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What causes emotional lability?

Emotional lability occurs due to injury of parts of the brain that control our:

  • awareness of emotions (ours and others)
  • ability to control how emotions are expressed

When a person is emotionally labile, emotions can be out of proportion to the situation or environment the person is in. For example, a person may cry, even when they are not unhappy – they may cry just in response to strong emotions or feelings, or it may happen “out of the blue” without warning. A person may have little control over the expression of these strong emotions, and they may not be connected to any specific event or person.

Brain disorders such as traumatic brain injury can cause this emotional overreaction to people or events. There is also weaker emotional control and lower frustration tolerance, particularly if the person is tired or stressed. The person may express their emotions in situations where previously they would have been able to been restrained or in control (in quiet situations, in church, listening to a concert).

These behaviours can be confusing, embarrassing, and difficult to understand for the person with brain injury and for others.