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Causes of and Treatment for Emotional Dysregulation


Ever wonder how we regulate our emotions—or in some cases, why we aren’t able to regulate them? Professor Tim Dalgleish at the University of Cambridge’s MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit has some answers.

He maintains that “successful emotion regulation relies on cognitive control . . . our ability to attend to information that is relevant to our goals, while ignoring distracting information (italics mine).” He adds that “cognitive control capacity is reduced in individuals who suffer from mental health problems.” This could be in part because the regions in our brains which manage cognitive control and emotional regulation overlap.

His research tested people doing cognitive problem solving in both emotional and neutral contexts. Unsurprisingly, certain people had more difficulty solving problems in emotional contexts than neutral ones. And “the more difficulty adolescents [had] performing working memory tasks in emotional relative to neutral contexts, the more mental health difficulties they experience at an early age.” He also found that specific cognitive training improved their emotional regulation. 

One of the best tools around to treat emotional regulation is DBT which stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, developed by Marsha M. Linehan as an offshoot of CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’m blogging about it because it’s such a valuable treatment for people who have emotional dysregulation which is common to dysregulated eaters. It’s not hard to see the connection, right?

DBT is used in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, trauma, suicidality, sexual/emotional/physical abuse, self-harm, anxiety and ADHD—and Binge-eating Disorder. “Comprehensive DBT focuses on four ways to enhance life skills:

  • Distress tolerance: Feeling intense emotions like anger without reacting impulsively or using self-injury or substance abuse to dampen distress.
  • Emotion regulation: Recognizing, labeling, and adjusting emotions.
  • Mindfulness: Becoming more aware of self and others and attentive to the present moment.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Navigating conflict and interacting assertively.”

If you think you suffer from emotional dysregulation, with or without binge eating, which often accompanies it, chances are you can find a DBT therapist near you. Changing your thinking changes your feelings and behavior, including your eating.