Emotional Arousal: Too much or too little?

I am doing some prep for my upcoming class on the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). [Links: summer institute brochure, and CEU information for LPCs] Many theorize that BPD is really a problem of emotional (over) sensitivity resulting from a combination of psychological factors (trauma, loss, attachment injuries, or chronic invalidation) and biological predispositions (high base-line emotional experiences, slow return to baseline once activated, and chronic and inappropriate scanning environment for danger).

If a person is prone to intense emotional experiences, they are likely to get the message that their emotional expression is out of line. Thus, they may either try to avoid emotions (leaving them less aware of how they feel and maybe more likely to be taken advantage of) or give in and respond out of their full expression (leaving them less likely to be able to solve the problem given their high state of arousal).

Are you a person of high emotional arousal? Do you know or live with one? Do you struggle with thinking that high arousal is wrong? Theoretically, most of us do not think strong emotions are wrong. But practically those who experience their own intense emotions and those who live with them do think they are wrong. “I shouldn’t feel this way…she shouldn’t feel that way.”

Counselors do not seek the goal of eliminating or even tempering emotions. What they seek is to avoid the “why” or “because” that often follows the strong feelings. It appears that the big problem is not the feelings but the beliefs and interpretations that one holds during and after the emotional experience. I feel this way because…(I’m stupid, a loser) or because…(others hate me) leads to cementing emotions and beliefs together in such a way that lead to more easily experiencing invalidation.

Looking to get into this a whole lot more in a few weeks (July 30-31)!


Filed under counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Psychology, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Emotional Arousal: Too much or too little?

  1. I don’t think high arousal is wrong, but it can lead to some wrong/damaging actions. I think maybe that is why some people with BPD interpret their feelings are being bad or wrong. The consequences of their intense emotions often lead to relationship problems, angry outbursts, and many regrets.

  2. D. Stevenson

    In class the other day (Health Psychology Seminar) a fellow student said that “intense” is a negative descriptor.

    I disagree. But then, I may be biased, being somewhat (ah-hem) “intense.”


  3. D. Stevenson

    —“chronic and inappropriate scanning environment for danger”

    Isn’t this common for someone who has experienced trauma? Do you/they mean being this way even pre-trauma?

    — “leads to cementing emotions and beliefs together in such a way that lead to more easily experiencing invalidation.”

    Hm, this is the first for me to hear this idea. I am curious to learn more.

  4. D. I should have said, “lead to more easily experiencing SELF-invalidation.” Often the person begins to feel that they are wrong in their their emotions and thinking (having been told that many times) and so they begin to self-invalidate when they have strong feelings.

    The inappropriate scanning is *believed* to be begun prior to trauma. But, I think we have little objective data on this.

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