What is Emotional Liability?

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Emotional liability is a neurological condition causing an individual to laugh or cry involuntarily and uncontrollably. These expressions of emotion may occur at inappropriate times, such as crying when sharing a joke or laughing during a serious situation in the workplace.

Emotional liability most commonly affects individuals with pre-existing neurological conditions and brain injuries. While its symptoms can appear to be caused by a psychological condition, the condition actually occurs due to changes within parts of the brain that control emotion.

The disorder is also recognised by other names, including emotionalism, involuntary emotional expression disorder, affective liability, emotional incontinence, pseudobulbar affect, and pathological laughing and crying.

What are the symptoms of emotional liability?

The main symptom of emotional liability is an uncontrollable outburst of laughter or crying. This laughter or crying may appear exaggerated or particularly intense and ‘over-the-top,’ especially within an inappropriate situation that others do not see as funny or sad. These expressions of emotions may also stand out from an individual’s usual behaviour, appearing out of character.

Outbursts of emotion may be short in duration, lasting no more than a few minutes in some cases. These outbursts may also be mixed in the display of emotions, like crying that turns into laughter.

Individuals experiencing emotional liability may experience a lack of symptoms between episodes.

Why does emotional liability occur?

Emotional liability is commonly caused by a brain injury or a pre-existing neurological health condition. Such conditions and injuries may affect parts of the brain that control emotion, changing its ability to function.

Neurological conditions that can lead to emotional liability include strokes, motor neurone disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Brain injuries that can also result in emotional liability include blunt-force head trauma, contusions, oxygen deprivation, hematoma, swelling of the brain, infection, skull fractures, lacerations, and penetrating brain injuries.

How is emotional liability diagnosed?

As emotional liability can appear to be caused by a psychological issue, individuals experiencing its symptoms are often misdiagnosed with depression or other mental health conditions.

There is no specific test that can be carried out to determine if an individual is experiencing emotional liability, but it is important to consult your general practitioner if you have been treated for a brain injury or neurological condition and believe that you are displaying symptoms of emotional liability.

It may be useful to keep a record of your emotions and emotional outbursts if you believe that you are showing symptoms of emotional liability. Note down your exact symptoms, the times at which they occur, and your emotional state between episodes. It may also be helpful to ask your loved ones to observe your emotional behaviour.

How can emotional liability be treated?

Mild cases of emotional liability may not require specific treatment. However, if episodes of emotional liability are significantly affecting your day to day life, treatments are available.

Medication, such as low doses of anti-depressants, can help to reduce the stress and low mood associated with intense emotional outbursts and help to regulate their occurrence.

Psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, have also been shown to effectively assist individuals in processing the intense emotions often experienced due to emotional liability,

Can emotional lability be cured?

If an individual is experiencing emotional liability due to a long-term brain injury or neurological condition, they may experience symptoms throughout their life. Effective treatment can help regulate emotional outbursts and reduce the negative effects of emotional liability on an individual’s every day life.

The Harley Therapy platform can introduce you to a qualified, professional therapist who can work with you to examine your symptoms of emotional liability and improve how you feel about your condition. You can develop a trusting relationship with your therapist, sharing your thoughts and feelings in confidence.

A therapist can discuss treatment options with you, including the pace of your therapy journey and how many sessions of therapy you may require. They will not force you into a decision nor apply judgement.

We can help you to book therapy for emotional liability online with the best therapists and counsellors at a time, location, and price to suit you. All of our therapists are vetted to ensure that they are insured and registered to practice as a therapist in the UK.

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