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How to overcome emotional dysregulation and its effects

Emotional dysregulation is marked by an inability to control one’s emotional responses and having outsized reactions to emotional stimuli. Those of us who were never taught to regulate our emotions or that emotions were even acceptable, may struggle with this.

It’s a childish response to an adult situation because we never learned to process our emotions. Instead, we learned to suppress them to win the love and acceptance of our parents and caregivers.

Those of us who were never taught to regulate our emotions or that emotions were even acceptable, may struggle with dysregulation. Click To Tweet

Since it’s impossible to repress emotions indefinitely (we are human, after all), they will come out eventually. Often at the most inopportune times and in the most confusing ways.

Since alcohol lowered my defenses and inhibitions, drinking made my emotional dysregulation flare up. But I also overreacted to any kind of criticism at work, bursting into tears at the suggestion that my work might be less than perfect.

The role of invalidation

Because I had been raised without value placed on me as a person, I believed my only worth lay in my accomplishments. So, if you said my work was less than perfect, that meant you were calling me worthless.

Although I didn’t put it together in my head at the time, that’s the dynamic at work with complex PTSD. And along with an overreaction to emotional triggers, you have difficulty returning to your emotional setpoint.

That’s why you fear anger and sadness. You believe they will pull you under because you never learned how to process them. And, in a sense your fears are correct in that it may take you longer to recover once triggered emotionally.

I’ve written here before about the shame we feel simply for having emotions. On top of already difficult feelings of sadness and anger, we pile on shame and guilt.

We’ve been forced to distance from our feelings to survive and therefore we are out of touch with them and feel guilty for having them.

No wonder we try to avoid our feelings as long as possible! That’s your inner child trying to protect you and she deserves credit for that.

How to deal with emotional dysregulation

emotional dysregulation

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness seems like the catch phrase of our time, but it has proven helpful in regulating emotions. It means simply bringing your attention to the present moment.

You can practice mindfulness through meditation which includes sitting still and letting your thoughts and feelings go by. You can also ground yourself in the present moment by focusing on sensory elements in your environment: what you can see, hear, touch and smell.

2. Acknowledge your emotions

Much of our emotional dysregulation stems from a childhood in which our very existence was constantly invalidated. We learned that our needs didn’t matter and that no one would take care of us consistently.

Emotional dysregulation stems from a childhood in which our very existence was constantly invalidated. Click To Tweet

As adults we can begin to care for our own needs and that starts with validating our feelings. Release the shame around certain feelings and comfort yourself when you experience them instead.

Remind yourself that you have a right to feel the way you do, that it makes perfect sense considering what you’ve gone through. Journal your feelings or simply observe them without judgment.

3. Understand your triggers

For example, if you’re hungry or tired you may be more prone to emotional dysregulation. Self-care means meeting your needs as an adult, even though they went unmet as a child.

Because of your childhood neglect, meeting these needs will not come naturally. Even eating regularly might feel wrong if meal times were inconsistent in your home.

Pay attention to your body’s signals and honor them rather than overriding them. If you’re hungry, eat, and if you’re tired, take a nap. Meeting your body’s basic demands is the first step in giving yourself the care and attention you deserved all along.

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