Unstable People. Is it Possible to Change Myself and Others?

Aug 26, 2019

“Yes, we have a whole family of such emotionally unstable schizoids. Mother shouts and cries, father cries and bangs the table with his fists. Well, I’ve got used to it. My husband was shocked seeing me shouting. He is actually phlegmatic, so he was surprised every time. I’m screaming like hell, but he only makes round eyes. I’ve been trying to give up this habit for a long time and I was almost there, but sometimes I again start shouting. I realize it myself and try to stop, but it does not always work. I have identified my risk areas and I know that I shout because of a lack of sleep. So high-quality sleep is first place on the list for me”.

– Marina, 34

Unfortunately, many people communicate only with screams. This is a problem not only for their family, but also for themselves. After all, instead of a constructive dialog and a solution to the problem, they get only another confrontation and quarrel. Why do people behave this way if it is not profitable? What is the reason for their emotional instability and explosive character? And is it possible to change such behavior somehow?


  1. Reasons for the occurrence of instability
  • Habit
  • Long stress, problems, grief
  • Anxiety, depressive disorder
  • Fatigue, lack of sleep and rest
  • Age crises
  • Dependence on psychoactive substances
  • Low or painful self-esteem, self-perception
  • Intolerance of frustration
  1. Instability of close ones 
  • About children
  • About parents
  • About spouses
  • What do you do if a close one is emotionally instable?
  1. Seven steps to get rid of instability: “If I am like this”

Instability is an emotional imbalance with increased excitability, which can occur not only with shouts and flashes of anger, but also in the form of tears and excessive sensitivity. [1] Of course, we all can get angry, nervous, and tearful – it’s normal. But when negative emotions and feelings among unstable people begin to prevail and come out of control they will worsen the quality of life. Instead of doing something, we cry. Or instead of solving a problem – we shout and stamp our feet. Why does it happen?

1. Reasons for the occurrence of instability

Instability, as a psychological problem, is not formed immediately – it is a consequence of accumulated internal problems, and negative emotions. At first, the person shows frequent mood swings – short-term hysteria, tears, flashes of anger. He/she notices it and can feel guilty. Because of this, the person often shuts down and behaves remotely. Gradually, the situation becomes worse, and the person is captured by own emotions, which he/she can no longer control. In this state, he/she becomes dangerous both for the surrounding people and for self.

If a person constantly meets the influence of the following factors, the chance of developing instability is high:

  1. Habit

Here, it is simple. People are used to reacting this way and, most often, simply don’t know the other ways. This model of behavior can come from childhood, as in Marina’s case, and can be acquired at a conscious age. For example, studies show that [2] the expression of anger through crying or throwing objects does not at all reduce the level of aggression but increases it – it firms it and makes it habitual. The same happens with tears and any other reaction. It is easier for the brain to use such a familiar way. The good news is that this “way” can be useful. For example, in the habit of doing something and not giving up.

  1. Long stress, problems, grief

For a person who is in continuous stress, it is more difficult to control his/her state. The nervous system is exhausted and as a result, instability occurs. For example, a student may overreact from every comment during an examinations period. Or someone who recently suffered a heavy loss can cry aloud for any, even the smallest, trouble.

  1. Anxiety, depressive disorder

We also get exhausted from constant anxiety, anticipation of trouble, fear, anguish, and devastation. [3] As a result, any additional stimulus becomes the last drop – and we go bursting.

  1. Fatigue, lack of sleep and rest

If we sleep little and do not rest enough, it may be more difficult for us to control our emotions. [4] This effect can be especially pronounced during the retraining process. For example,  someone who once constantly broke down, and is now learning to control his/her actions, then with a lack of sleep he/she will return to the old habits. New behavior requires conscious control – and the tired brain is not capable of it.

  1. Age crises

Puberty is very often accompanied by increased excitability, negativity, and other problems. [5] There are two reasons for emotional instability of children and teenagers: 

The first is physiological, associated with insufficient maturity of the brain and nervous system.

