When we hear the word tantrum, we picture a 2-year-old lying on the floor kicking and screaming. Very rarely do we use it to describe an adult having an outburst. In reality, adults can have this kind of outburst at any moment in time.
We don’t typically refer to an adult as having a tantrum. We refer to them as being angry or “just blowing off some steam.” However, when their behavior becomes cyclical, predictive, or problematic the impact of their behavior should be assessed and addressed.
Tantrums typically follow an action made by another person that results in the recipient feeling angry, disappointed or discouraged. Behaviorists consider actions that include angry outbursts, aggression, and rage as maladaptive. With maturity, adults typically move in a direction of developing socially appropriate methods to express anger. Adults are encouraged to verbally express how they feel, instead of acting out in a manner that is hurtful or disruptive to others.
As we age, we must begin to realize that people aren’t always going to say what we want them to say. People aren’t always going to do what we want them to do. We also need to learn that we will never have complete control over other people’s actions. A mature adult should strive to have control over their emotions to help them maintain healthy relationships with the people they come in contact with on a daily basis.
Living or working with an adult who has frequent tantrums can be very taxing on those around them. When the person gets into one of their moods they show little to no regard for anyone else’s feelings. It’s as if they’re able to block out the fact that anyone else’s feelings matter except their own. From a psychological perspective they fail to demonstrate empathy for others and engage in grandiose behavior or completely fixate on their needs and show no regard for others.
In extreme cases, their thoughts become so irrational that their ability to utilize logic and reasoning stops and they are only operating from an emotion-based perspective. Afterwards, the person will have little to no recollection about how they had been behaving and as a result feel little need to offer an apology for their behavior.
Signs of extreme rage or anger include:
- Speaking using a high rate of speech
- Tense face
- Intense or loud tone of voice
- Fast paced walking
- Pacing back and forth
- Aggressive hand gestures
Common diagnoses of adult who have frequent tantrums:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Substance abuse
Possible Underlying Causes
- Chemical imbalance
- Cyclical irrational thinking
- Racing thoughts
- Excessive worry
- Undiagnosed mental illness
What you can do when someone is having a tantrum:
- Know the signs and don’t engage
- Wait them out, check the start time and identify the duration
- Identify patterns
- Speak in calm and even tone
- Point out their behavior
- Walk away
- Breathe and release
- Don’t take it personal
- Test their accusations for accuracy
- Find something to do to distract yourself while you wait them out
- In severe cases seek emergency intervention
What you should not do
- Put you or your family members in danger
- Remain in the same environment when the person’s behavior is out of control
- Ignore the fact that their behavior is problematic
- Individual psychotherapy
- Behavior modification
- Anger management
- Identifying triggers
- Family therapy
- Couples counseling
Utilize faith and spirituality
- Pray for the person
- Pray for yourself
- Remain hopeful
- Maintain a rational mind
- Seek solace in your higher power
Living or working with an adult who has a history of angry outbursts can be incredibly challenging. Knowing when to seek assistance is an important part of the assessment process for everyone involved. Ignoring the person’s behavior may be a temporary method of coping, but professional intervention is necessary when all other attempts have had little impact on changing their problematic behavior.