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Psychological Instability Isn’t Visible, But It’s There

In this blog, I am writing about ideas that are brought to mind while trying to understand the experience of emotional instability.  Sometimes this is referred to under the heading of emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD). 

Certain people are prone to experiences of psychological and emotional instability.  It’s a bit like having a weak ankle.  Most of the time you wouldn’t know there was a problem, then all of a sudden you have tripped over a loose paving stone, again.

Psychological instability isn’t visible, but it is there

Certain factors set it off.  These might be to do with anything, sometimes a conversation will be the trigger.  Something happens within a personal relationship, a topic is introduced and it has an effect.  It is a bit like a spider has suddenly been detected in the corner of a room.  One moment you feel comfortable, the next you’re not.

Deep within you, at an instinctive level, a reaction has been triggered, a threat has been detected.  You don’t really have a choice about this.  You are now in a reactive mode.  From here things might go one of two ways:

1 it might be resolved quickly without further ado.

2 it might be the beginning of a greater experience of a meltdown, a kind of breakdown derivative experience. If this happens then the resolution will take longer.

Afterward, recovering stability again

After an encounter with the unstable core element of our personality certain feelings are present.  It is a bit like a hangover.  These feelings may include shame, guilt, other types of emotional and psychological discomfort.

The shame may relate to a slightly paranoid anxiety; do other people know what I just went through?  You have been through, or been in touch with a profound level of psychological instability; do other people know?

They probably don’t know.  It is hard enough for you to make sense of what happened to you, let alone other people.

These kinds of feelings may again be a derivative of an old experience of breakdown.

One way of trying to make sense of this is to think that you have been through a kind of emotional memory of breakdown.  The breakdown happened in the past, but at these moments, when instability is set off, it feels like it is about to happen now, all over again.  Freud and Winnicott write about this experience of fear of breakdown.

The fear and worry that other people can see and know what you have been through may be linked to projective defensive mechanisms.  It may also refer to the sense that your original experience of instability happened when you were very young.

But, given time, you will stabilise again.  It just takes a bit of time.  The challenge is how to hang onto the knowledge that you do recover from these experiences.  You do recover and you will do again.

Can you find a way to pursue the experience of instability in a way that will support your ongoing psychological stability?

Comments, feedback, and replies are welcome.

Psychological Instability Isn’t Visible, But It’s There

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Psychological Instability Isn’t Visible, But It’s There. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Dec 2019
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