Emotional dysregulation is a difficulty in managing difficult feelings. We all have uncomfortable feelings such as stress, anxiety, guilt, frustration and so on from time to time and in certain situations. We also have different levels of distress tolerance. Our reactions and responses are managed through emotional regulation to help keep a sense of control and make healthy and appropriate choices. For some people though it may feel as if their emotions are controlling them instead of the other way round. Often the belief is ‘It’s true because I feel it, it’s true because I think it’.
With emotional dysregulation seemingly innocent or innocuous situations or remarks can certainly trigger strong emotional reactions. These situations may trigger sadness, terror, anger and shame. When we are able to regulate how we feel we can choose how to respond. However, people with emotional dysregulation react in an overly explosive and exaggerated way. Examples of this may be hostility and aggression, self-destructive and self-defeating behaviour, shrinking into a helpless victim who needs reassurance and rescuing from and by others. This leads to unhealthy and chaotic relationships and environments where others are responsible held responsible for how they feel.
Some of the symptoms of emotional dysregulation include:
Holding long term grudges and plotting revenge due to real or imagined slights – “I’ll get them just wait and see”
Strained relationships – “You are responsible for my happiness and cause my distress”
Exaggerated episodes of being upset and crying – “This is too much”
Accusing statements, often based on narratives created in own head – “You think that…You never…You’re going to…”
Angry outbursts – “I hate you!”
Mood swings – “I hate you, don’t leave me”
Impulsive behaviours – “It feels good I want it now”
Risk taking behaviours – “What consequences?”
Avoidance – “I can’t, I don’t want, if I look at that instead”
Threats of suicide – “I might as well be dead”
Misusing alcohol and other substances – “It makes me feel better, I don’t have to deal with it if I drink”
Idealised versions of people and situations and huge distress when met with the reality – “I set you on a pedestal and look at how you behaved!”
Causes of Emotional Dysregulation
There are many different causes of emotional dysregulation. It could come from trauma, PTSD, brain injuries, social environment, unhealthy beliefs to name a few. Some personality disorders feature difficulties in regulating emotions. It can also come from a history of child neglect and abuse.
Counselling can be useful in helping to learn to regulate feelings, thoughts and behaviours. There are different counselling approaches to helping with emotional dysregulation and improve self-control. DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), for instance, is a form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which helps people develop grounding techniques and skills to manage their emotions. It can also help manage conflict, build on awareness and improve distress tolerance.
This article was written by sentientcounselling