If you find it challenging to control your emotions and seem to get angry, overwhelmed or both, there is a chance that past trauma probably is to blame.
Traumatic experiences may have a lasting impact on our psychological, physical and emotional well-being, which impact our ability to regulate our emotions and can create challenges for us.
Psychologists refer to this as emotional dysregulation.
Let’s explore emotional dysregulation, it’s symptoms and how you can recover from unresolved trauma affecting you.
How common is emotional dysregulation?
Statistics from the American Psychiatric Association show that around one in eleven people will experience PTSD at some stage.
PTSD can affect how a person regulates emotions, causing various complications within their relationships, work, and society.
*The connection between trauma and dysregulation
Trauma-related conditions such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) can significantly impact a person’s ability to regulate emotions, meaning they have trouble controlling their feelings and emotional responses.
Explaining the difference between PTSD and C-PTSD
PTSD and C-PTSD are mental health disorders brought on by single or chronic traumatic stress.
Although these conditions share similar symptoms, many features set them apart. For example, someone with PTSD may have been exposed to physical violence or a natural disaster – these events are referred to as ‘single event traumas’.
On the other hand, someone exposed to repeated trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse from a parent or caregiver, may develop complex PTSD (C-PTSD).
Trauma affects us all differently
Traumatic events can affect people in various ways. For instance, two people may encounter the same situation, but only one person will experience post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Emotional dysregulation is one of the hallmarks of trauma and can appear in various ways. For example, you may experience uncontrollable bouts of intense anger or cry for no apparent reason.
Emotional dysregulation is described by mental health professionals as ‘the inability to manage the intensity or duration of emotional responses’. (What Is Emotional Dysregulation, Anyway? Annie Tanasugarn, PhD, CCTSA, Psychology Today, August 26, 2022)
Studies show that individuals with a history of childhood trauma, particularly those who didn’t receive emotional validation from their parents or caregivers, are more likely to struggle with emotional regulation in later life.
What are the symptoms of emotional dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation impacts how you process and regulate your emotional responses to things. You may experience profound anger, sadness, guilt or shame and be completely unaware of where these feelings come from and how to control them.
Symptoms of emotional dysregulation can vary, but those with the condition are likely to experience the following:
- Feeling overwhelmed by specific emotions, such as anger, sadness, and guilt
- Impulsive behavior
- Crying for ‘seemingly’ no reason
- Sudden mood shifts
- Trouble coping with stress
- Disproportionate or intense emotional responses that are difficult to control
- Poor conflict resolution skills
- Higher risks for alcohol and drug abuse
- Interpersonal relationship conflict
- Engaging in compulsive behaviors such as shopping, sex or binge eating
The connection between emotional dysregulation and borderline personality disorder
Researchers noted that adverse experiences such as physical abuse, emotional neglect, and emotional dysregulation are likely to be key predictors of borderline personality disorder and C-PTSD. (What Is Emotional Dysregulation, Anyway? Annie Tanasugarn, PhD, CCTSA, Psychology Today, August 26, 2022)
Causes and risk factors for emotional dysregulation
While there is no single cause for emotional dysregulation, various factors can influence whether someone develops the condition. Studies show that trauma is one of the leading causes of emotional dysregulation.
Other risk factors:
A person’s environment, particularly the environment they were raised in.
- Whether an individual was taught emotion regulation skills in childhood, for instance, studies show that parents who struggle with emotional dysregulation cannot teach their children these vital skills, thus putting them at a higher risk of developing the condition in later life.
Emotional regulation is a learned skill
Trauma disrupts the learning process
CHILDREN AGE 6-10 ARE THE MOST AT RISK FOR DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION. (How Does PTSD Lead to Emotional Dysregulation? Emma Dibdin, PsychCentral, September 7, 2022)
What other mental health disorders involve emotional dysregulation?
As well as the conditions mentioned, studies show that mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may be considered a type of emotional dysregulation. Since bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, those with the condition may experience profound mood changes, affecting emotional regulation and how an individual manages complicated feelings.
Some of the features of bipolar disorder include mania, depression, difficulties with concentration, a lack of impulse control and an inability to manage multiple tasks.
When left untreated, emotional dysregulation can negatively impact a person’s life, particularly their intimate relationships.
If someone struggles to control their jealousy or anger, for example, this can have a detrimental effect on the health of their relationships and may cause irreparable damage.
Treatment for emotional dysregulation
The most effective treatments for emotional dysregulation include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – involves addressing and modifying unhelpful thoughts and behavioral patterns that lead to destructive coping and behaviors.
- Talk therapy (known as psychotherapy) – can help you understand and process your emotions more effectively. Your therapist can teach you vital skills to manage your feelings better while learning healthy coping skills.
- Trauma treatment – involves recognizing how past traumatic events may impact your present life and reframing these experiences by reprocessing difficult memories in a safe and encouraging space guided by a trauma specialist.
Now is the time to start your recovery and live the life you want and deserve.