One of the biggest mental health problems is regulating one’s emotions. When people have deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR), they find it hard to understand, respond to, or manage their feelings.
This deficiency often leads them to behave hurtful or damaging to themselves or others. People with DESR problems need to learn better strategies for helping themselves manage emotions so they can stop engaging in impulsive behaviors, such as substance abuse and risky sexual activities.
This article will attempt to demonstrate how an understanding of DESR could be helpful to those trying to help someone in need and individuals struggling with these issues.
What Is Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation (DESR)?
Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation (DESR) is a concept in psychology that describes an inability to regulate one’s emotions, moods, and behaviors to effectively conform to society’s expectations. Those diagnosed with DESR often have difficulty abstaining from gratifying their impulses due to poor impulse control.
Individuals with DESR have difficulty responding to stressors positively and adaptively; instead, they react with immature behaviors that are unlikely to produce a positive resolution to the problem at hand. They may act impulsively or act up in social situations. They may be unable to think clearly due to being overwhelmed by negative emotions such as anger or fear.
In short, there are two ways in which someone can be deficient in emotional self-regulation:
- An individual may have a limited repertoire of emotional responses. For example, they may be unable or unwilling to express anger, sadness, or fear.
- An individual may have difficulty controlling their emotional expression. For example, an individual may overreact when something upsets them.
How to Recognize DESR?
DESR can include an inability to control one’s emotions, such as anger or sadness, which may be associated with aggressive or bad moods, depressed moods, low frustration tolerance, impulsive behavior; sleep problems; and difficulty concentrating. It may include:
- Experiencing intense emotions that are disproportionate to the situation or context.
- Reacting aggressively when confronted with intense emotions.
- Utilizing maladaptive coping strategies, such as self-harm or substance abuse, to deal with intense emotions.
- Finding it difficult to identify, express and experience their own emotions.
- Being unable to accurately interpret the emotional responses of others due to difficulty understanding social cues.
In children, DESR could be recognized by Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)
What Are the Symptoms of DESR?
Some common symptoms of deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR) include:
- Poor self-image. When you’re struggling to control your emotions and thoughts, it’s challenging to feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.
- Deteriorating relationships. People with DESR may struggle to maintain satisfying relationships because they cannot control their emotions in ways that lead to cooperative social interactions.
- Inability to manage stress. Stress is more difficult for people with DESR because they cannot regulate their thoughts and feelings effectively.
- Mood swings and emotional outbursts. In addition to being unable to control thoughts and feelings, people with DESR may be unable to control their behavior.
- Disorganization. People with DESR tend not to think ahead, causing them to miss important deadlines or appointments or forget things they need for everyday life, such as money or keys.
- Substance abuse problems. Many people use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or control their emotions when overwhelmed.
What Are the Causes of DESR?
As you know, Emotional Self-Regulation (ESR) is a crucial competency to develop and maintain. It provides the foundation for effectively managing emotions, thoughts, and behavior to achieve one’s goals and be productive. Without ESR, it isn’t straightforward to work with others collaboratively.
Many different factors can contribute to deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR). Often, biological and environmental factors work together to make it more likely that someone will experience difficulties with emotion regulation. Some common causes are listed below:
A person’s genes play a role in determining whether they have DESR. Having a parent or sibling with DESR can also increase your chance of developing it.
Children physically or emotionally abused often lack a healthy way of processing overwhelming emotions. In their formative years, they learn unhealthy ways of dealing with feelings like anxiety, sadness, grief, anger, and shame – both in themselves and in those around them.
In some cases, DESR can also be associated with disturbances in sleep patterns.
DESR and Executive Functions
It is believed that this DESR is associated with difficulties in executive functions, such as decision-making and planning. Executive functions (EFs) are mental processes that help us plan, organize, and accomplish goal-directed behavior. These skills allow us to control our attention, impulses, and emotions to complete tasks efficiently.
Executive functions include:
- Initiative (the ability to plan and execute activities)
- Self-monitoring (the ability to monitor one’s behavior)
- Working memory (the ability to hold information in mind while performing other tasks)
- Emotional self-regulation (the ability to regulate emotions in the service of adaptive behavior).
Executive dysfunction has been linked with poor self-regulation and disruptive behavior disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
The executive functions are often impaired in children with ADHD, who also tend to have difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior. In addition, children with DESR have been found to have deficits in executive functioning compared with children without DESR.
Treatment for DESR
It’s important to understand that the medical community doesn’t recognize DESR as a standalone condition. Instead, it is an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptom.
There are many treatments available for people with ADHD. The most common treatments include:
Stimulants such as Adderall and Concerta are often prescribed to treat ADHD. These medications can help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity while increasing attention span and focus. However, they can have side effects such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings.
Therapy can help teach strategies to cope with the symptoms of DESR, such as learning how to pay attention or shift focus when needed. It can also help people learn how to communicate effectively with others, manage anger and find healthy outlets for stress relief.
Counseling can be helpful for adults diagnosed with DESR because it allows them to talk about their experiences with someone who understands what they are going through firsthand (a counselor or therapist).
Additional Tips to Cope With DESR
Besides, for those with DESR, you can do a few other things to help yourself feel better.
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs. These substances can make your symptoms worse. In addition, they may make it harder for you to function in school or at work.
- Get enough sleep — most teens need at least eight hours each night.
- Eat healthy foods and exercise regularly to help manage stress and improve your moods.
- Talk to someone about what’s bothering you so that you don’t bottle up your feelings until they become overwhelming (and then explode). This could include a friend/peer, parent/guardian, teacher/professor, or counselor/therapist (who can also help identify ways to cope with these feelings).
As stated previously, individuals diagnosed with ADHD frequently demonstrate multiple emotional dysregulation issues. One of those issues is Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation (DESR), which refers to a pervasive inability to manage emotional expression in healthy ways.
In summary, individuals with ADHD have deficits in executive functions, particularly those involved in emotional self-regulation; however, this is not true of all individuals with ADHD. Though the full implications are unknown, research suggests a link between ADHD and deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR).
- Surman, C.B.H., Biederman, J., Spencer, T. et al. Understanding deficient emotional self-regulation in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a controlled study. ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord 5, 273–281 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-012-0100-8
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- Spencer, T. J., Faraone, S. V., Surman, C. B., Petty, C., Clarke, A., Batchelder, H., Wozniak, J., & Biederman, J. (2015). Toward defining deficient emotional self-regulation in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder using the Child Behavior Checklist: A controlled study. Postgraduate Medicine, 123(5), 50–59. https://doi.org/10.3810/pgm.2011.09.2459
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