What Is Emotional Dysregulation?

Published on November 10th, 2015

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation refers to poorly regulated emotions that create extreme emotional reactions. A person who is in a state of emotional dysregulation may have mood swings, be highly irritable, or be reactive when upset. They have extreme emotional reactions and struggle to cope with stress.

People who struggle with emotional dysregulation often suffer from anxiety and depression. They can also struggle with other mental health issues and can benefit from mental health treatment. A common form of treatment for emotional dysregulation is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

An overview of DBT explains the treatment’s overall goals, target clients, and general philosophy. However, when we pare down the interventions, the crux of DBT is helping people maintain emotional regulation. So, this begs the question: What exactly is emotional dysregulation? Why is it a problem? And what DBT skills in particular help address it?

Affordable Online Therapy

Choose a therapist to work with and start healing with 20% off from BetterHelp.

Click Here

Your thoughts and behaviors are linked. Even though some behaviors feel automatic, if we break down our cognitive processes, we would realize there’s not a single action that occurs without a thought. In the same way that our thoughts and behaviors uniquely shape our identity, so do our emotions.

Emotions can be a delightful and important part of the human experience as well as a tragic one. When someone experiences intense emotion it can complicate things. This is especially the case if the emotion is related to shame, trauma, or other adverse experiences. On the other hand, intense emotion can also “complicate” things for the better. Intense emotions provide a greater capacity for interpersonal depth. They can add to the richness and meaning of a person’s social world.

Woman In Pain

DBT and Emotional Regulation

DBT addresses the intense emotions that complicate things in our lives. It is hard to make rational choices when we are full of anxiety, despair, self-hatred, or shame, isn’t it? DBT works to take care of this imbalance and bring things back to equilibrium.

Note: Remember that feelings are not bad or good– they just are. DBT teaches this same principle with the understanding that sometimes, feelings need to be taken care of or addressed in a new way.

You might ask, why do some people struggle to regulate their emotions and others do not? DBT maintains that the answer lies between a combination of biological and environmental factors.

Genes may influence the way we experience emotion and so does the environment. Those who grew up in an emotionally unsafe environment have a harder time regulating emotions. Those who grew up in a safe space to experience their emotions may not struggle with emotional regulation.

Below is an overview of a few DBT skills and tools that help address emotions in a new way:

One Mindfully In the Moment. Focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking can be a symptom of not knowing your limits. Trying to please and accommodate too many demands at once affects emotional regulation. Anticipating future events can also cause a strained emotional response.

Describe, Put Words On. Practice the skills of describing your experience. Learning how to describe what you are feeling and experiencing can help with processing your awareness. Saying, writing, or describing what you are feeling makes suffering less intense. This helps with boosting awareness and a sense of connectedness with the present moment. It also boosts awareness of what you are feeling in response to your environment.

Observe, Non Judgmentally. Disruptive emotions that feel out of control can stem from a skewed sense of what is going on around you. Oftentimes, the misperception has to do with old, untreated emotional wounds.

Example: Jane grew up in a home where any disagreement meant explosive yelling, name-calling, and cursing. As an adult, she anticipates all disagreements will end the same way.

The skill of observation encourages you to look at things as they are instead of how you think they might be or become. A person using non-judgmental observation would interpret what is happening. They would see someone who is upset and think “That person has lots of tears streaming down their face and they are hunched over. They are expressing the experience of big feelings”. A person who is concluding without sufficient content would think “That person just received horrible news and is so sad!”.

Therapy Can Help

Consider therapy if you find yourself struggling with emotional dysregulation. A DBT therapist will help you implement coping skills regularly.

Imagine how things might change if you stopped to observe or describe your feelings multiple times in a day. Unregulated emotions can send us to places of emotional extremes and when things are extreme, we are usually miserable. When it’s too hot we are miserable, when it’s too cold we are also miserable. When we have too much to do we are miserable and the same for too little to do. Balance is key in DBT and practicing skills like those mentioned here can help alleviate great suffering.

Need to talk to someone?

Find an affordable therapist online with 20% off from BetterHelp.

Click Here

Link To This Article

Leave A Reply