How to rein in adult temper tantrums

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How to rein in adult temper tantrums

If temper tantrums become frequent, perhaps the individual needs to get professional help to understand why they aren't able to articulate their needs and exercise self-control.

By Dr Samineh I. Shaheem/Out of Mind

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Published: Sat 24 Oct 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 25 Oct 2015, 8:02 AM

We've seen toddlers throw tantrums when they don't get their way or are emotionally charged about something and it can be quite daunting for parents to deal with, especially when it happens in public. Maria, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, says, 'when Bader starts to lose it when we're out at a mall or something, I often feel lost and so embarrassed. It takes me at least half an hour to calm him down again.'
Why do tantrums happen? According to Dr Ray Levy, a clinical psychologist, 'it's because children haven't developed good coping skills yet. They tend to just lose it instead. Every single tantrum results from one simple thing: not getting what they want. For children between 1 and 2, tantrums often stem from trying to communicate a need - more milk, a diaper change, that toy over there - but not having the language skills to do it so they get frustrated when you don't respond to what they're 'saying' and throw a fit. For older toddlers, tantrums are more of a power struggle. By the time kids are 3 or 4, they have grown more autonomous,' Levy adds. 'They're keenly aware of their needs and desires and want to assert them more. If you don't comply? Tantrum city!'
As we develop emotionally, most of us learn how to harness our emotions and control our temper. However, there are those people who haven't matured psychologically and have never really learned how to respond to and resolve conflict. So like Bader, when they feel insecure or if their basic needs aren't being met and don't get their way, they angrily lash out at either the perceived source or others present.
Psychoanalyst Janice Cohn asks us to consider the following fictional example as a way to better understand angry outbursts that cross an unacceptable line.
'His voice had become hoarse and his face had taken on a distinctly purple hue. He looked exhausted, yet there was no sign that the yelling was about to stop. Logic and reason couldn't stop his diatribe, nor could offers of compromise. Finally, the adults around him were reduced to uttering dire threats. But nothing seemed to work.'
Janis Cohn explains that, 'the preceding vignette is a classic description of a full fledged temper tantrum. But in this case, the perpetrator of the tantrum was not 2 or 4 or even 10. He was a 32-year-old business executive, who was intelligent, sensitive, and often utterly charming. But he was also a person who could not control his anger when confronted with disappointment, frustration or rejection.'
Here are some of the main features of an adult temper tantrum where the person:
> feels helpless and/or excluded
> is unable to communicate concerns in a productive and functional manner
> often times misunderstands situations and jumps to conclusions
> is easily persuaded by negative comments
> personalises issues that have nothing to do with him/her
> does not consider consequences of their actions
> is usually a bully and feels the need to be in control
> will make false accusations and unreasonable demands just to try and hurt the other
> has no boundaries and has difficulty understanding/accepting what's appropriate
> usually has a false sense of entitlement
> they see themselves as more special or privileged than others
> has been raised in a dysfunctional environment
> may have been a troubled adolescent getting into frequent fights and arguments
> has trouble holding down a job because they aren't able to effectively work with others
> has an antagonistic relationship with authority figures
> has difficulty admitting their mistakes or seeing how they've contributed to the problem
Most of us lose our cool from time to time. However, if temper tantrums become frequent, perhaps the individual needs to get professional help to understand why they aren't able to articulate their needs and exercise self-control. Usually this behaviour continues if loved ones enable or endure such explosions therefore it's crucial to establish a zero tolerance to tantrums policy before things get dangerous. For those who happen to end up on the path of a temper tantrum tornado, try and communicate calmly by offering some choices if possible, never allow yourself to be emotionally hijacked by becoming equally volatile and if necessary, seek shelter by removing yourself from the line of fire. Finally, never give in to their demands because you'll be indirectly rewarding their behaviour and these people need to learn that they wont get their way through abusive and inappropriate approaches.
Dr Samineh I. Shaheem is an assistant professor of psychology, learning & development specialist and the owner of Life Clubs UAE. Forward your thoughts/ suggestions for future articles to

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