Emotional Vulnerability

Why do I have so much trouble controlling my emotions and actions?


Emotional Vulnerability

At the essence of many psychological and social problems is “emotional vulnerability”.  It is biological, and it is simply the way some people are born.  People who are emotionally vulnerable may be able to pick up on subtle emotional information in their environment that others are unable to detect. For example, people with this presentation may have superior facial recognition skills when it comes to noticing intense emotions in others.  They are likely to experience emotions more frequently than others and their experience is one that is usually defined by sudden unexplained bursts of emotions.  So, in essence their emotions are intense, long-lasting and emotionally vulnerable people usually feel like their emotions have hit them like “a ton of bricks”.  Once becoming upset, they usually take much longer to become emotionally stable and when becoming upset or dysregulated they can act out impulsively.



Impulsivity also has a biological basis and regulating behaviours is harder for some than for others.  Some people find it very difficult to restrain their impulsive behaviours.  They find that they are often acting before they think, and they display behaviours that appear to come out of nowhere.  It is not uncommon for these types of impulsive behaviours to get people into trouble and this is because they find it very hard to be effective. Their moods get in the way of putting in place any kind of plan for achieving their goals and they find it difficult to control any behaviours that are linked to their moods.


Invalidating Environments

An invalidating social environment can also make it difficult to regulate one’s emotions too. An invalidating environment is one that is not a good “fit” for you.  It can be an environment that trivialises, ignores or punishes your emotional responses. It is an environment that is not compatible with you and one where there is no one to support you through your emotional experiences.  It is one that tells you that your emotions are wrong, bad, weird or invalid.  You may have heard “Don’t be such a baby” or “If you’re going to cry, go upstairs and do it”.  Your emotions may not be validated because you have experienced some form of trauma, abuse or family violence.  It may also be that the people invalidating your emotions are doing the best they can, and they may not know how to validate or how important it is to validate.  The people in your environment may also be fearful that they will exacerbate your emotions.  Also, they may be under an enormous amount of pressure and stress themselves and simply don’t have the resources to validate your emotional experience.  It may also be that is just a poor fit between you and your social environment and you may be “a tulip in a rose garden”.


Regulating Emotions

Learning how to regulate your emotions and actions can become difficult when you are in an ineffective social environment.  You may be rewarded for out-of-control emotions when the people around you give into them.  In contrast others may request you to change but don’t provide you with the necessary skills to support you in doing this.  Further, being told to change your emotional responses can be highly invalidating.  So, it is important to recognise that people only need to change the emotions they want to change or they want to feel less intensely or for a reduced duration.


Reducing vulnerability to strong emotions is often the preferred strategy than trying to change unwanted emotions once they are up and running. Prevention is better than cure!! Emotional resilience can be enhanced through emotion regulation strategies. First, it is important to build a resilient mind by building a resilient body; establishing regular routines of eating, sleeping and exercise.  Second, accumulate positive experiences by identifying and acting on priorities and values.  Finally, plan ahead for upcoming emotional challenges using coping strategies such as mindfulness.  This will help minimise vulnerability to emotions and build a sense of mastery. Our team of psychologists can help you!

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash
Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash