More Effort Leads to Less Success at Emotional Regulation in Bipolar

Bipolar (BD) is characterized by extreme fluctuations in mood and energy. People with BD can experience levels of heightened positive mood to the point of mania, then be thrust into an emotional state that is lethargic and depressed. Some people endure this cycle of moods rapidly, while others go through long stretches of time with mania or depression. Learning to regulate the patterns of emotional volatility is something people with BD often strive for. In a recent study, June Gruber of the Department of Psychology at Yale University in Connecticut wanted to explore what methods of emotional regulation were most often used by individuals with BD, and with what success.

For her study, Gruber assessed 75 individuals, half of whom had BD, as they watched films designed to elicit sad, happy, and neutral emotional responses. She evaluated how much effort the participants used to maintain emotional stability and how successful they were at doing that. Gruber found that the participants with bipolar tried to suppress their emotions much more spontaneously than the control participants did. However, doing so required a great expense of energy, and often resulted in little success. Even those who used reappraisals, a technique viewed as adaptive, were not very successful. “The results suggest that individuals with BD report widespread engagement in strategies aimed at harnessing emotions, yet experience less success at doing so,” Gruber said.

Emotional outbursts and distorted emotional processing can have many negative outcomes on a person’s life. People who respond inappropriately in social settings may feel alienated and isolate themselves from others. The impact, socially, cognitively, and psychologically, that emotional dysregulation can have is often significant. Therefore, it is important to continue dissecting regulation strategies and segregate the productive ones from the deleterious ones in order to provide people with BD and other issues the most effect methods for controlling their emotional states.

Gruber, June, Allison G. Harvey, and James J. Gross. When trying is not enough: Emotion regulation and the effort-success gap in bipolar disorder. Emotion 12.5 (2012): 997-1003. Print.

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  • Jasper Q

    Jasper Q

    November 7th, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    It is hard to imagine not being able to regulate emotions. Or, it taking so much energy that it often isn’t worth it. No one likes feeling that their emotions are wrong, so it must be exhausting to try to fight against instincts all the time. My heart goes out to those struggling with bipolar disorder. So often, we look at people with emotional outbursts with judgment rather than an understanding that something deeper is amiss.

  • toby


    November 7th, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    Bipolar disorder sucks. My dad had it and it ruined my childhood. God bless any kids living with parents with this disease.

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