Confused by a diagnosis of emotional dsyregulation? It’s a complicated term for a personality trait that means you are more emotional than most.
What is emotional dysregulation?
Think of a singer who can sing many more octaves than the people around her. She can’t stop herself from breaking into song spontaneously when the ‘muse’ hits, and when she sings, she is completely taken by the music. Now replace her singing with emotions, and you are approaching what it feels like to have emotional dysregulation.
Emotional dysregulation (ED), also called ‘emotional hyperactivity’, means that you are more emotionally responsive than an average person. Your emotions will be triggered more quickly, and will tend to be on a bigger scale. You also have more difficulty controlling your emotions than others do. Your might often feel taken over and lost in your emotional states.
your moods swinging rapidly in ways other people find confusing.
Of course most articles about emotional dysregulation focus on the ways it makes life hard, so on the ‘negative’ side to things. But if you have emotional dysregulation, you can also be more deeply touched by things like art and music than others, and able to experience profound joy. With time, when you get to know yourself better, you might find that you also have a talent for showing empathy.
So if I have emotional dysregulation there is something wrong with me?
It’s important to keep in mind that mental health labels are not ‘diseases’. You can’t see them under a microscope. They are just ways of referring to people who deviate from the norm of the Western society we live in.
For perspective, even in Western society some countries accept big emotions more than others. It is, for example, less frowned on to break into yelling or tears in Italy than it is in America.
At the same time, emotional dysregulation is a very big deal if it is making your daily life hard.
It does seem that some children are biologically born more likely to have emotional dysregulation. Infants can show signs of dysregulation at several months old, and some then grow up to have behavioural and emotional problems.
But ED can be a result of the way you were parented. For our emotional system to develop in a healthy way, we need to have a caregiver we can trust to love and be there for us no matter what our behaviour . (This is the idea behind what is known as ‘attachment theory‘). Of course we also need that parent to give us freedom as we learn to venture out and try things for ourselves.
If our primary caregiver instead ignores our needs, is unreliable and unpredictable, or is smothering? Then it disrupts our healthy emotional development. We don’t learn to self regulate well.
ED is often connected to these mental health disorders :
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) – this is the disorder most connected to emotional dysregulation. In fact it is sometimes (and more fittingly) called ‘unstable personality disorder’, or even ‘emotional dysregulation disorder’.