10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Most people are familiar with the term “emotionally unstable” and often use it to describe themselves or others. But what does it mean? The term itself is usually accompanied by mental illness. Unfortunately, many individuals with underlying mental disorders are under so much stress and uncomfortable symptoms that it may get hard for them to manage their emotions in healthy ways. For them, the key to addressing this emotional imbalance lies in a dual diagnosis treatment programme at a professional rehab centre. These dedicated facilities can help them learn more about their symptoms, potential causes, and triggers and support them in achieving complete recovery.

Do you try to be cool, calm and collected but inevitably become an emotional mess, saying and doing things you do not mean? Chances are you are emotionally unstable.

But what does emotionally unstable mean?

Emotional instability is a catch-all term that entails extreme emotions and unpredictable reactions. While it is absolutely normal to experience a range of emotions, the term is usually used to describe individuals who face more difficulty regulating their emotions.

Emotional instability is never an official diagnosis. It is always used as a symptom of an underlying disorder. These disorders primarily include emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) and addiction. Some other, lesser-known causes of emotional instability, such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety, may make it difficult to regulate emotions healthily.

Previously known as Borderline Personality Disorder, Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) refers to the problems one experiences if they are unable to regulate their emotions, develop a pattern of self-destructive behaviour, and are full of anxiety. This forces them to get into a borderline psychotic condition where they constantly keep doubting themselves and others. Such individuals cycle between moods, moving from euphoria to despair and vice versa in a very short time.

Having EUPD can make one feel extremely bad and shameful. However, remember that millions of others with similar conditions struggle to get better with specialised treatments offered under professional supervision. People with EUPD particularly find it difficult to manage their feelings of anger, anxiety, and abandonment. Out of stress and rapidly changing emotions, they may physically or mentally harm themselves. There is so much uncertainty that one minute, their self-confidence may be okay, and the next minute, they may plunge into deep self-hatred. For many, problems with identity and a general feeling of emptiness take over. Many people start self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to cope with these problems, while others develop eating disorders or engage in self-harm.

If you or a loved one have at least five of the following symptoms, consider getting an evaluation from a professional to rule out EUPD as a cause of unstable mood:

  • A constant feeling of emptiness.
  • Intense fear of abandonment.
  • An unstable self-image.
  • Frequent fluctuations between different moods, such as strong fear, irritation, and depression, lasting from a few hours to a few days
  • Excessively suspicious ideas or temporary detachment from reality
  • Impulsive behaviours leading to abuse of food, money, drugs, or sex
  • Unstable relationships, swinging between extreme contempt to intense admiration
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation

Addiction is a highly undesirable condition, and as it progresses, it can greatly undermine one’s physical health, emotional balance, and mental clarity with an overriding resistance to view things objectively. Long after the experience of relief, reward and euphoria associated with drugs come a dysfunctional emotional state that contributes to the persistence of engaging in addiction. For those suffering from emotional imbalance beforehand, addiction can significantly magnify their problems.

Most addicts suffer from emotional instability at some point during their drug abuse. This unstable mental state makes it more plausible for them to keep engaging in addictive behaviours. These behaviours and compulsions easily supersede everything else in life to the extent that an addict starts feeling controlled, dominated, helpless, and completely at the mercy of the abused substance. Some of them even develop a secret addiction to these negative aspects that continue to multiply with each passing day.

Experts agree that an individual’s emotional health often leads them to abuse drugs and alcohol. Hence, if someone is suffering from both simultaneously, a comprehensive plan emphasising addiction treatment and mood regulation must be applied to achieve recovery.

No matter your situation, if you display all emotionally and mentally unstable signs, it is important to join a mental health treatment programme and evaluate yourself. While personality disorders do not have a definitive cure, these programmes can enable you to reduce your symptoms under professional supervision significantly.

Talking to someone about the suffering is the initial step to relieving the burden of emotional instability. Living alone with a psychiatric issue can take a toll on anyone’s well-being as they constantly need to hide the true extent of how it feels. For such people, joining a rehab that treats them with utmost empathy and compassion while taking steps to lessen their strain is the best decision.

As the treatment for emotional instability and its underlying causes begins, individuals can realise that they are not alone. There are many more facing the same challenges, and many of them can now live more comfortably thanks to the right choice of treatment. A good rehab always conducts an initial assessment to judge the individual patient’s needs and structure a program to meet them successfully. This ensures that every patient gets the treatment that best suits them

As mentioned before, an initial consultation is the best way to establish the level of support your loved one requires for healthier emotional regulation. In this regard, a rehab offers several treatment programmes, such as daycare, residential, inpatient, and outpatient services. Sometimes, the outpatient services, often availed in less severe cases, are conducted over video calls for the convenience of patients who cannot take time out of their life for treatment.

Let’s briefly discuss the two major types of treatment programmes likely to be offered to an emotionally unstable person:

Inpatient Treatment

This type of treatment takes place in a structured environment of a rehabilitation centre under 24-hour support. Such clients are provided with therapeutic communities to help them enjoy a respite from their usual routine and focus on acquiring healthy habits to cope with the symptoms of emotional instability. Such programmes also aim to improve their confidence, self-esteem, and social skills.

While most clients greatly benefit from one-on-one therapy with a therapist, group therapy is also offered regularly. Along with people sharing similar issues, clients can participate in activities that help them handle responsibilities without losing control over their emotions. These activities include:

  • Everyday house tasks, such as cleaning and cooking
  • Games and sports
  • Yoga and meditation to nurture physical wellbeing
  • Active participation in the community to voice concerns and get valuable insights from peers

Outpatient and Day Care Treatment

For people with less severe symptoms of emotional regulation, an outpatient or daycare treatment programme suits them best. This much more flexible option lets them fit these hour-long or day-long therapy sessions around their other commitments while gaining enough support to recover. For someone in residential treatment, outpatient programmes serve as a step-down treatment before they return to their normal lives.

A comprehensive treatment plan for emotional instability makes use of one or more of the following therapeutic modalities to make a recovery possible:

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

DBT is a talking therapy that allows emotionally unstable individuals to address their challenges. It focuses on the tendencies that make them emotionally vulnerable and work to address them so that they do not become a problem in the future. DBT works by helping people accept and validate their feelings while encouraging them to change the negative ones with the positive ones at the same time. Regular sessions of this therapy can help these people understand that being open to conflicting emotions and accepting them as a part of human nature can help them break the cycle of alternating between two emotional extremes.

Mentalisation-based therapy (MBT) 

MBT is commonly offered as a part of residential treatment as a type of psychotherapy. It focuses on helping individuals identify and challenge their beliefs and thoughts and helps them understand the reason behind their impulsive behaviours. It allows such people to think through the factors driving these actions before they act on these impulses. In the long term, this helps control sudden urges and brings value to the management of emotional instability, especially when it is secondary to EUPD.

Medication

In some cases, medications may be prescribed alongside the therapies mentioned above to stabilise mood and lessen its impact on life. A psychiatrist determines the requirement of this and the type of medication during the initial assessment.

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