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Emotional dysregulation is a term used in the mental health community when an individual does not respond to a person, place, thing, or event in a manner that would generally be considered within the normal range of emotions. An example of this might be rage over a broken nail, or hysterics over a missed appointment. It refers to an emotional response that is not well modulated.

Affect or emotional dysregulation is a hall-mark of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Affect regulation is the relative ability to tolerate painful affect, also known as affect tolerance, and affect modulation, which is the ability to internally reduce distress without resort to defensive mechanisms. Emotional dysregulation or affect regulation problems are often caused by early trauma exposure. (Pynoss, Steinberg, & Piacentini, 1999; Shcore, 2003)

This term is used most often with reference to Borderline Personality Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There is an effort within some sectors of the mental health community to rename Borderline Personality Disorder as Emotional Dysregulation Disorder or Emotional Dysregulatory Disorder.

Emotional dysregulation is a characteristic that can be a common feature of several disorders such as PTSD, Complex-PTSD, Reactive attachment disorder and other conditions. It is characterized by difficulty regulating one's emotions and is seen across both positve and negative affect.

Treatment for emotional dysregulation must address the underlying cause. So, for example, when Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or reactive attachment disorder or chronic maltreatment are the cause, then attachment-based treatment interventions, such as Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy[1] [2] may be appropriate.

See also


  1. Becker-Weidman, A., & Shell, D., (Eds.) (2005) Creating Capacity For Attachment, Wood 'N' Barnes, OK. ISBN 1885473729
  2. Becker-Weidman, A., (2006). Treatment for Children with Trauma-Attachment Disorders: Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Vol. 13 #1, April 2006.

Clarkin J., Hull J., Hurt S., (1993). Factor structure of borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders.

Donegan, N., Sanislow, C., Blumberg, H., Fulbright, R., Lacadie, C., Skudlarski, P., Gore, J., Olson, I., McGlashan, T., Wexler, B. (2003). Amygdala Hyperreactivity in Borderline Personality Disorder: Implications for Emotional Dysregulation. Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

Gunderson J., Zanarini, M. (1989). Pathogenesis in borderline personality. In: Tasman A., Hales R., Frances A., (Ed.). Review of Psychiatry, Vol. 8.

Linehan, M. (1995). Understanding borderline personality disorder. New York. Guilford Press.

Pynoos, R., Steinberg, A., & Piacentini, J. (1999). A developmental psychopathology model of childhood traumatic stress and intersection with anxiety disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 46, 1542-1554.

Schore, A., (2003). Affect dysregulation and disorders of the self. New York: Norton.

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