Seeing the Signs of Emotional Dysregulation in Teens

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation refers to emotional responses that are poorly regulated and outside the accepted range of response to a given situation. It is often associated with an experience of early psychological trauma, brain injury, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as child abuse, violence or disruption in the home, or child neglect. Emotional dysregulation may also be present in people with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, or PTSD.  post-traumatic stress disorder, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. What causes emotional dysregulation?

The extreme emotional responses to stimuli in the environment comes from neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex that are damaged or not properly or fully developed. About 4-6% of the general population has the disorder, but the percentage is much higher in those with psychiatric disorders.

How Does it Manifest in Teens?

Emotional dysregulation is especially disruptive for teens whose emotions are already fluctuating due to the hormonal changes taking place within their bodies. For parents, it is important to to be aware of the signs of emotional dysregulation because, left untreated, it can lead to self destructive and impulsive behavior, self-harm and substance abuse, and even suicide.

Signs of emotional dysregulation can include the following:

  • Excessive crying that lasts longer or is more intense than the situation warrants
  • Anger that is excessive and doesn’t seems unjustified
  • Physical aggression toward self or others
  • Periods of impulsive behavior that leads to harmful risk-taking
  • Rapid fluctuation between emotional states (e.g., elated one moment, but depressed shortly later)
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Being very fearful, beyond what is typical for their age

Treatment Options

Treatment for emotional dysreguation in teens may include a combination of therapy and medication.  It may extend beyond these two options to include changes to the child’s environment at home or school (e.g., via an IEP) to lessen the chance of triggering the extreme emotional swings that come with emotional dysregulation.

Early treatment can help manage its very negative effect on your child’s well being.

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