Emotional dysregulation, put simply, is an inability to control or regulate emotions and emotional responses. This can lead to significant mood swings, changes in mood, or emotional outbursts. Emotional dysregulation can involve many emotions, frequently sadness, anger, frustration and irritability.
Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) experience emotions that are excessively intense when compared to the given circumstances. Consequently, they may opt to completely avoid specific situations, struggle to achieve a state of calmness, or fixate on the negative aspects of the situation.
Dysregulation can also lead to impulsive behaviours when their emotions are out of control – these are usually harmful behaviours. For example, someone in a state of extreme sadness may misuse substances (commonly drugs and alcohol) to mitigate their feelings. People on an extreme high may overspend and get into debt. They may take risky behaviours such as putting themselves in dangerous situations or being promiscuous. Emotional eating can occur when feeling abandoned or rejected.
Emotional dysregulation may also mean that the person living with BPD has trouble recognising the emotions they are experiencing. This may lead to feeling confused or guilty, or feeling overwhelmed by emotions to the point that you can’t manage your behaviour or make decisions.
Being unable to recognise or manage emotions, and their effects on behaviour, can have a range of negative effects including:
- trouble sleeping
- getting into minor arguments that have blown out of proportion
- struggling to ‘let go’ or holding onto anger longer than you should
- finding work or school difficult
- trouble resolving conflict
- avoidance of certain situations
- struggling to make or maintain friendships
- engaging in self-harm or reckless behaviours
- developing a substance abuse problem or addiction