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Adult Temper Tantrums: A Lingering Effect of Post Pandemic Stress

You expect outbursts of uncontrolled behavior from a two-year-old, but when the person screaming is your partner, it adds a whole new dilemma. If you’re on social media, you may have seen clips of adults losing control in public places. Since the pandemic it has gotten so severe with adults out of control that some restaurants have hung signs on their door making it clear that if you can’t be kind, you cannot dine. Angry stressed-out customers vent their frustration on an unassuming waiter, and employees vent and scream at work.

When you see an adult so out of control it’s frightening. Unlike a child you cannot go over and pick them up or remove them from the situation. If the person having the tantrum is your partner it’s humiliating and embarrassing. Adults lose control of their behavior for many reasons. They may want to manipulate, they may feel overwhelmed or embarrassed, have a drug dependency or a more severe mental illness, but one thing they all share is they’ve passively taken on frustrations without resolving or being able to express what they’re feeling in an emotionally healthy manner. Suddenly, they snap. Humans aren’t machines, they need connection, validation, and a safe space to express themselves. You can’t keep working or going at the same pace without stopping and taking time to reconnect and feel valued. Not all temper tantrums look alike, and therefore they catch unknowing partners and people off guard. If you don’t know the triggers or cues, you cannot prepare. Here are 3 types of typical adult temper tantrums you may have seen in your partner. This list is not complete; for more types, watch your two-year-old.

  • The total meltdown. You’ve may have seen these on airplanes, in restaurants or in traffic. The tantrum thrower shouts, screams, shakes their fist, honks their horn, or yells insults. If they are unconstrained, they may throw things, or threaten you.

  • The silent seether. This tantrum thrower stops, paces, throws themselves down in a chair or on the floor. They don’t talk, but slam doors, huff and puff and sigh loudly. They can block your entrance but won’t listen to anything you or anyone else says.

  • Moaner tantrum thrower. These types will cry angrily, scream, cuss, and accuse others. They are very dramatic to anyone giving them attention.

When you’re the person in close contact with an adult having a tantrum, it can feel confusing and scary. I have a 5-part action plan for coping with an adult having a temper tantrum.

1. Assess the situation and whether they are beyond the point of reason. If someone is crying, they may be able to calm down, but if they’re ranting and possibly working themselves into a volatile situation, you are better to find protection and call for help.

2. If you can talk to them, stay calm. You can’t fight outrage with loud angry words. It is much better to stay calm and talk in a non-emotional stable voice.

3. Don’t take anything personally. When someone is out of control and threatening you, it isn’t about you, it’s about their loss of control and not being able to manage what they’re feeling. Do not get defensive or try to reason with them. 4. Keep yourself safe first. If it was your child, you would remove them from a harmful situation, but since it’s an adult having the tantrum, you need to remove yourself. Call authorities if yours or others life are threatened.

5. Decompress afterwards and plan. If it’s someone you don’t know, it’s important to decompress, talk to a friend or loved one for validation that you did the right thing. If the person having the adult temper tantrum is someone you love you need to insist that they get professional help. When an adult loses control of themselves and their emotions it is their responsibility to seek professional help. It cannot be tolerated. Don’t make excuses for your loved one, make an action plan and make it mandatory for the relationship that they follow through with the work.

A society is only as healthy as the individuals living within it. Having temper tantrums when you don’t get your way, or being frightened or suffering from a mental illness is not an acceptable way to live. It isn’t others’ job to manage what you aren’t able to deal with. If you are struggling with expressing your emotions in a healthy way, there are counselors, therapists and physicians who can help you. Everyone has bad days, but part of being a positive contributor to your family and community is to take responsibility for managing your emotions in an appropriate manner no matter what life has dealt on any particular day.

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