What is Emotional Dysregulation?
Personality disorders are maladaptive and inflexible patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviour that typically begin in late adolescence and create significant challenges in a person’s life. The patterns of behaviour deviate from what is socially or culturally expected.
Individuals with a personality disorder may have great difficulty relating to other people, managing emotions, or controlling their behaviour. Difficulties with relationships, identity, and emotions are common.
One of the key defining features across personality disorders is the inability to effectively manage and regulate emotion.
What is emotion dysregulation?
A transdiagnostic (meaning it can be applied to a range of diagnoses) term used to describe one or more of the following:
- Difficulty identifying or understanding/observing emotions
- Difficulty understanding or reading the emotions of others
- Deficits in communicating emotional needs to others
- An inability to regulate emotions in healthy ways
- High sensitivity to emotional cues
- Intense emotional experiences or flat affect/lack of emotional experiencing
The Continuum Framework
Researchers have explored emotional functioning along a continuum of overcontrol vs undercontrol.
Individuals struggling with emotional undercontrol tend to feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster. They experience many emotional ups and downs, tend to engage in repeated and impulsive self-destructive behaviours, and have difficulty containing or regulating their feelings. Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder fall in this range.
On the other hand, disorders of emotional overcontrol are characterized by rigid and inflexible emotional responses. Individuals in this range tend to present with a flat affect, are risk-avoidant, tend to be isolated and lonely, and work very hard to suppress, minimize, and rationalize their emotions. Obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, antisocial, avoidant, schizoid, schizotypal, and paranoid personality disorders tend to fall in this range.
We also see patterns of emotional overcontrol and undercontrol across many psychological illnesses including:
People that “get stuck” in the extremes of over vs under control tend to suffer the most. Our DBT and RO-DBT programs help individuals change their self-control tendencies and move away from extreme ways of thinking, feeling, or acting.
At the Centre for Psychology & Emotion Regulation we have extensive training in the assessment and treatment of personality disorders. As the Clinical Director of the program, Dr. Federici has an international reputation for her work treating and researching DBT and disorders of emotion regulation.