Tag Archives: Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional Dysregulation : The Vital Importance Of Reducing It.

emotional dysregulation

Childhood Trauma Leading To Emotional Dysregulation In Adulthood :

If we have suffered significant and chronic childhood trauma we are at increased risk, as adults, of suffering from ’emotional dysregulation.’ Indeed, if our traumatic early experiences were so severe that we have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) then this is especially likely to be the case (emotional deregulation is a classic feature and hallmark of BPD and one of the nine key symptoms of the disorder listed in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, or, in its abbreviated form, DSM V).

What Is Meant By The Term ‘Emotional Dysregulation?’ :

Other terms for ’emotional dysregulation’ include ’emotional instability’, ‘affective volatility’ and high ’emotional lability.’ In other words, an individual who is emotionally deregulated is prone to experiencing extreme and rapid fluctuations in his/her moods and feelings.


Recent Research Into Emotional Dysregulation In BPD Sufferers :

Recent research into BPD suggests that, in the case of individuals afflicted by this disorder,  not all emotions are involved in these dramatic fluctuations of mood. The main emotions that ARE involved have been found to be :

  • anger
  • anxiety
  • depressive feelings

To elaborate a little further, anger appears to be the emotion most strongly associated with BPD and severe swings between feelings of depression and anxiety have been found to be particularly prevalent in those suffering from the condition.

Devastating Effects On Life :

Anyone who suffers from, or has suffered from, significant emotional deregulation knows the devastating effects the condition can have on various aspects of one’s life : it can ruin friendships, family relationships and intimate relationships ; it can also cause problems at work, including job loss ; it may even lead to legal difficulties (and these examples by no means constitute an exhaustive list).

If, then, we suffer from emotional dysregulation, it is vital, if we wish to reclaim, and establish some semblance of control over, our lives, that we reduce our level of emotional deregulation and, thus, become more emotionally stable.

How Can We Reduce Our Level Of Emotional Dysregulation And Regain Some Control Over How We Feel And Behave?

A study carried out by Bailey and Chambers (2016) found that by undergoing an eight week course in mindfulness meditation, it was possible for an individual to increase the volume of the dentate gyrus, an area of the hippocampus (the hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation) by 22.8% – this is possible because of a quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity.

And other research has found that mindfulness meditation can also have beneficial effects upon other brain regions and their associated functions. For example, a review of research, carried out by the researchers Tang, Holzel and Posner (2015) and published in a journal called Nature Reviews Neuroscience focused upon 21 studies on the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain. Findings of the studies include :

Mindfulness meditation can increase the size of the following brain regions :

  • anterior cingulate cortex and striatum (involved in attention control)
  • multiple prefrontal regions and limbic region (involved in emotional regulation)
  • insula, medial prefrontal cortex (involved in self-awareness)

Resource :

Mindfulness Meditation Hypnosis Pack | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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



Four Types Of ‘Dysregulation’ Displayed By BPD Sufferers

types of dysregulation

BPD And Dysregulation :

We have already seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those who have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma are at greatly increased risk of going on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable upbringing.

One of the main symptoms of this very serious and life-threatening condition (about ninety per cent of sufferers attempt suicide and about ten per cent die by suicide) is termed ‘DYSREGULATION.’

What Is Meant By The Term ‘Dysregulation?’

When the term DYSREGULATION is used in the psychological literature it most commonly refers to the great difficulty the BPD sufferer has controlling behavior and emotional states. However, more specifically, the dysregulation that those with BPD experience can be sub-divided into four particular types; these are :





Below, I briefly define each of these four types of dysregulation :

  • Emotional Dysregulation :

This type of dysregulation refers to extreme sensitivity and difficulty controlling intense emotions. Individuals suffering from this type of dissociation not only feel emotions far more deeply than the average person, but also take longer to return to their ‘baseline’ / ‘normal’ mood.

For example, a person with BPD who is emotionally dysregulated may be easily moved to intense expressions of anger and then take far longer to calm down again compared to the average person. Others may disparagingly (due to their lack of knowledge and understanding of this life-threatening – see above – and acutely, indeed uniquely, mentally painful condition) describe such an individual as extremely ‘thin’skinned’, as ‘having a chip on his/her shoulder’, ‘a drama queen’ or as or as someone who is prone to extreme ‘over-reactions.’

