A boy is highly confident one day and the next day scared, timid and shy.

A girl is emotional one day and emotionless the next.

Is there a term for a drastic switching of emotions? A term for the switching to practically opposite emotions?

EDIT: Just to clarify the emotional changes are not rapid, and are permanent. This rules out bi-polar, because bi-polar involves multiple periods of change. I'm looking for a work to demonstrate the steepness or contrasts of change, but having no relationship to the speed of change.


Over a course of 3 years a once quiet boy become the spokesmen of the school.

  • Mercurial, Robb's answer, perfectly suits your needs.
    – Uticensis
    Apr 15, 2011 at 2:23
  • Considering that changes are permanent I thought it also kinda rules out fickle or erratic. It appears mercurial has to do with constantly changing. sentence.yourdictionary.com/mercurial
    – William
    Apr 15, 2011 at 2:30
  • I misread your text; I thought you said "are rapid, and not permanent." Sorry.
    – Uticensis
    Apr 15, 2011 at 2:31

11 Answers 11


There are some good answers already, but to pitch in.

Cyclothymia could also be considered.

BUT! It might be more appropriate for:

  • Mood swings (rather that emotion swings)
  • A more severe/serious condition.

But it does fit to:

drastic switching of emotions

  • There other answers were great, but I ended up using yours because it best fit my unique situation. Thanks.
    – William
    May 6, 2011 at 2:49
  • @Lime: Oh I did not expect that, glad it helped!
    – Trufa
    May 6, 2011 at 3:10
  • The link is broken. Mar 11, 2016 at 16:02
  • Despite this being the accepted answer, I don't think it is a good fit for the question as framed. Cyclothymic disorder is about what might more colloquially be known as mood swings. The changes are episodic and not permanent. It seems that the habit of the EL&U to offer diagnosis of disorder when asked to describe a behaviour is not recent.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 24, 2017 at 13:37




changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic: a mercurial nature.


Is there a term for a drastic switching of emotions? Yes, indeed. Mood swing is one such term:

mood swing
an abrupt and apparently unaccountable change of mood. NOAD

Another term you may find useful is one I heard from a friend and have since included in my dictionary—emotional roller coaster:

roller coaster
(figurative) a thing that contains or goes through wild and unpredictable changes. NOAD

Quick colloquial example: Man, I'm going through an emotional roller coaster right now. Too many girls in the picture! Aaarggh!!!

  • Members of my crowd would say, "I'm going through a rough time right now. I feel like I'm _on_(or have been on) an emotional roller coaster."
    – sarah
    Jan 5, 2012 at 6:37

One might say temperamental when a person's mood is volatile. This means that they could be fine one moment but are very easily triggered to be angry or upset. Also, emotionally unstable.

Unpredictable might be fitting for someone whose mood can be very different at different times and who reacts unexpectedly to things.

Of course, if someone is displaying very drastic changes in mood, attitude and personality on different days, then it is possible that they are bi-polar or manic depressive, both of which are medical terms referring to different types of personality disorder.

Hope that helps.


How about capricious. My wife tolerates my capricious nature

  • 2
    Hi karim, welcome to ELU! That's a great word, but it's lacking a definition. Could provide one and link to where you found it? This will greatly assist the OP in choosing which word best fits. Thanks!
    – Erich
    May 1, 2015 at 13:33
  • According to merriam-webster.com it means, "changing often and quickly; especially : often changing suddenly in mood or behavior". It's a great word, but it does seem to indicate frequency, which the edits to the question specify against. However, it is used like a mood word historically. So, people can be capricious for a short time, interestingly. Mar 11, 2016 at 15:34

About-face is one you might consider. It's an idiom for completely switching around your plans, actions, or ideas. It can extend to attitudes, which might as well encompass emotions, too.

Also, you might consider such words as whimsical, flighty, quirky, mutable, and volatile, although they probably aren't what you're looking for.


In psychology, some models of personality would use "neurotic". The following is from the Wikipedia article on the Five Factor Personality Model: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits#Neuroticism/ . "Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability, or is reversed and referred to as emotional stability. According to Eysenck's (1967) theory of personality, neuroticism is interlinked with low tolerance for stress or aversive stimuli. Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. "


Ambivalent technically means having two contradictory emotions at the same time, which is related but not quite the same. However, the term has come to be used for people who are indifferent to the topic.


Emotional Lability or Labile is a psychiatric term used to refer to emotions that are extreme, exaggerated, and incongruent with immediate circumstances.


This was bothering me for a real long time till it hit me hard. Mood Whiplash. While more of a TvTropes term than anything, I used to use the word a lot to describe basically the same thing as a lot these other answers. In the Tropes context, it's when a scene with a certain emotion that you've accepted and adapted to in order to immerse suddenly 180s into a different or reverse emotion.

When you are watching a happy-go-lucky innocent scene and someone pulls out a gun and shoots someone, that's Mood Whiplash. YouTube originals like Happy Tree Friends, Don't Hug Me I'm Scared and Cupcakes absolutely milk this trope for all it's worth. If you go have to laugh to shake off a tragedy, and feel the dissonance you feel from that, you just felt Mood Whiplash.

Source: TV Tropes.

  • Do you really think 'mood whiplash describes a boy maturing over three years from shyness to school spokesman?
    – Spagirl
    Jul 24, 2017 at 13:38

Bi-polar is close to what you mean, but it sounds like what you want is a verb.

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