Emotional regulation is a complex process that involves initiating, inhibiting, and modulating one’s mental state and behavior in response to an external or internal stimulus. The process plays out as follows:
- An internal or external event (thinking about something sad or encountering someone who is angry) provokes a subjective experience (emotion or feeling).
- Then a cognitive response (thought), followed by an emotion-related physiological response (for example increase in heart rate or hormonal secretion).
- Followed by a related behavior (avoidance, physical action or expression).
Emotional regulation involves maintaining thoughts, behaviors and expressions within a socially acceptable range.
What is emotional dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation refers to the inability of a person to control or regulate their emotional responses to provocative stimuli. It can also be termed “emotional hyperreactivity.” In life, each individual is repeatedly exposed to events and interactions such as conflict in a relationship, a personal criticism or a perceived abandonment. A person with emotional dysregulation disorder reacts in an emotionally exaggerated manner to these environmental and interpersonal challenges by overreacting: bursts of anger, crying, accusing, passive-aggressive behaviors, or creation of chaos or conflict may ensue. This set of features is often described as part of a high conflict personality. Affective dysregulation or emotional instability, bursts of anger, intense efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment, and unstable interpersonal relationships point to underlying psychological issues intertwined with dysregulated emotions. Emotional dysregulation is usually relational, meaning it is triggered by a close personal contact such as a family member, child, loved one, ex-loved one or someone who has power or control over that person.