How to Improve Emotional Dysregulation
Emotional Dysregulation is about more than just failing to control emotions in difficult circumstances. It is about emotions being felt to extreme, and triggering reactions to what may seem to you, like the simplest of things - such as asking a child to turn off the T.V. only for them to fly into a rage.
Everyone has times when emotions feel overwhelming, confusing, and unbearable, especially with things like exams, grief, and other life circumstances get in the way but imagine feeling like that two year old toddler as an adult. Getting frustrated over things like having to brush your teeth, fearful over going to school or work, depressed at doing homework, or being angry every time you get a text message, even when it's a happy message to meet for coffee, and having no control over those emotions.
Imagine a child feeling an extreme sense of rejection when told 'no' to something simple like an ice-cream. For them it's like the emotional equivalent of a relationship breakup, taking them from hope and excitement to depression or anger, in just a few seconds. Their emotions run to the extreme. For some children and teens, this lack of ability to regulate emotions, can continue for many years if they don't get the right support.
What's behind emotional dysregulation can be a myriad of things from mental health to family circumstances, medical, or trauma from some early experience. Some will need professional help and/or medication to help ease their emotional overwhelm depending on the cause, but there is something else that can help long term, called Emotional Awareness.
Each person has a different reaction to circumstances like facing a roller-coaster ride. One person may be excited, and ready for the adrenaline, even seeking it out, while another may feel fear and suffer the feelings of their body being flooded with cortisol. This is not a controllable feeling, but when everyday life feels like these moments, taking all their emotions to extreme, it affects their life and the lives of people around them.
I have dealt with the extreme fear side myself, and still do for some things. It's only in the last two years that I've realised just how much fear I had as a child and into adulthood. Being a child, I didn't understand that other children didn't have the same fears, and that mine were extreme. I thought the level of fear I had was normal and that parents were there to push you through things, over and over, only to find the fear never went away; such as the extreme fear of water, spiders, heights, thunder, and much more, but as long as I wasn't facing something that triggered fear or anxiety, I seemed normal.
When a child has these extreme feelings in anger, sadness, and happiness as well as fear and anxiety, that's when it becomes emotional dysregulation. When they switch in seconds from crying with sadness, to laughing so loud the whole street can hear them. When they burst into a rage, then minutes later are so depressed they talk of suicide. This is not healthy for anyone and is emotional dysregulation. This is what my son was like.
I have spent time working in a kitchen of a care home that specialises in dementia. Even from my little hatch in the wall I was seeing how some of them were stuck in sadness and anxiety, wile others were constantly angry, some sat all day with their head down, and a few were always the life and soul that greeted you like a long lost friend, even though you saw them minutes before. This was like the polar-opposite of emotional dysregulation, each being stuck in one emotion, rather than swinging violently between them. Admittedly they were all capable of doing just that for the right triggers before reverting to their own emotional base.
For true emotional dysregulation, whatever the root cause, there does seem to be a way to ease the burden of these emotions, and that's learning Emotional Awareness.
How each individual learns will differ, and how much it helps will differ with times, but the lessons are the same. For a child with severe emotional disabilities, it may be the parent that will benefit from learning to recognise their child's emotions as signs for their other needs.
First: Imagine three people at the scene of a car crash. One panics, as they have no training and their emotions take over. The second steps forward nervously to help as they have first-aid training. The third is a paramedic who steps in calmly, is trained, equipped, and takes necessary action. The first aider and paramedic had training, with supportive people to help them practice and learn. The more they learned, the better they were able to control their emotions in this difficult situation.
Life is very much the same across the board when it comes to dealing with emotions. Training helps alleviate the overwhelm by teaching you what to do for a positive outcome.
Emotional Awareness helps children, teen and adults to deal with many different circumstances.
Like the first aid training, they also learn to assess situation, remain calm, ask for help where needed, and choose the right emotional tools for the job.
Emotional Awareness is like starting with the ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) or in this case, the core emotions of Happy, Sad, Angry, and Depressed by learning about the emotional cycle. Once they recognise the vital signs, they can begin learning how to respond to them differently. They learn to recognise the feelings that accompany moods and how to create a change in their response.
This is where my book Brain Unchained teaches emotional awareness in a 3 step process called the Mood Mentor Model (pictured above).
Learn about the 4 core emotions - Awareness
Learn why emotions change - H.E.L.P.S.
Learn to create change for the better - F.L.I.T.E.
Once any child, teen or young adult begins this journey of learning, you will be amazed at how quickly they begin to change. How eager they are to feel better in themselves. How they will want to learn more once they see the benefits. You may even see them helping friends and leading the way.
Emotional Awareness may not take away every emotion, but it will certainly cut back those extreme reactions, and give them the tool kit to talk about any residual feelings and emotions.
But before any of that happens, it takes actions from a parent first, to purchase a copy of Brain Unchained, and to being the journey of mentoring alongside parenting. You will be amazed at how rewarding it is as a parent to see those changes happen before your eyes, but be patient as not every day will be a forward day. What ever you do, never give up!