Emotional Instability Disorder : The Role Of Parents


The World Health Organization (WHO) describes emotional instability disorder as being very similar to borderline personality disorder (BPD).

WHO list the following symptoms as those used to help diagnose emotional instability disorder :

– extreme mood fluctuations / instability of mood

– tendency to frequently become involved in conflict with others ( including friends, family and work colleagues

– great difficulty controlling impulses leading, often, to self-destructive, risk – taking behaviour with little or no regard for the consequences. If others try to prevent the person from acting on a particular impulse, s/he is liable to become highly frustrated and angry (in other words, the individual has a very strong need for instant gratification and is unable to repress this need).


Furthermore, WHO define emotional instability disorder as being of TWO SPECIFIC TYPES; these are:

1) The impulsive type

2) The borderline type

Let’s look at each of these two sub-categories of emotional instability disorder in turn.


The impulsive type is marked, in particular, by the following symptoms:

a) significant difficulty inhibiting impulses

b) severe emotional liability/instability


In addition to the above symptoms, the borderline type is likely to display some or all of the following symptoms:

a) absence of any significant aims and goals in life

b) a distorted view of self (eg regarding self as ‘evil’)

c) identity problems (including uncertainty as to what one’s values and principles are, what one’s role in society is and and what one’s basic personality characteristics are).

d) oppressed and depressed by a profoundly pervasive feeling that life is empty, futile, pointless and meaningless

e) intense, chaotic and highly unstable interpersonal relationships (eg. propensity for intense and dramatic ‘love-hate’ relationships in which the individual fluctuates wildly between idealizing their partner and then devaluing/demonizing him/her).

f) a tendency to self-harm as a way of dissociating and coping with stress

g) suicide attempts/suicide

h) a general tendency to indulge in self-destructive behaviour such as risky sex, excessive use of alcohol/drugs, compulsive gambling etc.

What Role Do Parents Play In The Causation Of Emotional Instability Disorder?

The latest rearch currently suggests that emotional instability disorder has various underlying causes that may interact with one another to give rise the disorder; these are:

prenatal factors (eg a highly stressed mother-to-be may produce a frequent flood of stress hormones which adversely impact the unborn child’s development)

genetic factors

environmental factors : in connection with environmental factors, how the child’s parents treat him/her as s/he grows up appear to be of paramount importance; therefore, I elaborate on this crucial factor below:

Recent research suggests that two types of parenting, may be particularly likely to contribute to the child being of much elevated risk of developing emotional instability disorder as an adult. These two harmful forms of parenting are :




Let’s look at each of these in turn:


Low Affection Parenting :

– lack of emotional and physical warmth shown to child

– not praising the child, instead focusing on ‘negative’ aspects of child’s behaviour

– poor supervision of child

– little time spent with child

– low expectations of child (eg. academic, vocational)

– poor communication with child


Harsh Parenting :

– punishing the child inappropriately and harshly

– mother who disciplines the child in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner

– high conflict between parents (eg. shouting, screaming, threatening, physically assaulting, swearing)

– verbal/emotional abuse of the child

– outbursts of uncontrolled anger, rage and hostility directed towards the child.

Treatment :

Dialectical behavior therapy may be an especially effective therapy for those suffering from emotional intensity disorder and BPD (N.B. Always consult an appropriately qualified professional when deciding upon medical treatment).




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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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