The second is social, and connected with the formation of the personality, the desire to become more independent and the desire to form a worldview.

Also, an unstable nature can manifest itself with midlife crisis or at retirement age. A midlife crisis is usually caused by a sense of lost opportunities and self-uselessness. Instability in old age can be associated with both physiology (deterioration of the brain, dementia, etc.) and with the social sphere. The retiree leaves his/her job, his/her status changes and suddenly finds himself/herself out of business and does not know what do and how to live on.

  1. Dependence on psychoactive substances

This includes alcohol, tobacco, and drug dependence. The addict experiences a craving for the subject of the addiction, and the inability to get the desired substance makes him/her unrestrained and quick-tempered. [6]

  1. Low or painful self-esteem, self-perception

In this case, any word or remark can be perceived as a personal insult, as a shame or as an attempt to humiliate or to make one feel guilty. A person becomes upset or defends via aggression. Since there are many reasons to feel wounded, he/she can defend almost constantly. As a result, he/she acquires the reputation as an emotionally unstable personality.

  1. Intolerance of frustration

Frustration is a condition when we face the impossibility of getting what we want. This is a natural state, but it is important how we experience it. For example, low tolerance of frustration is often found in children. They can easily become hysterical when they don’t get what they want. This is normal for young children.

An adult, if not an immature person, has a resistance to frustration and reacts to such situations calmly, does not immerse in strong feelings and controls his/her emotions. [7] If the resistance to frustration has not developed, we can get what some consider an unstable temperament. For any refusal, such a person begins to behave like a small child, who falls on the floor in the store. He/she complains, becomes angry, blames everyone around, demands his/her own way and so on.

2. Instability of close ones

About children

“What do I know about crises? Yes, everything! I have three sons: 15, 7 and 3 years old. I’m ready to run to the ends of the earth for them. I can manage them separately, I can negotiate with them, but when they are together it turns into a nightmare. “Mom, he went to my room without a knock! Mom, he took my textbooks! Mom, he is beating me with a ruler! Moooooom!” With them all, I’m like between the devil and the deep blue sea. I’m the advocate, judge and jury in one person. Save me somebody please!”

– Tatiana, 41

About parents

“It was very difficult for my mother when she retired. All day she was muttering. Everything wasn’t right for her, she found fault in everything. We started to complain and then she somehow burst into tears and admitted that she felt sad. Her husband was dead, she was alone, it was not possible to get a job and her friends were lost. Well, I had to teach her how to use the Internet. She found some aline friends, from other places, now they are doing crazy things. They bought a country house together, they go on excursions, watch movies, and discuss them later in their movie club. Mom is laughing that she is part of the “retiree squad”.  In general, she started to live again. And her muttering disappeared. Social media can bring happiness!”

– Artem, 43

About spouses

“Girls, my husband has recently become a complete psycho and is totally unstable, what should I do? I do not like to complain, but sometimes I get scared. I don’t like nagging or finding fault in anything, and I’m rather quiet. But he reacts to my every word with hostility. And if I keep quiet, I still get blamed. He shouts at me, scolds me and throws things down. He doesn’t beat me – I would immediately leave him, but such a life also brings me little pleasure.  I tried to talk to him, but he gets angry as if I took him for a softie. What can I say to him? What should I do so that he wouldn’t be so crazy?”

– Elena, 23

“I have a problem – my wife is depressed. She remains dull from morning till evening. I ask her what the problem is, but she keeps silent and cries. When I don’t ask her – she gets offended and cries. It’s like she has everything, no one has died. Should we visit a doctor? I can hardly do anything myself with such a mentally unstable wife. To whom should we go, to a psychologist or immediately to a psychiatrist? Does it look like depression or something like that?”

– Andrey, 37

What do you do if a close one is emotionally unstable?

We cannot change another person without his/her will and consent. It is possible to be more sensitive, to avoid reproaches and accusations and not to respond to a scream with a scream. It is better if possible, not to contradict, not to argue just for the sake of arguing. But it is important to keep true to yourself. You should not be under someone’s thumb and agree about everything, in order to try to avoid a confrontation. Otherwise, your close one may decide that you can be manipulated and will start pushing you even more.

