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Instable People. Is It Possible to Change Myself and Others?

26.08.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

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

2. Instability of close ones 

3. 7 steps to get rid of instability: “If I am like this”

Instability is an emotional imbalance and increased excitability, which can occur not only in the 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 cry – it’s normal. But, negative emotions and feelings among instable people begin to prevail, come out of control and worsen the quality of life. Instead of doing something, we cry. Or instead of solving some problem – we shout and stamp our feet. Why does it happen?

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Reasons for the occurrence of instability 

Reasons for the occurrence of instability 

Instability, as a psychological problem, is formed not immediately – this is a consequence of accumulated internal problems, and negative emotions. At first, a person shows frequent mood swings – short-term hysteria, tears, flashes of anger, he/she notices it and can feel guilty. Because of this, a person often shuts down and behaves remotely. Gradually, the situation becomes worse, and a 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 react  this way and, most often, simply don’t know the other ways. This model of behavior can come from childhood, like in Marina, 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, 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, the habit of doing something and not giving up.

2. 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, as a result, instability occurs. For example, a student may go mad from every comment during an examinations period. Or someone who recently suffered a heavy loss can cry out for any, even the smallest, trouble.

3. Anxiety, depressive disorder

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

4. 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, if someone once constantly broke down, and now learns to control his/her actions, then during lack of sleep he/she will come to the old habits. New behavior requires conscious control – and the tired brain is not capable of it.

5. Age crises

Puberty, two, three or seven years’ periods are those very often accompanied by increased excitability, negativity and other problems. [5] There are two reasons in 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, the desire to form the worldview.

Also, an instable nature can manifest itself with a midlife crisis or at a 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, he/she suddenly finds himself/herself out of business, does not know what do and how to live on.

6. Dependence on psychoactive substances

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

7. 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, to make guilty. A person is upset or defends via aggression. And since there are many reasons to feel wounded, he/she can defend almost permanently. As a result, he/she acquires a reputation as an emotionally unstable personality.

8. Intolerance of frustration

Frustration is a condition when we face an 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 even become hysterical when they don’t get what they want. And it is normal for children.

A psychological adult, not an infantile person, has a resistance to frustration, it means, he/she reacts to such situations calmly, does not immerse in strong feelings, controls his/her emotions. [7] If the resistance to frustration has not developed, we can get what some consider an instable type of temperament. For any refusal, 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 the desired and so on.

Instability of close ones

About children

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. I can still manage them separately, I can negotiate with them. But when they are together it turns into nightmare. “Mom, he went to my room without a knock! Mom, he takes my textbooks! Mom, he beats me with a machine! 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 also difficult for my mother when she retired. All days she was muttering. Everything wasn’t right for her, she found fault in everything. We were moaning. And then she somehow burst into tears and admitted that she felt sad. The father was dead, she was alone, not possible to get a job, the friends were lost. Well, I had to teach her how to use the Internet. She found some institute friends, also out of place, now they are doing crazy things, they bought together a country house, they go on excursions, watch movies and discuss them later in their movie club. My mom is laughing that they have “retiree squad”.  In general, she started to live again. And her muttering disappeared. Social media bring happiness!”

– Artem, 43 

About spouses

“Girls, my husband recently became a complete psycho and totally instable, what should I do? I do not like to complain, but sometimes I get scared. I don’t like nagging, finding fault in anything, and I’m rather quiet. But he meets every word with hostility. And if you keep quiet – you still get blamed. He shouts at me, scolds, throws things down. He doesn’t beat me – I will immediately leave him, but such a life also brings less pleasure.  I tried to talk to him, but he gets angry as if I take him for a softie. What can I say to him? What should I do in order 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 is the problem – she keeps silence 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 something myself with such a mentally instable 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 to do if a close one is emotionally instable?

We cannot change another person without his/her will and consent. It is possible to be more accurate, avoid reproaches and accusations, not to respond with a scream to a scream, if possible not to contradict, not to argue for just arguing. But it is important to keep yourself. We should not be under someone’s thumb and agree on everything, but avoid a scandal. Otherwise, your close one may decide that you can be manipulated, and will start pushing on you even more.

Unfortunately, only 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 to do if an emotionally instable personality type is you? How can we improve the situation and change our usual behavior?

7 steps to get rid of instability: “If I am like this”

getting rid of intemperance

The request “What to do if you are a psycho?” is less common than “What to do if your close one is a psycho?” A certain courage and critical thinking is required to admit a mistake. So, for 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 to become more stable and calm?

First step. Find the cause of your instability

It is important not only to track situations when you go mad, 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 any circumstances? What do you feel in case of a breakdown? It is important to answer these questions honestly, 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 instable state is the norm, it may be difficult to determine the cause for the problem on its 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 them. For example, you sleep poorly and little or are under constant stress because of the quarrels at work. Think 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 internal strength and determination. The 7Spsy course will help you get rid of inappropriate behavior, find harmony and teach you to respect people around you.

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

It is not enough simply to abandon the reactions you are not happy with – they need to be replaced with something. Think about how you can react to something that annoyed you before. You can imagine how you behave calmly in different circumstances. [8] For example, if you can’t tolerate criticism, imagine how you are not getting angry, but are just analyzing it – which is true, how to apply this information, whether it can improve your work. If you were earlier angry with toys on the floor, imagine how you 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, creating energy. Sadness helps accept losses. Anxiety helps avoid mistakes and danger. You should not get rid of such useful feelings. But you can learn to deal with them – to regulate their quantity and way of manifestation, to listen to them, identifying their appropriateness. Even if you are sensitive, you can control your emotions. Do not suppress or refuse, but control your behavior.

Sixth step. Get ready to rollbacks 

The decision alone, unfortunately, is not enough. It is necessary to start to forget old behavior and get used to a new one – and 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 an ordinary obstacle in the course of retraining. So, once you can’t avoid rollbacks – take the lead. Plan ahead what you’ll do when you are about to go mad, making it easier for you to get back to 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 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 wish comes to bring you down: “What did I do?  I stopped and didn’t shout on 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 started 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.


  1. Definition of unbalance in the dictionary: (https://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/es/118170).
  2. Elliot Aronson, “A social animal. Introduction to Social Psychology”.
  3. Smilyk I. M., “Anxiety, fear and the formation of a stable sense of security” (article in the journal).
  4. Lack of sleep can increase irritability and aggression (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22305407).
  5. Mukhina V. S. “Age psychology. Phenomenology of development”.
  6. The influence of dependence on psychoactive substances on the emotional state (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/v/sistema-psihoterapii-i-reabilitatsii-emotsionalnyh-narusheniy-i-sopryazhennyh-rasstroystv-u-lits-s-zavisimostyu-ot-psihoaktivnyh).
  7. Voronov K. S., “Frustration and frustration tolerance”. The technique of imagination.
  8. Техника воображения (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00664/full).
  9. About the right attitude to setting goals and to kickbacks (https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/31/1/52/1812057).