Adults Also Have Tantrums

April 29, 2019
Adults can also have tantrums, especially when overwhelmed with emotions such as anger, sadness, and jealousy.

When you hear the word ‘tantrum’, you probably imagine a 2 or 3-year-old child lying on the ground and screaming. However, adults also have tantrums. Sometimes, they get lost in their emotions. Specifically, emotions like frustration, jealousy, and disappointment.

According to behaviorism, the area of psychology that studies human behaviors based on stimuli and responses, tantrums are clearly maladaptive behaviors. Mainly because they don’t achieve anything.

However, the fact that they don’t lead to anything concrete, (or nothing really useful) doesn’t mean that these behaviors have no meaning behind them. On the contrary, these emotional tantrums transmit a message that is very rich in content.

“Follow your heart but take your brain with you.”

-Alfred Adler-

Between the ages two and four, tantrums are a normal part of a child’s emotional development. They’re nothing more than a challenge that every mother and father must learn to deal with calmly and effectively.

Now, sometimes you forget that simply by growing up and becoming an adult doesn’t automatically give you the ability and maturity to recognize and control your emotions.

So much so, that we could unmistakenly say that there are many adults in your life who abound with the emotional intelligence of a 3-year-old child. Most often they didn’t have a good sense of self during their childhood.

Likewise, they probably had no access to adequate help to channel and understand their own emotional universe. Thus, it’s common for them to spend years carrying the same burden.

an angry woman with smoke blowing out of her ears

Adults also have tantrums due to impotence

A tantrum, temper tantrum or emotional tantrum consists of an exaggerated reaction to a frustrating situation. For example, children usually express anger by screaming, crying, kicking and a general loss of emotional control. There are different intensities.

However, what’s always present is the disproportionate behaviors and the deficit in communication. Likewise, there’s a level of incompetence when it comes to managing emotions and impulses.

In adults, on average, these tantrums don’t result in physical aggression. There’s no kicking, hitting, or biting. Whatsmore, in most cases they can even go unnoticed by the people in their immediate surroundings.

Let’s take a look at an example. Claudia works at a law firm and is used to success. Every time she achieves a goal, she is rewarded with a bonus. However, when her coworkers have achieved the same success, Claudia can’t stand it. But, she doesn’t lie down on the floor or shout. In fact, she doesn’t say anything at all.

Claudia limits herself to going to the bathroom and crying in a stall. Namely, because she can’t tolerate that her companions’ success surpasses her own at any given moment. At any rate, jealousy is eating her up inside and she doesn’t know how to handle that discomfort.

Adults also have tantrums, but you must not get confused. Like children’s tantrums, these emotional explosions, if they’re real, don’t try to manipulate anybody.

“Tantrums are instances where emotions reach an intolerable intensity and need to come out in some way. It’s like being imprisoned in your own emotions and not knowing what to do with them whenever you don’t get what you want.”

adults also have tantrums by crying

Adults with frequent tantrums, what’s the cause?

Not everyone expresses their tantrums as privately as Claudia does. It’s also just as common to find people that never hesitate to make a complete scene during the expression of their tantrum. There’s screaming, throwing objects to the ground. And worst of all, there is aggressiveness, where insults and disrespect also appear. But, what’s behind all of these behaviors?

We said it at the beginning. In most cases, a tantrum is the demonstration of a clear emotional immaturity. They’re the result of a lack of sense of self that’s incapable of managing frustrations or disappointments. However, like any good professional we cannot ignore other causes to get an adequate diagnosis.

  • Adults also have tantrums. But those who have them on a regular basis may have a personality disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.
  • Post-traumatic stress may also be the cause of this behavior.
  • People with an autistic spectrum disorder may also show these behaviors.

I’m an adult who also has tantrums, what can I do?

Let’s think about Claudia for a moment. Put yourself in her place and in the difficulties of asking for help. How can she tell somebody that her emotions completely get out of her control when her colleagues get are recognized and she isn’t? How can she let others know if, in addition to her anger, there’s also shame? She knows she shouldn’t feel this way, but she doesn’t know how to deal with it.

When you’re an adult, it’s very difficult to talk about the jealousy and frustration that certain situations cause you. However, nothing can be more positive than taking that step and asking for professional help. You will feel more capable, secure and free on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s now reflect on a series of strategies that can help you in these cases. These are simple tips with which you can improve your capacity for self-control, instead of feeding your behavior whenever these emotions arise.

Steps to better handle your emotional tantrums

Check your expectations

If adults also have tantrums, it’s because sometimes they have an unrealistic view of certain situations. In particular, they expect certain recognitions, support, benefits, or achievements that are unreasonable.

Don’t inhibit negative emotions or let them erupt: channel them in a constructive way

Every time you experience some sort of frustration, let it manifest itself in another way. No screaming, no tears, no anger. Find a helpful way you can manifest it: talk to someone, do sports, paint, write, etc.

Identify those key situations that bring out your tantrums

For example, envy, not getting what you want at work or in your relationships, to name a few.

Once you’ve identified those situations, work on them

Create an internal dialogue or an action plan with which to act in an adequate, mature, and emotionally intelligent way whenever the situations appear.

man meditating at sunrise

In conclusion, you now know that adults also have tantrums. Moreover, you may have had one on a certain occasion. Therefore, if there’s something that you certainly remember from them, it’s that they’re not exactly pleasant. They generate discomfort, create very uncomfortable environments and don’t gain anything from them.

So, it’s time to work on your emotions. Give yourself new outlets and resources that make you feel more competent.