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Emotional dysregulation (ED) is a term used in the mental health community to refer to an emotional response that is poorly modulated, and does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive response. ED may be referred to as labile mood[1] or mood swings.

Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include angry outbursts or behavior outbursts such as destroying or throwing objects, aggression towards self or others, and threats to kill oneself. These variations usually occur in seconds to minutes or hours. Emotional dysregulation can lead to behavioral problems and can interfere with a person's social interactions and relationships at home, in school, or at place of employment.

Emotional dysregulation can be associated with an experience of early psychological trauma, brain injury, or chronic maltreatment (such as child abuse, child neglect, or institutional neglect/abuse), and associated disorders such as reactive attachment disorder.[2] Emotional dysregulation may present in people with psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and Complex post-traumatic stress disorder.[3][4] ED is also found among those with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome.[3]


The word dysregulation is a neologism created by combining the prefix "dys" to "regulation" According to Webster's, dys has various roots. With Latin and Greek roots, it is akin to Old English tō-, te- apart and in Sanskrit dus- bad, difficult. Therefore, dysfunction carries the meaning of impaired functioning.

See also

  • Attachment theory
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Labile affect
  • The WAVE Trust


  1. Beauchaine, T., Gatzke-Kopp, L., Mead, H., (2007). Polyvagal Theory and developmental psychopathology: Emotion dysregulation and conduct problems from preschool to adolescence. Biological Psychology, 74, 174-184.
  2. Daniel Schechter, Erica Willheim (2009). Disturbances of attachment and parental psychopathology in early childhood. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Issue. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinics of North America, 18(3), 665-687.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pynoos, R., Steinberg, A., & Piacentini, J. (1999), Bipolar Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome. A developmental psychopathology model of childhood traumatic stress and intersection with anxiety disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 46, 1542-1554.
  4. Schore, A., (2003). Affect dysregulation and disorders of the self. New York: Norton.

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