Adult Temper Tantrums: the Why’s and What’s

Each one of my children threw one temper tantrum in their lives. As with all toddlers, overwhelming frustration can lead to a meltdown of epic proportions. I was not the kind of mother who would wait patiently until them calmed down. Not me! I walked right up to them, grabbed their shoulders, put my face squarely in front of theirs, and in a stern, no nonsense voice of imposing authority informed them that there was no way in Heaven I was going to put up with their screaming, stomping, body-slamming fits of rage. They needed to quiet down (like yesterday) and calmly tell me what was bothering them. In that way, I could better help them fix what wasn’t working.

In toddlers, uncontrollable outbursts of anger are understandable. They haven’t yet mastered the art of effectively communicating their feelings or solving problems proficiently. One would think that by adulthood people would be adept in both. Yet some adults are still wearing their size three corduroy crankypants.

Anger manifests when the demands we place on ourselves, others or on the world are not being met to our specifications. While it is perfectly acceptable have expectations, one must be certain they are fair and realistic. We are conditioned by society to believe that we should have what we want when we want it, that we deserve only the best and should not deny ourselves, and that we shouldn’t have to work hard to obtain possessions, success, health, or love. We have pills and payment plans to suit every possible need. We believe these privileges apply to us but become agitated when we observe the same attitude in others (double standard). And when our desires are not forthcoming, we throw a grown-up hissy fit unbecoming to anyone over the age of four.

If you are a Temper Tantrum Tyrant, I have a few suggestions that might help you better manage your emotions and behaviors:

First, ask yourself if what you are seeking is fair and reasonable? If someone else were demanding the same would you find it plausible?

Second, check your ego. Do I consider myself to be more important that others? Do my rights trump yours? Are my needs* greater than the other person’s at this moment? (A. You’re not. They don’t. Perhaps but that’s no excuse for bad behavior.)

Third, remind yourself that, as with a child, it does not behoove you to have everything you want. To do so creates a spoiled, entitled, demanding individual who values themselves above others. To intermittently be denied what we are seeking allows for personal and spiritual grow, enables us to prioritize what is important, and builds strength of character.

If you are confronted with a Tyrant who is modeling this year’s latest (un)fashionable and (never in) stylish crankypants, pay careful attention to how you respond. Like gasoline on a fire, be certain to never engage in like behavior. To become arrogant and hostile in return will only fuel the flame and both parties run the risk of serious harm. Instead:

1.State your observation. “You seem upset.”

2. Ask questions to gain clarity of the issue. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

3. Express your sincere concern. “I’m really sorry that you are so distressed.”

4. Inquire if and how you can help. “Is there anything I can do?” Be certain to follow through.

In the event the other party continues to rant, immediately set boundaries. If they cooperate you may continue your quest to help them find resolution. But if they don’t, enforce reasonable consequences. In either case, keep the interaction brief so as to avoid the possibility of escalating the situation.

While anger is an acceptable emotion, adult temper tantrums are never OK. Seek more mature and effective ways of expressing anger that respect the other party and allow you to maintain your dignity as well. And when dealing with a hostile adult, remember:

“Never allow another person’s bad behavior to change who you are. Always maintain your personal integrity.”**

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*Needs: absolute necessities required for our basic well-being and safety. Different from desires – the added extras that we would like but are able to live without.
**The Secret Side of Anger

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