A leading theory as to why individuals with BPD are emotionally dysregulated is that the development of their AMYGDALA (a brain region intimately involved with how we express emotions and how we react to stress) has been damaged as a result of severe childhood trauma.

emotional dysregulation


This type of dysregulation refers to the severe problems those with BPD can have controlling their behavior ; such individuals may be highly impulsive and liable to indulge in high-risk behaviors that are self-destructive. Such behaviors may include :

    • excessive drinking
    • excessive drug taking
    • gambling
    • compulsive self-harm
    • risky sex
    • drink-driving / dangerous driving
    • excessive / compulsive spending leading to debt problems



This type of dysregulation refers to disorganized thinking which may manifest itself as paranoid-type thinking and/or as states of DISSOCIATION.

BPD sufferers are also prone to ‘black and white’ / ‘all or nothing’ type thinking, indecision, self-doubt, distrust of others and intense self-hatred.



This type of dysregulation refers to the weak sense of their own identity many BPD sufferers feel ( a typical BPD sufferer might express this by saying something along the lines of ‘I’ve no idea who I am‘), feelings of emptiness, and the difficulty many BPD sufferers experienced expressing their likes, dislikes, needs and feelings,

Dysregulation And Stress :

Individuals with BPD are far less able to cope with stress than the average person and dysregulation (relating to all four of the above categories) is especially likely to occur when such individuals are experiencing stress ; indeed, the greater the stress the individual is experiencing, the more dysregulated he/she is likely to become.




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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

‘Amygdala Hijack’ And BPD

amygdala hijack

One of the main, and most problematic, symptoms that those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) suffer from is the experiencing of disproportionately intense emotional responses when under stress and an inability to control them or efficiently recover and calm down once such tempestuous emotions have been aroused. This very serious symptom of BPD is also often referred to as emotional dysregulation.

The main theory as to why such problems managing emotions occur is that damage has been done to the development of the brain region known as the amygdala in early life due to chronic trauma and, consequently, this area of the brain having been overloaded and overwhelmed by emotions such as fear and anxiety during early development causing a longterm malfunction which can extend well into adulthood or even endure for the BPD sufferer’s entire lifespan (in the absence of effective therapy).

The damage done to the development of the amygdala means that, as adults, when under stress, BPD sufferers are frequently likely to experience what is sometimes referred to as an emotional highjack or, as in the title of this article, an amygdala hijack.

What Is ‘Amygdala Hijack’ And How Does It Prevent Emotional Calm?

When external stimuli are sufficiently stressful, the amygdala ‘shuts down’ the prefrontal cortex (the prefrontal cortex is responsible planning, decision making and intellectual abilities).

In this way, when a certain threshold of stress is passed (and this threshold in far lower in BPD sufferers than the average person’s) the amygdala (responsible for generating emotions, particularly negative emotions such as anxiety, fear and aggression) essentially ‘takes over’ and ‘overrides’ the prefrontal cortex.

amygdala hijack

Above : under sufficient stress the prefrontal cortex (the seat of rational thought) is shut down, leaving the amygdala (the seat of intense, negative emotions like anxiety, fear and aggression) to ‘run riot.’

As such, the prefrontal cortex ‘goes offline’ leaving the BPD sufferer flooded with negative emotional responses and unable to reason, by logic or rational thought processes, his/her way out of them.

When the amygdala is ‘highjacked’ in this way, there are three main signs. These are :

1) An intense emotional reaction to the event (or external stimuli)

2) The onset of this intense emotional reaction is sudden

3) It is not until the BPD sufferer has calmed down and the prefrontal cortex comes ‘back online’  (which takes far longer for him/her than it would for the average person) that s/he realizes his/her response (whilst under ‘amygdala highjacking’) was inappropriate, often giving rise to feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, remorse and regret.


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





3 Types Of Emotional Control Difficulties Resulting From Childhood Trauma

We know that those who suffer significant childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from emotional dysregulation (i.e. problems controlling their emotions) in adulthood compared to those who had a relatively stable upbringing. This is especially true, of course, if they develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a result of their childhood experiences (BPD is strongly associated with childhood trauma and one of its main symptoms is emotional dysregulation.

