What Is the Breaking Point?

Unresolved trauma may cause some individuals to experience an emotional breakdown.
Detectives work to reach a guilty person's breaking point during an interrogation.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
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In psychology, the breaking point refers to the point at which a person breaks down, can endure no more, or finally reaches a point where a permanent change is made. This is typically related to stressful or highly emotional situations, in which a person will be forced to cope with something that particularly challenges them. The breaking point for each individual person may be different; some people respond particularly well to stressful situations, while others have a much lower point at which a situation becomes too much to endure. To visually imagine this point, picture a piece of wood or plastic that is bent at an angle; eventually, the stress of the curve will be too much, and the wood or plastic will simply snap.

The concept of the breaking point is one of the key ideas behind interrogating people accused of a crime. The interrogation can be quite intense and long lasting, to encourage people to reach their breaking point and reveal the information that the interrogator is looking for. Of course, certain methods of interrogation raise questions about their ethics; particularly if people are forced to their breaking point, but then reveal false information because the interrogation is too intense.


Of course, there are a number of other situations that can lead people to a breakdown in life. A particularly stressful time, such as the loss of a job or a serious medical condition, can bring individuals to the point where they break down. The loss of a spouse, partner, or close family member could also lead to this effect. This could lead to an emotional breakdown, mental illness such as depression, or other mental issue. Some people can resolve these problems by themselves, while others will need treatment from a mental health professional.

A breaking point does not necessarily need to lead to a negative outcome. It can also spur significant positive life changes. For instance, people with drug or alcohol addictions might reach a point where they realize, through whatever means necessary, that they cannot go on as they are. This might lead them to pursue treatment and get help, and to eventually turn their lives around and defeat the addiction. Even something such as a realization about one's relationships or career can lead to a sort of breaking point, and an eventual change to something better; it is important to recognize that the point at which one realizes that a change needs to be made can be one of the most beneficial points in life.


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