Some people are more prone to emotional instability than other. They might feel alright one moment but change to become sad, angry, lonely, afraid, jealous, or fearful moments later. Depending on the doze, emotional instability is part of the normal cycle of life and is not necessarily a psychological disorder.

While emotional instability is part of the diagnostic criteria for emotionally unstable (borderline) personality disorder (BPD), there are other criteria that need to be met for a full diagnosis to be made. To meet the diagnosis for BPD, emotional instability or frequent emotional changes must be accompanied by episodes of idealization or devaluation and deficits or instabilities in interpersonal relationships, behaviour, self-image and identity. Idealization and devaluation refer to the black and white thinking that people, objects or situations are either good or bad but nothing in between.

Individuals with BPD are also impulsive, self-harming, suicidal, and extremely sensitive to and fearful of rejection. They also tend to have less positive emotions towards others. They go though phases of chronic feelings of emptiness, where they feel they have no worth.

The official criteria for a BDP diagnosis require that 5 or more of the following to be present:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as “splitting”)
  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsive behaviour in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behaviour
  • Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Compared to normal emotional changes, the ones typical of BPD are very drastic and intense. They have a negative impact on all aspects of life from relationships, to work and other areas of activities. They are more frequent and dramatic than normal emotional changes and happen over the course of years.

Emotional instability and impulsivity are common descriptors of children and teenagers. While, most of them will grow out of it, for some they persist and intensify into adulthood, eventually receiving a BPD diagnosis.

BPD affects about 2% of the population and it is seen in about 10% of psychiatric inpatients and 20 of outpatients. It is seen in women more than men.

If you sometimes have emotional changes and are worried if they are due to BPD ask yourself whether they have an impact on your daily activities such as work or interpersonal relationships. it might be that you are a sensitive person, experiencing emotional instability more frequently than others.

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