Today we are taking some time to talk about emotion regulation, or more accurately, dysregulation. According to Google, emotion regulation is: “the ability to respond to an experience with a range of emotions in a manner that is socially acceptable and flexible enough to permit spontaneous reactions, as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed.” What it comes down to is: it is the ability to experience and express your emotions in a way that is not threatening to the self or causes social distress. The problem is that this is not easy for everyone to do.
We all experience emotions, both negative and positive, on a daily basis. However, for some, these emotions can become very overpowering and can cause them to react in a way that may result in personal harm or upset to their social environments and relationships. Emotion regulation is the skill people possess that generally describes that person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience, without the aforementioned personal and social disturbances.
Generally, people unconsciously use emotion regulation strategies to cope with stressful situations. Most of us use many different types of these coping strategies and are able to adapt them to the situation, so as to function effectively. Some of these coping strategies are healthy, for example taking a walk when you are extremely angry. These healthy strategies allow us to develop a better understanding of our emotions and do not cause harm. However, many individuals adapt unhealthy coping strategies, such as abusing alcohol or other substances, self-injury, withdrawing, and aggressive behavior. This is known as emotion dysregulation.
Emotion dysregulation is the term used to describe an inability to regularly use healthy strategies to deal with strong negative emotions, thereby resulting in personal and social distress. Emotion regulation is so much more than merely controlling your temper; it refers to the ability to think constructively about how to cope with feelings. Here are some signs that you may be experiencing emotion dysregulation.
- Anger outbursts
When one is unable to regulate and contain a strong emotion, such as anger, it causes severe irritation and physical distress. Individuals will then attempt to get rid of this uncomfortable feeling by means of yelling, screaming, cussing and displaying aggressive behavior.
- Passive aggressive behavior
We very often experience some of these negative and upsetting emotions in situations which we are unable to lash out in, such as a work environment. So how does someone with emotion dysregulation react? Well, by still acting out, just in a more “socially acceptable” manner – in the form of passive aggressive behaviour such as back-handed compliments, ignoring people, becoming spiteful, and engaging in sabotaging behaviors.
The main focus for someone who is unable to regulate their emotions is to get rid of the emotion causing the distress. If this is not possible, these individuals engage in activities that either ‘numb’ the emotion or seek out behaviour that will give them a stronger emotion than the one they are experiencing (this is normally also a negative emotion). Self-harm activities may include: substance abuse, cutting, readily engaging in promiscuous activities and self-sabotage.
- Relationship problems
Individuals suffering from the inability to regulate their emotions more often than not experience severe emotional turmoil in all of their relationships, whether they personal or working relationships.
- Mental health issues
Because these individuals are unable to navigate their emotional responses in everyday situations, they are more likely to withdraw and experience severe depression and/or anxiety due to their inability to deal with everyday stressors.
- Irrational thought
Emotions and behaviors do not just happen; they are of course accompanied by thoughts. In the case of emotion dysregulation, the thoughts tend to be very irrational, thus resulting in the strong accompanying emotions. Irrational thought these individuals struggle with further fuel their strong emotions. Thoughts such as “I am not good enough”, “Everyone is against me”, “Life should be fair”, and “I should not experience discomfort or pain” are not uncommon.
If you identify with emotion dysregulation or you just want to find out more about emotion regulation and haw to practice it, keep an eye out for our next blog post.