It is theorized (and there is much evidence building up which supports the theory) that one main reason childhood trauma causes the person who suffered it to develop problems controlling his/her emotions in later life is that the experience of significant childhood trauma can lead to damage of the brain structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional reactions to events. (It is also thought that the experience of childhood trauma can also damage other areas of the brain that affect our emotional responses, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex). Click here to read my article on this.

The three types of emotional control difficulties that an individual who has suffered significant childhood trauma may develop are:

1) Severe emotional over-reactions.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state (also known as emotional lability).

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Severe emotional over- reactions:

We may react emotionally disproportionately to the things that happen to us. For example, disproportionately angry as a result of what would objectively appear to be very minor provocation, disproportionately anxious in response to a very minor threat or even suicidal behaviour/self-harming behaviour in response to events that the ‘average’ person could take in their stride with little difficulty.

To take a personal example : when I was a teenager I had a minor argument with a friend. As a result, he demanded that I leave his house. Before I knew it, I had punched him. It was only years later (because I’m stupid) that it occurred that I’d reacted as I did because the incident reminded me, on an unconscious level, of my mother throwing me out of the house some years earlier (when I was thirteen years old); in so doing, it had triggered intensely painful feelings associated with the memory of this ultimate rejection.

2) A propensity to experience sudden shifts in one’s emotional state:

For example, one minute the individual may be withdrawn, depressed and reticent but then suddenly swing, with little or no provocation, into a highly agitated, angry and voluble state.

3) Once triggered, emotions take a long time to return to their normal levels:

It thought that this is due to problems of communication between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (in healthy individuals the prefrontal cortex acts efficiently to send messages to the amygdala to reduce its activity once the cause of the emotions is over – the amygdala being a part of the brain which gives rise to emotional responses).

Indeed, it is thought all three of the above problems occur due to brain dysfunction caused, at least in part, by early life trauma.

Above ebook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here.

Other Resources:

Control Your Emotions (hypnosis MP3 download). Click here for details.

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

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Intense Emotions.

borderline personality disorder and intense vemotions

One of the main hallmarks of suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the experiencing of  overwhelmingly extreme and intense emotions which are prone to change very rapidly and which the individual has great difficulty controlling. Psychologists call this serious problem emotional dysregulation. Examples include becoming engulfed by powerful feelings of rage in response to events which do not seem to warrant such a strong reaction or becoming excessively anxious over what others are likely to regard as fairly trivial.

BPD and emotional dysregulation

Other emotions which people with BPD frequently experience disproportionately intensely include fear, depression and jealousy.


There are two main theories that seek to explain why those who suffer from BPD experience such intense emotions; these are :

1) They have a much stronger physical reaction to certain events than average

2) They suffer from distorted thinking in relation to certain events which causes them to misinterpret these events.

Both of these problems are likely to have their foundations in childhood (eg read my article on how childhood trauma can affect the development of the brain).

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1) The Physical Reaction Interpretation :

It is thought that those who suffer from BPD have far stronger physical responses (eg increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating etc) to any stimuli which induce fear, such as abandonment or threat to safety. This in turn leads to an emotional over-reaction.

Indeed, research has been conducted that shows people who suffer from BPD have a much greater startle response than those who do not suffer from the condition.

2) The Distorted Thinking Interpretation :

There is also research evidence demonstrating that BPD sufferers are much more likely to view events as negative than non-BPD sufferers. According to cognitive-behavioural therapy CBT), how we think about things has a strong impact upon how we feel – therefore, according to this school of thought, it is the BPD sufferer’s overly negative thinking style that leads to his/her emotional turmoil.

Of course, it is likely that both of the above two theories play their part, as probably do some of the theories below.


I list these theories below :

a) they have a genetic pre-disposition to emotionally over-react

b) studies have shown that people with BPD are much better than those who do not suffer from it at accurately discerning negative expressions on the faces of others. However, they are also more likely to interpret a neutral expression as being negative – this can perhaps evoke feelings of paranoia

c) people with BPD tend to suffer from what may be termed  meta-negative emotions. This means having negative emotions about having negative emotions, or, put more simply, feeling bad about feeling bad. This can lead to a vicious circle which is difficult to brealk free of without the intervention of therapy. Therapies for BPD include cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy – both of these therapies are evidence-based.

borderline personality disorder ebook


Above eBook available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 CLICK HERE.

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