Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation involves more intense emotions like low moods similar to depression and high moods similar to mania. The handful of us suffering from emotional dysregulation find it difficult to control our moods especially under certain triggers. We may also become confused from struggling to identify our emotions to the point of guilt or inability to decide on how to solve the problem. 


What we might experience in an episode of emotional dysregulation:

   Your best friend postponed the dinner tonight to meet their parents instead. You think he/she does not want to be friends with you anymore so you cry all night while eating two tubs of ice cream.

   A retail associate says they can't sell you a particular damaged item but ask if you would like it in another colour. You lose your anger and yell at them saying you will report them. 


Signs and symptoms of emotional dysregulation 

   Severe depression or anger

   Shame and/or anxiety

   Self-destructive behaviour (self-harm, substance abuse, impulsive sexual behaviour)

   Troubles with interpersonal relationships

   Inconsistent eating habits

   Suicidal attempt/ideation


Is emotional dysregulation a disorder? 

No, emotional dysregulation is a term explaining the characteristics of fluctuating emotions, and are commonly symptoms of several disorders like ADHD or Bipolar disorder. Our inability to cope with the intense feelings mentally often lead to using unhelpful coping methods, such as self-harm and substance abuse, also known as behavioural dysregulation. It is also possible that sometimes when we are drowning in our emotions, we tend to lose touch with reality and dissociate, or experience severe distress. 


Emotional dysregulation in ADHD

ADHD is a disorder consisting of symptoms of lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Some of us who suffer from ADHD may experience emotional impulsivity and/or the inability to cope with temper outbursts. While the main cause of ADHD is still uncertain, the impairment in controlling emotions is largely explained by our brain connections and responses. The delay in transmissions for emotional reactions and decision making results in a reduced activation between the prefrontal cortex (decision making region) and reward system. Hence, we are less able to comprehend the situation and react sensitively or calmly. 


Emotional dysregulation in BD and BPD

Both Bipolar disorder (BD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) involves emotional dysregulation, in which we frequently experience abnormal moods. (While both disorders are similar in the aspect of regulation of emotions, BPD is more focused on unstable relationships and self-image.) For BD, genes and chemical imbalance are the common explanations for mood dysregulation, whereas for BPD, early trauma and brain chemistry are the likely causes of intense mood fluctuation. 


Can I have emotional dysregulation without any disorders?

It is possible for any of us to struggle with emotional dysregulation, especially if we had suffered from previous trauma or have attachment issues. Past experiences like abuse or neglect can lead to emotional dysregulation as we were not provided with the warmth and healthy coping methods while growing up. Inevitably, we struggle to cope with stress or anxiety in a healthy manner. There are also instances in which our temperament may lead to emotional dysregulation. For example, with a "slow to warm up" temperament, more time is required for us to master the coping methods. And with a "difficult" temperament, we are often withdrawn and require more time to adapt to changes in emotions and struggle to control our emotions. 


Treatments for emotional dysregulation


    • Stimulants for ADHD symptoms 
    • Anti-depressants for depressive symptoms
    • Anti-psychotics for manic symptoms 

   Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) 

    • Mindfulness of emotions and situations 
    • Improve self-image 
    • Explore healthy coping methods 


When using the term emotional dysregulation, we should be mindful that it is not a disorder, but rather characteristics of some of us who need assistance in learning how to control their emotions.  


Find out more about emotional dysregulation by watching the video!

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