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We all go through moments when our emotions take the wheel. One day, we might feel on top of the world, and the next, we could be down in the dumps. 

We laugh, we cry, we get frustrated, and we feel excited. It’s all part of the human experience.

But for some people, these shifts in emotions are more intense and frequent. 

For instance, they might feel a surge of happiness upon hearing good news and, within hours or even minutes, plunge into sadness or irritation for no apparent reason.

That said, in this article, you ‘ll learn 12 warning signs someone is emotionally unstable. Recognizing these signs is the first step toward understanding and empathizing with those who experience them. 

1. Extreme Mood Swings

Everyone experiences a range of emotions, but someone who’s emotionally unstable might exhibit mood swings that are more pronounced. 

One moment they’re on top of the world, and shortly after, they plunge into despair or anger. It can feel like walking on eggshells around them because their emotions shift rapidly and unpredictably.

These mood swings are not necessarily linked to specific events or triggers. 

While most of us might feel upset after a bad day or elated after receiving good news, for someone emotionally unstable, their highs and lows might seem to come out of nowhere.

Interacting with them might leave you feeling disoriented. Just as you adapt to their jovial mood, you suddenly find yourself navigating their frustration or sadness. Understanding them becomes a challenge as their emotional reactions are inconsistent.

While mood swings can be a sign of emotional instability, they can also be indicative of other underlying issues or disorders.

[Related: 8 Reasons Why Name Calling Is A Sign Of Weakness]

2. Impulsive Behaviors

warning signs someone is emotionally unstable

Emotionally unstable people might act without thinking about the consequences. This impulsivity can manifest in various ways: from spontaneous purchases they can’t afford to sudden decisions about relationships or jobs. 

Their actions seem driven by their current emotions rather than logical reasoning.

This impulsivity can lead to chaos in different areas of their life. Financial struggles, strained relationships, or career issues might arise from their hasty decisions. 

They might later regret these choices but find themselves repeating the cycle soon after.

Their unpredictability can be both fascinating and exhausting. On one hand, their spontaneity might seem refreshing, but on the other, it might bring about unnecessary complications.

Approaching such people requires a lot of patience. Their impulsive nature isn’t necessarily a choice, and they might be just as overwhelmed by the repercussions of their actions as those around them are.

3. Difficulty in Maintaining Relationships

People who are emotionally unstable might find it challenging to maintain consistent and healthy relationships. 

Their interactions can be intense, filled with passion and emotion, but also fraught with conflicts and misunderstandings. Relationships might start as whirlwind romances but can quickly become tumultuous.

Friends, family members, or partners might feel they’re on an emotional roller coaster. The highs are exhilarating, but the lows can be deeply distressing. This dynamic can wear out even the most patient and understanding individual.

Misunderstandings might be frequent. Something that seems minor or insignificant to others might deeply upset someone who’s emotionally unstable, leading to conflicts.

[Also read: 10 Signs a Guy is Using You Emotionally]

4. Overreaction to Situations

emotionally unstable person

Situations that seem minor to others can be blown out of proportion by an emotionally unstable person. A casual comment might be perceived as a grave insult. 

A small setback might seem like the end of the world. Their reactions often don’t match the gravity of the situation.

This overreaction can be challenging for those around them to understand. While everyone might see the situation one way, the one who’s emotionally unstable perceives it through a magnified lens. 

Their intense reaction might be genuine, even if it’s hard for others to relate to.

5. Struggle with Self-Identity

Emotionally unstable people might often grapple with understanding who they are. One day, they’re passionate about a particular hobby, and the next, they’ve completely lost interest. 

Their self-perception is fluid, making it hard for them to maintain a consistent sense of self.

This constant search for identity can be exhausting. They might jump from job to job, relationship to relationship, or hobby to hobby, hoping to find something that resonates. But the resonance might be temporary, and soon they’re on the hunt again.

For those around them, this fluidity can be confusing. One day you think you know them, and the next, they’re an entirely different person. The changes can be so drastic that it feels like you’re interacting with multiple personalities.

Their quest for identity comes from a place of genuine confusion and not manipulation. They’re not trying to be difficult; they’re genuinely trying to find themselves.

[Read: 6 Strong Signs You’re Dealing With An Emotional Infant]

6. Avoidance of Responsibilities

Responsibility avoidance isn’t about occasional procrastination; it’s a pattern. Tasks, obligations, or commitments might be routinely ignored or delayed. This avoidance might stem from fear, anxiety, or an overwhelming sense of incapability.

Bills might go unpaid, assignments might be left unfinished, or promises might be unfulfilled. The ripple effect of these actions often leads to additional complications.

People might perceive this behavior as laziness or indifference. However, the roots of such behavior often run deeper. It’s not always about not wanting to do something; sometimes, it’s about feeling utterly unable to.

7. A Tendency to Isolate

There might be times they pull away from everyone and everything. These are not just moments of wanting some “me-time”; they’re more about wanting to escape from the world and its perceived pressures. 

