What Is an Emotional Disorder?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Emotional disorder refers to a spectrum of psychological or mental disorders caused by a person’s inability to comprehend and manage his or her emotions in a way a person normally does. A child, for example, can be very violent, while another child can exhibit severe social aloofness. Emotional disorders are usually combined with behavior disorders, as behavior is often an expression of a certain emotion. These can be classified as emotional and behavior disorders (EBD). Emotional disorder is often applied to children who are of school age, as the disorders would usually be observed and diagnosed in a social setting such as the classroom.

In general, many experts pinpoint three factors that can cause an emotional disorder, one of which is the genes passed down to the child from his parents and grandparents. Several studies have shown that a presence of certain genes can result in a disorder, or traits that will more likely develop into a disorder. Another factor would be the neurological aspect, or the brain. Many psychologists believe that people with EBD have some irregularities in the brain where neurotransmitters are unable to send and receive hormones that regulate emotions. Another cause would be the external factors, such as the child’s environment, traumatic situations, and parental influences that can affect a child’s management of emotions.


An emotional disorder can be classified as internalized or externalized. A child who has an internalizing disorder tends to bottle up his emotions and become withdrawn. He is more likely to be distant, have a hard time making friends, and be uninterested in school and social activities. Some internalizing disorders include clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, selective mutism, and some types of anxiety disorders such as avoidant disorder.

An externalizing emotional disorder, on the other hand, is observable when a child is extremely extroverted and loud. The child often throws tantrums and tends to be violent. In contrast to an internalizing disorder, an externalizing disorder causes a child to let loose of his or her emotions instead of containing them. Some externalizing disorders are attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists refer to a manual called the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Revised (DSM-IV)” to diagnose if a child does or does not have EBD. If the child is officially diagnosed using the DSM-IV, his treatment for the emotional disorder can be covered by insurance or the government. It is crucial for the child to receive treatment as soon as possible, because a prolonged disorder can severely affect his education, ability to learn, and skill in establishing social connections.


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