Do you mean to be calm, cool, and collected? But inevitably find yourself an emotional mess, saying and doing things you don’t mean and are embarrassed about later?

You might be emotionally unstable.

What does it mean to be emotionally unstable?

When we are emotionally unstable our emotions control us, we don’t control them. We can try, but our feelings constantly get the better of us.

And those same feelings can change rapidly, what is called ‘emotional dysregulation’ in psychology. One minute we are laughing and happy, the next, yelling or crying. Others are perplexed by us.

Why am I emotionally unstable?

An emotional shock can cause our feelings to be all over the place. This could look like being in an accident, receiving bad news, going through a breakup, or being the victim of a crime. With time, our emotions start to even out again.

Grief and bereavement are another cause of emotional instability. One minute we are fine, the next we are despondent. Some people describe grief like an emotional rollercoaster, or a series of waves. Again, with time, and healing, things tend to get back to normal.

Sometimes it's simply fatigue and stress leaving our moods a mess. If we have a lot on our plate and aren’t sleeping well, our moods can shift and we can be snappy.

But I’ve been like this for ages

But sometimes our emotional instability is an embedded part of our personality we bring to any situation, and doesn't seem related to anything in particular.

In this case, our erratic emotions are more likely to be related to difficult experiences from the past. This might be that we didn’t get the love and stability we needed. We lived through adverse childhood experiences, like neglect, or a violent household.

Emotional dysregulation can also connect back to childhood trauma. If we were physically or sexually abused, for example, the way our brain functions is affected. We become oversensitive. It’s like we lose the emotional ‘skin’ others have, and our emotional ‘thermostat’ has no controls on it.

Emotional instability and mental health disorders

Marked emotional changes can be a sign of bipolar disorder. In this case, you'll tend to swing from feeling low or flat or just normal, to being very buzzy and overconfident, called ‘mania’. Your manic periods will last for days or longer.

If your moods can change rapidly over the course of a day, it might be that you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), also called ’emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD)’.

The NHS, on its webpage about borderline personality disorder, clarifies:

"It's common for people with BPD to feel suicidal with despair, and then feel reasonably positive a few hours later. Some people feel better in the morning and some in the evening. The pattern varies, but the key sign is that your moods swing in unpredictable ways."

Signs of BPD

Signs of borderline personality disorder include:

Can therapy help me if I am too emotional?

Yes. Therapies recommended for emotional management and for borderline personality disorder include:

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