The isolation can be a coping mechanism, but it’s often a double-edged sword.

It can offer them a break from the chaos of their emotions, giving them a chance to regroup. But prolonged isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and worsen their emotional state.

For friends and family, it can be distressing to see their loved one distance themselves. The natural instinct might be to pull them back in, but sometimes they just need that space to breathe.

Being there for them doesn’t always mean being physically present. Sometimes it’s about letting them know that, whenever they’re ready, they have someone to turn to.

[Related: 5 Major Signs of An Emotionally Immature Adult]

8. Difficulty Trusting Others

Trust isn’t something they give away easily. They might constantly doubt the intentions of those around them. 

Every action is scrutinized, every word is analyzed, and often, they might perceive threats where there are none.

This heightened sense of mistrust can be exhausting for them and those they interact with. Friendships and relationships are tested, and misunderstandings might frequently arise. 

They’re always on the defensive, ready to protect themselves from perceived betrayals.

However, this behavior isn’t always about paranoia. Past traumas or experiences might have instilled in them a heightened sense of caution. They’ve perhaps been hurt before and are determined not to let it happen again.

9. Overwhelming Fear of Abandonment

There’s a palpable dread they feel at the mere thought of being left alone. 

This isn’t just about not liking to be by oneself; it’s a deep-seated fear that people they care about will leave them. Whether it’s friends, family, or partners, the worry remains.

You might notice them becoming clingy or anxious at the slightest indication of distance. 

A missed call or a delayed text response can send them spiraling into worry. They may constantly seek reassurance that you’re not going anywhere.

This behavior isn’t about them wanting to control your life or actions. They genuinely struggle with the thought of losing someone they care about. It’s a profound vulnerability they grapple with daily.

[Also read: 10 Signs You Should Stay Away From Someone]

10. Feeling Emotionally Empty

Sometimes, amidst the chaos of their emotions, there come moments of stark emptiness. It’s like a void they can’t fill, a hollowness that engulfs them. During these times, they might seem distant or unresponsive.

It’s not that they don’t want to feel anything; it’s that they can’t. The emptiness can be overwhelming, leaving them feeling adrift and disconnected from the world around them.

Being there for them during these moments can be challenging. You might want to pull them out of their shell, but the approach needs to be gentle. Offering a listening ear or just being present can provide some solace.

11. Over-dependence on External Validation

Compliments, affirmations, and positive feedback are very important to them. A simple compliment can uplift them, while a casual criticism can deeply wound them.

Their self-worth often hinges on how others perceive them. They might go to great lengths to please people, hoping to earn their praise. But this reliance on external validation means their self-esteem is always on shaky ground.

You might notice them fishing for compliments or getting upset over not receiving enough recognition. 

12. Inconsistent Self-Image

One day they feel on top of the world, and the next, they’re doubting every decision they’ve ever made. Their self-image is ever-changing, making it hard for them to find solid footing. 

They might alternate between periods of extreme confidence and debilitating self-doubt.

Understanding themselves becomes a herculean task. With their self-perception in constant flux, making decisions or sticking to them can be a challenge. 

They might frequently change their mind or second-guess themselves.

It’s not about being indecisive or fickle. They genuinely struggle with understanding who they are and what they want. 


Understanding and supporting people with emotional ups and downs is one of the kindest things we can do. But, as with anything, there’s a balance. While it’s great to be there for others, you should never forget to care for yourself too. 

If you ever feel weighed down, it’s okay to step aside and take a breather. We can be the best support for others only when we’re in a good place ourselves.


How Do You Handle Someone Who Is Emotionally Unstable?

Recognize that their emotional experiences might be intense and, at times, overwhelming. Instead of getting frustrated or dismissing their feelings, try to be a calm and steady presence in their life. 

Active listening can be a game-changer. Sometimes, they don’t need solutions; they just need someone to hear them out.

Also set boundaries for yourself. While supporting them is crucial, it’s equally important to ensure your well-being isn’t compromised. 

If a situation becomes too taxing or if you feel drained, it’s okay to take a step back and seek support for yourself. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

What Can Cause Emotional Instability?

Emotional instability can stem from various factors. For some, it’s due to traumatic experiences in the past, affecting their ability to handle emotions healthily. 

Others might have underlying mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder or mood disorders, contributing to their emotional fluctuations.

Chronic stress, hormonal imbalances, or even certain medications can also influence one’s emotional stability. It’s always a good idea to consult with a mental health professional to understand and address the root causes better.

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Destiny Femi

Destiny Femi is a dating coach whose work has helped transform the love lives of countless people. With a writing style that is both insightful and relatable, Destiny has amassed a following of hundreds of thousands of readers who turn to him for advice on everything from finding the perfect partner to maintaining a healthy relationship. Through his articles he has inspired people around the world to become more confident, authentic, and successful in their dating life.

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