Do you have trouble managing your own emotions, to the point of losing jobs, friends, or romantic partners? These are signs of emotional dysregulation, also called affect dysregulation.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
Defined as an incapacity to manage emotional responses well or to keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions, emotional dysregulation is believed to affect roughly 5% of the population. It can be devastatingly destructive to relationships, family life, school life, work life, and overall well-being. Although it is more commonly seen amongst children and adolescents, it can persist into adulthood.
Emotional dysregulation is not a disorder in itself, but it often plays a central role in a number of mental health conditions. Research suggests affect dysregulation may have a variety of causes including:
- Genetic disposition
- Trauma (especially sexual or physical abuse)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Emotional neglect and other adverse childhood experiences
- Mental health disorders
EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION AND MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS
Emotional dysregulation is often a precursor to or a major symptom of a number of mental health disorders, research suggests. It has been linked to:
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Mood disorders (such as depression, bipolar disorder, and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder)
- Complex PTSD
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
AFFECT DYSREGULATION IN ADULTS
Adults need emotional regulation just like children and adolescents. A high degree of emotional regulation in adults is associated with higher levels of well-being, disposable income, and socioeconomic status, according to research in the journal Emotion.
Conversely, emotional dysregulation can lead to a lifetime of struggles including problems with interpersonal relationships, trouble with academic performance, and the inability to function effectively in a job or at work. For adults, emotional dysregulation may manifest as a big emotional response that is overblown to the situation at hand. Dysregulated adults also have trouble calming down after an emotional trigger, as well as a tendency to avoid difficult feelings and to focus on the negative. They may exhibit impulsive behaviour surrounding out-of-control feelings of fear, sadness, frustration, and anger.
An emotionally dysregulated adult may have difficulty discerning what they are feeling when they get upset. Strong emotions may feel so confusing, overwhelming, or riddled with guilt, a dysregulated person often has trouble making decisions or controlling their own behaviour.
SOLUTIONS FOR BETTER EMOTIONAL REGULATION
There’s hope for both children and adults with affect dysregulation. If you recognize emotional dysregulation in your child or yourself—or both, it’s important to seek the help of a mental health professional. Once it is identified and a comprehensive assessment is made to identify root causes, emotional regulation techniques can be learned and related mental health—and brain health—disorders can be addressed.
Research in Frontiers in Psychology showed improvement in emotional regulation with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, hypnosis, and meditation. Neurofeedback also has been shown to support emotional regulation in patients with PTSD, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders, according to a 2019 study in Neuroimage. Additional tools and strategies are available to treat past trauma, brain injuries, and related mental health issues. Finding the root causes of affect dysregulation is the key to discovering the most effective solutions.
Problems with emotional dysregulation and other mental health issues can’t wait.
Yours in Health
Prof Sundardas D Annamalay
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