When people are unable to control their emotions, their responses may be disruptive or inappropriate given the situation or setting.
Anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear are just some of the emotions a person may have.
Being unable to control emotions can be temporary. It could be caused by something like a drop in blood sugar or exhaustion from lack of sleep.
However, some people experience a constant inability to control their emotions because of a chronic condition. It’s important to know when to seek help because not being able to control your emotions can interfere with your daily life.
Emotional outbursts, also known as emotional lability, refer to rapid changes in emotional expression where strong or exaggerated feelings and emotions occur.
This neurological condition often affects people who already have a pre-existing condition or have suffered brain injuries in the past.
Some people with mental health conditions, like borderline personality disorder (BPD), also experience labile emotions, but for different reasons than neurological conditions.
Examples of these types of unregulated outbursts include:
- sudden irritability
- fits of crying or laughter
- feeling angry, but not knowing why
- angry outbursts
People who’ve had a stroke can also have emotional lability.
The causes of being unable to control emotions can vary. Some children may not be able to control their emotions when they feel overwhelmed or distressed. They may have a temper tantrum or crying outbursts.
Children typically begin to develop greater self-control as they age.
There are some exceptions, including children who have a medical condition, such as:
- adjustment disorder
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- oppositional defiant disorder
Other conditions associated with being unable to control emotions include:
- alcohol use disorder
- antisocial personality disorder
- Asperger’s syndrome
- bipolar disorder
- misuse of drugs
- head injury
- low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- postpartum depression
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Many of these conditions require long-term treatments to help people better control their emotions.
People control or regulate their emotions on a daily basis. They determine:
- what emotions they have
- when they have them
- how they experience them
Emotional control is a habit for some people. For others, emotional response is automatic.
Symptoms associated with being unable to control emotions include:
- being overwhelmed by feelings
- feeling afraid to express emotions
- feeling angry, but not knowing why
- feeling out of control
- having difficulty understanding why you feel the way you do
- misusing drugs or alcohol to hide or “numb” your emotions
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), difficulty controlling emotions is a major symptom that
The following symptoms are signs that a person should seek medical treatment:
- feeling like life is no longer worth living
- feeling like you want to hurt yourself
- hearing voices or seeing things others tell you are not there
- losing consciousness or feeling as if you are going to faint
Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)
Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA) is a condition that affects people with neurological conditions or those who have experienced brain injury. Involuntary bouts of crying, laughter, or anger are the main symptoms of this condition.
PBA occurs when there’s a disconnect between the emotion-controlling frontal lobe and the cerebellum and brain stem.
PBA occurs as a result of:
Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- having emotions with no known cause or trigger
- having frequent emotional outbursts
- having feelings of sadness, anger, or depressed thoughts most days of the week
- having difficulty expressing your emotions
Call your healthcare provider if you or a loved one notices you’re having personality or behavioral symptoms that last beyond a few days.
Your healthcare provider will begin the diagnostic process by requesting your medical history and reviewing your current symptoms.
They may also review all the medications you’re currently taking.
In some cases, neuroimaging studies such as CT scans or MRIs may be done.
Because many causes associated with being unable to control emotions are related to psychological disorders, your healthcare provider may refer you to a mental health professional.
Many of these disorders don’t have a test that can reach a conclusive diagnosis if you have a particular mental health condition.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of not being able to control emotions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports people with diabetes are
Low blood sugar can be corrected with:
- glucose tablets
- other sugary substances
Those with chronically low blood sugar may need to change their diets to eat more frequent meals.
Treatments for psychological disorders can include medications and psychotherapy. These conditions often require long-term interventions to help provide tools to better control emotions.
In addition to medication and therapy, there are a variety of ways to provide self-care that can help with emotional regulation.
Keeping a mood journal is a great tool for monitoring your moods when it’s challenging to control them and your actions around feelings. Jotting down problems on paper can help you see issues more clearly, as well as identify solutions, thereby working to reduce stress and anxiety.
Do this for several days or weeks to identify patterns or recurring themes in how you respond to stressful situations.
There are many reasons why someone might not be able to control their emotions. Emotional lability not only affects those with mood disorders, but also people with cognitive disorders, and those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, consult with a healthcare professional for an appropriate diagnosis and possible treatment options.