The Link Between Complex Trauma and Emotional Dysregulation

Everyone experiences days where they feel out of sorts or unable to face the new day. However, because of complex trauma, survivors often feel out of touch with who they are and feel their lives are out of control and overwhelming.


This article shall explore the link between complex trauma and emotional dysregulation.


What is Complex Trauma



The concept of complex trauma explains the long-term effects of multiple traumatic events, such as childhood neglect and abuse. The events that cause complex trauma are severe and chronic, involving, as stated, abuse and neglect plus violence, discrimination, or living in a war zone.


Other causes of complex trauma may include:


  • Being a victim of an organized sex trafficking ring
  • Forced to work in brothels
  • Being traded by an intimate partner for sex
  • The long-term care of a chronically ill family member


Children cannot escape and often are forced to keep their abuse secret or to deny it happened. Experiencing complex trauma disrupts a child’s natural development and their ability to form secure attachments.


Not forming secure attachments to adults in their lives can cost the children their mental and physical health. That’s a topic for a further article.


There are some nasty things that complex trauma causes, such as always being on the lookout for danger. Because survivors have a malfunctioning fight or flight response, they are hyperaroused and may never return to baseline. In other words, they are caught up in a cycle that leaves them with a distorted sense of self and overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt.


What is Emotional Dysregulation



Being emotionally regulated means that you are in control of your emotions and can control the volume of your feelings. Emotional regulation has been described as being like a sound control on a technical device. You can keep it from blaring by turning it down. Emotional regulation is usually learned in childhood by kids whose parents model the proper use and expression of emotions.


However, if regulating one’s emotions is not learned in childhood, these folks grow up not knowing or understanding that they are dysregulated or how to fix it. When one experiences emotional dysregulation, the brain cannot regulate feelings, leaving them loud and hard to manage.


If emotional dysregulation is severe, disruptive symptoms include harming social relationships, careers, and intimate relationships. Other severe effects may also include:


  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Verbal outbursts, including shouting, crying, or yelling
  • Intense problems maintaining friendships or other types of social connections
  • Feeling stuck and unable to feel better when faced with negative moods
  • Experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Being easily frustrated over minor annoyances
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Easily losing your temper
  • Persistent irritability


Those who live with their emotions being out of control face lives that are difficult to manage and sometimes have disastrous outcomes.


Treatment Options for Emotional Dysregulation



Because of the nature of emotional dysregulation, it is exceedingly hazardous to attempt to treat yourself. Treatment options are available, such as those mentioned in the paragraphs below.


As with other conditions, psychotherapy is the best and most common treatment for emotional dysregulation. Psychotherapy helps you understand how and why you have little control over your emotions and teaches you coping skills and strategies you can use to help yourself.


Medication is also a valid treatment for emotional dysregulation to aid you while you work hard in therapy.


We all need support, and supportive care is necessary. It involves treating the underlying factors contributing to emotional dysregulation. This treatment is like treating a broken bone. One cannot treat a fractured bone directly, but the symptoms of the broken arm are treatable and ease recovery.


Ending Our Time Together


Emotional dysregulation is a signature of the presence of other mental health disorders, including complex post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder. Those who experience either one or both conditions must learn to turn their emotions down to a more manageable level.


I can remember when I first began my journey down the road less taken how my emotions were everywhere. It was challenging to form relationships as I lived in a prison built by my elders, but they were now my responsibility.


One of the most important lessons I learned in psychotherapy is that no one else can regulate my emotions; that is totally up to me. I am the only one who can set me free.


“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe.


“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” – Michel de Montaigne.




Georgia O’Keeffe.’keeffe-quotes


McDonald, R. (2017). The Unloneliness of Being Alone.









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