Emotional instability may cause a person to feel like they are a chameleon – as if they are a different person in different situations and relationships. In other words, their own identity does not feel clear and permanent. Intensity and conflicts in relationships is also a typical characteristic. The person’s experience of a family member, partner or friend can fluctuate between high idealisation and complete denigration.
The video below provides more information on how emotional instability affects a person’s identity and relationships.
Relationships and identity
Identity means a stable experience of the person’s self. It makes it possible for the person to experience their self as permanent, the same, continuous and consistent from one moment to another. Emotional instability can involve a variety of identity disorders or disjointedness, meaning that the person’s experience of their self can be mixed, often changing or fragmentary. This is affected by other instability symptoms, such as disruptions in relationships, impulsive and reckless actions, memory difficulties, dissociation and harmful notions regarding the person’s self.
Having a discontinuous identity can make a person’s notion of their self, values and life goals fluctuate suddenly. On the outside, this can be seen as sudden changes in jobs, friendships or goals, for example.
Difficulties with emotional regulation often make a person’s relationships intense and fraught with conflict. The interaction involved is characterised by repeating conflicts, invalidation of the person’s self or the other person, a desire to please and approval seeking, as well as sensitivity to criticism. The person lives and experiences the good and bad moments of the relationship very intensely and expresses their emotions strongly.
Emotional instability often involves a strong need to receive attention and care. This is caused by real experiences of not receiving enough attention and care not being shown in a way that would have provided a basis for forming a strong notion of the self as someone lovable.
If the person does not receive attention and care exactly as they wish, their disappointment can be immense. As such, they experience the other person in the relationship differently at different moments. That person may feel close and reliable at one moment and cruel and punishing at another.
Emotional instability involves a heightened fear of abandonment or rejection. This is why being alone is difficult and feels unsafe for many. The person may see their own ‘badness’ or inadequacy as the reason for their perceived abandonment, and they need the other person to provide them with plenty of reassurance that they are acceptable and will not be abandoned.
The person may anticipate abandonment or attempt to prevent it by clinging to the other person or trying to please them at the expense of their own needs. That makes it difficult for them to express their own needs. The fear of abandonment can also manifest itself as a tendency to avoid relationships and a preference to leave the other person rather than being left. Sometimes it can also manifest itself as self-destructive behaviour when faced with a threat of loss.
Managing in a relationship requires emotional regulation, control of impulsive actions and a reasonable level of distress tolerance. Interaction skills have an impact on what a person’s relationships are like, how their own needs and wishes are fulfilled and how they see themselves in relation to other people.
The video below provides more information on interaction skills.
Emotional instability often involves a tendency to cut off relationships prematurely. This may be caused by inadequate interaction skills or a heightened fear of abandonment.
Assignment: think about your own interaction skills and methods.
How well do you tolerate conflicts?
Are you able to say no if you do not want to do something?
Are you able to ask for help if you need it?
What kind of a listener are you?
Are there interaction situations that (almost always) cause you to become angry, freeze or withdraw?