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Emotion Dysregulation



We’ve all been there. It’s a Saturday morning, around 10am. You’re browsing Kmart (or Bunnings). Maybe you’re with your significant other, perhaps you’re alone. But your kids are definitely elsewhere. You’ve thought about this all week, and you’re finally in your happy place. You breathe in – you don’t even know what you’re here for, but it doesn’t matter. Kmart (or Bunnings) will tell you what you need. Life is good. Then, it starts. It’s faint at first, maybe it’s just your imagination. But no, there it is. Like your neighbours' lawn mower chewing through your Sunday sleep-in, it’s the unmistakeable wait of a child (that thankfully isn’t yours – this time) in full meltdown. Glorious.


Children aren’t the only ones who meltdown though, are they? Even as we get older, we don’t just magically stop having “big feelings”. We just develop other ways of displaying or hiding them. But why do we melt down? Why is it that we get ourselves into such states that we go completely blank, or behave in ways we ordinarily would never dream of? Well, it’s all down to our old friend evolution.


When we were evolving from single-cell organisms it was discovered pretty quickly that we needed a really good threat-detector. So as we evolved, our brains also developed a really sensitive alarm system (the amygdala), armed and ready to send us warning signals (rage and fear) at the first sign of danger. Back then danger was everywhere: there was no food or shelter, and we were nowhere near the top of the food chain. This alarm system came in handy, primed and ready to send us into fight or flight when needed, even if we were asleep. Given that the human race has been around for a few million years, it worked pretty well. Fast forward to now though, and we aren’t in nearly the same amount of danger as we were back then. However, evolution also takes millions of years. So, the alarm systems in our brains are still hypersensitive to danger, but the danger they pick up on is much different.


Danger nowadays can be anything from the potential of embarrassment (as seen in social anxiety); clowns; confined spaces; or air travel (as seen in specific phobias); or any uncertain outcome (as seen in generalised anxiety). Our brains still react the exact same way as they did millions of years ago, sending us into fight or flight so that we get as far away as possible from the “danger”, or fight it until the danger retreats. Ideally, we can learn our triggers, and take steps to prevent our own personal meltdowns. If we can’t, once we get into fight or flight the best thing we can do is to ground ourselves until the wave of emotion passes. If this raises questions for you, or you’d like help with emotion regulation, reach out to us on 37160445.


If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to admin@youmatterpsychologists.com.au and we will answer any questions you may have.

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