equipped to deal with life’s challenges and embrace life’s joys. 

Call us today to learn more about how we can support your needs.

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