Medical professionals use the psychiatric term labile to refer to emotions that are extreme, exaggerated, and incongruent with immediate circumstances. A labile person may laugh at the death or serious injury of someone, even if they love them. Alternately, he or she might cry when someone tells a joke. If an emotionally extreme person does laugh at something amusing or cry at something sad, the display of affection may be melodramatic and beyond what is typical. Rage often occurs as a symptom of lability, which is also known as pseudobulbar affect.
Emotional lability arises for two primary reasons: physical brain damage or an emotional disorder. Physical damage to the brain and neurological system due to head trauma or aging may result in a labile affect. The resulting physical damage or degeneration could hinder a person’s ability to understand, filter, suppress, or be aware of his or her emotions. A person who has an emotional disorder due to tragic events from childhood or due to loss of family, jobs, or relationships can experience the same hindrances. The results in either situation can be either temporary or long-term.
An emotionally unstable person, however, will not be unstable all the time. Certain circumstances can trigger frantic moments and cause rapid changes in disposition. Triggers include extreme fatigue, overstimulation through sights and sounds in the environment, constant anxiety, and being subjected to excessive demands from others. One way to handle triggers is by talking with a psychologist or psychiatrist. There are, however, strategies for handling triggers without professional help.
Planned activities in a quiet atmosphere with a small, familiar group tend to be helpful. These activities should be something the emotionally labile person can easily do so they can experience success. Providing one-on-one venting sessions where the frustrated person can talk about fears and losses without judgment can also be soothing.
An emotionally labile person could help themselves by using time-outs when he or she is unable to process feelings. He or she can also use deep-breathing, soft music, and relaxation techniques. A person struggling with lability often feels empowered by gathering information on the condition; building a personal library with treatment books might be beneficial.
Anyone around a person who is having a labile moment typically should ignore him or her and not affirm the behavior. The embarrassment of being acknowledged could exacerbate the condition. More than one million people are diagnosed with emotional lability each year.