Ateneo Bulatao Center

Stories From The Center: Explaining Meltdowns

Previously, one client at the center was referred for intense psychological outbursts where she lashed out at her parents and siblings. When asked what she wanted as a goal of her sessions, she said she wished to not feel intense emotions. Studies show this might actually be a strong reason why the problem exists in the first place.


One explanation for a person’s experience of a tantrum, outburst, or breakdown is that the individual is experiencing low distress tolerance. But Gahr (2005) also suggests that this low tolerance can be related to one’s appraisal and acceptability of emotional states. In other words, a person has a meltdown because they believe that experiencing emotional distress is bad or unacceptable or that it’s shameful to experience psychological discomfort.


What can we do then?

A first step to help regulate oneself is to begin with accepting that distress is a part of life experience. Mindfulness exercises help cultivate this acceptance (Carpenter, 2019). In doing so, the automatic reaction to fight it or drown in it (the components of a meltdown) changes into a more reasoned response of openness and acceptance. Evaluating distress as a normal emotion may lead one to approach difficulties with less avoidance. Allowing oneself to experience the normal course of difficult emotions could even potentially lead to healthy behavioral change (Schuman-Olivier et al., 2020).

Keywords: Mindfulness; Meltdown; Breakdown; Distress; Emotions



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