Unfortunately, just your desire for change is not enough. It is important that the person who is unable to control his/her behavior has a wish to change.

But what do you do if the emotionally unstable personality type is you? How can you improve the situation and change your usual behavior?

3. Seven steps to get rid of instability: “If I am like this”

The question “What should you do if you are a psycho?” is less common than “What should you do if your close one is a psycho?” A certain courage and critical thinking mindset are required to admit a mistake. So, at the beginning, congratulations – you want to change and understand the problem, and this is the basis without which nothing will work.

So, what can be done for you to become calmer and more?

First step. Find the cause of your instability

It is important not only to track situations when you lose your temper, but also to understand why you behave this way. At what point do you break down? What exactly drives you crazy? Why are you irritated by certain circumstances? What do you feel when you are having a meltdown? It is important to answer these questions honestly and best to write them down.

Note that there may be multiple causes and then you will need to work with each of them separately.

If an unstable state is the norm for you, it may be difficult to determine the cause of the problem on your own. Then it is better to turn to a psychologist.

Second step. Focus on external reasons

If your irritability has external reasons, first of all it is necessary to deal with these. For example, you sleep poorly and little or are under constant stress because of quarrels at work. Think about what changes can be made. For example, you can plan a clearer sleep / waking up schedule and follow it. Or find a new job. Or try to build relations at work. Or change your attitude to what is happening.

Third step. If necessary, seek medical assistance when required

Drug support and behavioral therapy may be required to treat anxiety and depression disorders, or to avoid addictions such as smoking and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to seek help – this is not an indicator of your weakness, but rather a manifestation of your internal strength and determination.

Fourth step. Think about how you could behave instead of being unstable

It is not enough simply to abandon the reactions you are not happy with – they need to be replaced with other things. Think about how you reacted well to something that annoyed you before. You can imagine how you behaved calmly in different circumstances. [8] For example, if you can’t tolerate criticism, imagine how you will not get angry, but will just analyze it. Think about how to apply this information and whether it can improve your work. If you were angry earlier with toys on the floor, imagine how you could organize a joint cleaning in a game form.

Fifth step. Learn how to use emotions correctly

Emotions and feelings help us regulate our activities. Anger helps overcome obstacles and creates energy. Sadness helps the acceptance of losses. Anxiety helps one avoid mistakes and danger. You should not get rid of such useful feelings. But you can learn to keep them under control – to regulate their quantity and way of manifestation. You can learn to listen to them and identify their appropriateness. Even if you are sensitive, you can tamper your emotions. Do not suppress or refuse them but control your behavior.

Sixth step. Get ready for rollbacks

The decision alone, unfortunately, is not enough. It is necessary to start to forget old behavior and get used to new. This is a long process in which not everything will go smoothly. You will most likely roll back to your old reactions, and it is important to know that these rollbacks are natural. This is not a failure or a reason to stop – it is a natural obstacle in the course of retraining. So, if you accept you can’t avoid rollbacks – take the lead. Plan ahead what you’ll do when you are about to get mad, making it easier for you to stay on your path of change. [9] For example, if I begin to shout, I will not think: “Anyway I am shouting, nothing can be done, I can go on”, but instead, “I will try to stop immediately and have some tea.”

Seventh step. Learn from your mistakes and praise yourself for success

Not all people can easily praise themselves. Immediately a negative thought may come to bring you down: “What did I do?  I stopped and shouted at my child. And yesterday I shouted. Nothing works”. This approach leads us to stop believing in ourselves. So it is better to praise yourself for what happened: “I’m cool and reacted with dignity, although usually I shout. It is starting to work”. Also, analyze what did not happen: “I shouted again, why did it happen? What can I do in the future to keep myself calm in the same situation?”

And remember – you are already on the way to changing your behavior. Now the main thing is to stick to the plan and believe in yourself.

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