Effects of Unresolved Emotional Problems: Emotional Instability

Effects of Unresolved Emotional Problems: Emotional Instability

Let’s look at how unattended psychological problems bring out mood swings.

The fact of experiencing unpleasant emotions is part of life and cannot be considered a psychological problem. In reality, it is part of what allows us to avoid situations capable of harming ourselves, and it is also part of what motivates us to improve our situation in times of crisis. That is why no one should go to the psychologist for the simple fact of feeling bad from time to time.

  • However, when mood swings are very abrupt, very frequent, and very pronounced, this is an indication that there is a bad dynamic of emotion management. This is what happens, for example, with emotional instability caused by the accumulation of unresolved emotional problems; Let’s see what this phenomenon consists of.

Why does emotional instability arise?

The fact of experiencing an unstable emotionality, prone to rapidly changing towards states of well-being and discomfort in situations that do not justify this reaction, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs for several reasons. For example, it is one of the characteristics of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, and it can also be triggered by the use of certain drugs.


However, it can also be caused by anxiety disorders, or even by psychological complications that do not fully fit the diagnostic criteria for any specific psychopathology. In fact, it is relatively common that the root of the problem has to do with unresolved emotional problems, which may have accumulated over the months or even years.

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What is this about? Emotional instability is one of the consequences of dysfunctional stress and anxiety management. When our nervous system enters the dynamic of always being alert and paying attention to possible signs that something is wrong around us, this predisposes us to fall into psychological rumination and obsessive thoughts.


In other words: it makes us more vulnerable to intrusive thoughts that, in a matter of a very short time, put us “on the defensive” because of what may happen to us. It leads us to constantly review our memories and explore troubling hypotheses through our imaginations. This can anchor us in a mixture of anticipatory anxiety that feeds itself, on the one hand, and on the other, generate fear of making decisions and taking the wrong action at key moments.

  • Thus, emotional instability makes us very sensitive to ideas and mental images capable of causing our anxiety levels to skyrocket. And from this psychological state, we can go to a mixture of anguish and sadness (if we think about the difference between how we would like to feel and how we feel), guilt (if we assume that the discomfort that we suffer and/or that we have caused is entirely our responsibility), fear (if we believe that not acting quickly can lead us to suffer much more), etc.

Emotional instability and unresolved psychological problems

As we have seen, this tendency to suffer sudden mood swings is due to a dynamic of accumulation of problems, a “snowball effect”. When we feel vulnerable because of something that has happened to us and has left an emotional mark on us that causes discomfort, it is easy for many things that happen to us to make us think about what has made us suffer.

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In this way, these emotionally painful memories are further reinforced and associated with our way of thinking about the world and about ourselves, with which there are more situations capable of leading us to evoke those contents of our memory (even if it is automatically and without our trying).


From that vicious cycle, we get caught up in psychological rumination. As we find it difficult to manage the negative emotions that these memories produce in us, we gradually give up interacting with our environment in a way that allows us to stop feeling bad, and we focus on combating discomfort through introspection: we try to suppress the anxiety, stop thinking about what makes us sad, etc.


But this is not an effective way to overcome unresolved psychological problems, since it is impossible to fully control our emotions. And at the same time, we lose opportunities to take measures to improve our situation through concrete actions that allow us to attend to our responsibilities, ask for help, anticipate the accumulation of tasks and manage time appropriately, etc.


In summary, psychological or resolved problems attract more unresolved psychological problems, since they lead us to:

  • Focus our attention on how bad we feel, rather than on possible solutions in the here and now.
  • Try to avoid certain anxiety-generating memories, postponing our responsibilities.
  • Not asking for help when we need it, since we become obsessed with trying to feel better from introspection and not from interaction with the environment.

As a result, the stimuli capable of making us think about what worries us and causes us anguish multiply, and therefore, in a matter of minutes we can go from feeling good to feeling very bad.

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What can be done in psychotherapy?

In psychological therapy, it is possible to learn the necessary emotional management skills so that emotional instability due to unattended psychological problems stops wearing away our quality of life. The main ways to try to achieve this are as follows:

  • Training in time management and task sequencing.
  • Training in anxiety management based on acceptance and non-avoidance of emotions.
  • Cognitive restructuring so as not to feed excessively guilty belief systems.
  • Learning techniques that allow us to move from guilt to a proactive and constructive problem-solving mindset.
  • Social skills training to express discomfort appropriately and know how to ask for help.


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