Outbursts and tantrums in adults

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Joe Dispenza
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Outbursts and tantrums in adults

While it may surprise, adults and children share some moods. This is the case of the tantrums that we will describe in this post

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

When we talk about tantrums or tantrums, we generally refer to the typical behavior of a child. However, it is not surprising that such manifestations can also occur in adulthood. Sometimes, in fact, these primary emotions are triggered by situations in which negative elements prevail, such as frustration, envy or disappointment.



For behaviorism, the current of psychology that studies human behavior based on stimuli and responses, outbursts are clearly maladaptive behaviors. Although they do not lead to anything concrete (or really useful) it does not mean, however, that these dynamics have no meaning that needs to be analyzed and studied. Indeed, these emotional whims express a message that is very rich in content.

"Follow your heart but take your brain with you."

-Alfred Adler-

Between the ages of 2 and 4, outbursts of anger are a normal manifestation in a child's emotional development. They are little more than a forced challenge that every parent must learn to manage, calmly and effectively. Often, however, growing up and becoming an adult does not automatically offer the ability and maturity to recognize and control these and other emotions.

Many adults still have childhood emotional intelligence. If they haven't had a chance to learn how to channel and understand their emotional universes, it's common for them to continue to carry the same burden. Growing up does not automatically imply becoming an adult even on an emotional level.

Adults also have outbursts of anger

Outbursts and tantrums constitute an oversized reaction to a frustrating situation. Babies usually express anger by yelling, crying, kicking, and giving a clear uncontrolled emotional response. It can show itself with different intensities, but always disproportionate, being the result of a deficit in communication and in the management of emotions and impulses.

In adults, these reactions do not result in physical aggression. There are no kicks, tugs or bites. Furthermore, in most cases, such behaviors can even go unnoticed in the normal family context.

Let's take an example. Claudia works in a law firm and is used to success. Every time she reaches a goal, she is rewarded with a bonus. Claudia, however, does not tolerate when one of her colleagues gets that same recognition. But he doesn't throw himself on the ground, he doesn't shout, on the contrary ... he doesn't say anything.

Our protagonist just goes to the bathroom to cry. Because she doesn't tolerate having her colleagues overtake her at any given moment. Because her jealousy is devouring her and she doesn't know how to handle that discomfort. Adults experience the so-called "chills of anger", but they know that it is not good to show them and therefore internalize it all. These emotional outbursts, being fully genuine, therefore do not seek to manipulate others (as in the case of children who wish to change the attitude of their parents).

Outbursts are moments when feelings reach an intolerable intensity and need to emerge somehow. They are imprisoned in emotions and tend to surface when what you want is not achieved or, on the contrary, is obtained by others.

Adults with frequent outbursts, what are they due to?

Not everyone expresses their whims in private, as Claudia does. It is also common to find certain profiles who do not hesitate to give shape to real scenes. And then we witnessed screams, throwing objects and, even worse, manifestations of aggression in which insults and even heavy cursing can appear. But what lies behind these behaviors?

We said it at the beginning. In most cases, the whim is the demonstration of a clear emotional immaturity, a lack of sense of the ego to better manage frustrations, disappointments. However, we cannot ignore other realities, and which every good psychologist should consider as part of an adequate diagnosis.

  • Adults also suffer from tantrums, but those who show them on a recurring basis may have a personality disorder. For example, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.
  • Post-traumatic stress can trigger these behaviors.
  • People with an autism spectrum disorder may exhibit outbursts.

Guidelines for adults who throw a tantrum

Let us return, for a moment, to Claudia. Let's put ourselves in her shoes and in the difficulty of not being able to ask for help. It seems frankly impossible to be able to externalize the malaise resulting from the success of other colleagues. Who can he compare with? How can he externalize this frustration that generates moodiness? Her anger produces shame and Claudia feels she shouldn't feel this way, but she doesn't know how to change things.

When one becomes an adult, it is very difficult to talk about envy, the frustration that certain situations produce… However, nothing can be more positive than taking a step forward and asking for professional help. You will feel freer, more capable and more confident day by day.

Let us now try to reflect on a number of strategies that can help in these cases. They are simple tips with which you can improve your ability to self-control, avoiding compromising your behavior on the basis of wrong responses to emotions.

How to deal with outbursts

  1. Check expectations: if even adults have outbursts of anger it is because they sometimes favor an unrealistic vision of certain situations. They expect certain recognition, reinforcement, benefits or unreasonable results.
  2. Don't inhibit negative emotions and let them explode: channel them constructively. Whenever you feel frustration, let it manifest in another way. No screams, no tears, no anger. Find a support to manifest them: talk to someone, play sports, paint, write ...
  3. Identify key situations: those that generate outbursts of anger or tantrums (envy, not having what you deserve in the workplace, in personal relationships ...).
  4. Work on key situations: create an internal dialogue, an action plan with which to act in a tight, mature and emotionally intelligent way when the unpleasant situation reappears.

Now you know that adults can throw a tantrum too. Also, you yourself may suffer from it from time to time. Be honest with yourself and open up to emotions, for what they are, without repressing them.

Accumulating them and keeping them within you will only favor the manifestation of outbursts that will lead to nothing. Your goal is to reach emotional maturity, know how to relate and manage each emotion by finding the right way to release and release them.

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