Adult Tantrums… They Happen… What do We Do?

You can’t control anyone’s words or actions except your own. (Make this your mantra, it will save you so much time and energy) Obviously everyone “knows” this but do they actually comprehend it? From the strict parents to the passive aggressive significant others or even the controlling friends we encounter- do they realize they can’t actually make you do what they want? They sure seem to think so. Just by acting a certain way to try manipulating you they seem to think that you will do what they want. It becomes easier to recognize these tactics in others, but it’s harder to see this in ourselves.

Every time we get upset because our friend didn’t do what WE wanted! How dare they hurt us in this manner! It’s as if we identify them satisfying their own needs as hurting us, instead of them just doing what they want. Now you may be thinking, “I don’t do this! I don’t manipulate people when they do what I don’t want them to do! They are free spirits! Able to do whatever they wish!”

Have you ever caught yourself pouting? Having angry thoughts about someone, just because they decided they wanted to stay in instead of party with you? Maybe you use sarcasm to try and make them regret the decision they made. Do you mention “that one time” they let you down as much as possible? There are many other childish tactics to show your displeasure when someone disappoints you, such as crying or yelling. Do not fret if you catch yourself reacting badly to these things. As soon as you recognize that your behavior is less than ideal, that’s when you can begin to modify it.

I grew up with young parents and let’s just say their arguments could turn childish pretty fast. Name calling, throwing things, pouting, crying- basically both of them threw adult tantrums.  Obviously, they grew up and mostly grew out of their childish ways, but old habits die hard. My mom will resort to pouting and tears when she’s upset and my father either yells a lot, slams something, or goes outside to commune with nature (shoot something like a rabbit). Eventually they deal with their problems and talk it out like adults. But, is there a way to deal with arguments and disagreements without the extreme emotions? Why can’t we just talk it out like rational people?

Growing up in this type of environment affected me. I’m not saying they fought a lot, but I always knew when they did. So my argument tactics included two extremes: yelling a lot and being really angry to not speaking at all and crying a bunch while I watch historical fiction. Showing emotion and being upset are natural healthy ways to deal with problems, but when does it go to far? Or when does bottling up emotion go to far? Either extremes are what I think of as adult tantrums. Yelling and going on and on without letting the other person put a word in and acting like a child who got their favorite toy taken away is not conducive to a relationship. Sitting down and voicing your problems with the person you have an issue with is healthier. Locking yourself in your room and crying until you’ve locked your problem away is not very healthy either.

You may be thinking at this point, “Yeah yeah that’s all fine and dandy, but how do I even start to modify my behavior?”  First recognize what you are doing that is wrong.

My boyfriend and I have completely different arguing styles and it kind of drives me nuts. His mother is constantly in full blown adult tantrum mode. She’s like a gun with a hair trigger, itching to go off. He’s learned to stay silent and turn to stone. He’s like a rock weathering a storm. This is completely foreign to me. I expect reactions and emotion, anything really, so when I don’t get reactions from what I say it’s like wait… what do I do? I want a reaction to know he’s listening and that he understands how I feel. But, when he acts like a rock it makes me stop and actually think about what I am saying.

We have grown in our argument style where sometimes he reacts and actually talks to me and responds to what I say. I cry less and get angry less, and act like an adult. He even asks, “What’s wrong?” when I get upset. When I’m angry he hears about it, when I’m sad I stay silent. He can deal with my anger, but my sadness or “pouting” as he calls it, drives him nuts. Currently I am working on not crying as much and not getting as angry. Just because he wants to stay home on a Friday and play video games with his friends doesn’t mean I have the right to get upset and be mad at him. Even though we’ve been together four years I still expect to spend time with him every Friday, and that’s an illogical expectation.

So that brings me to my second step; take a breath. When you feel yourself getting out of control or irrational take a breath and say, “Am I being unreasonable? Are my expectations for this other person to do what I want irrational? Should I really be angry in this situation? Is disappointment really a reaction I should be having?” Remember, they are their own person. They have the right to decide to do what they want. They are a separate entity on this earth. Their sole purpose isn’t to please you, but to please themselves. They have the ability to be selfless but their self-care is more important than the care they give to you. Just as your self-care is more important than the care you give them. If you take a moment and have a break with these thoughts it will help move you forward. Instead of yelling or pouting try this, “I’m upset with you right now. I’m feeling very emotional about it. I don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad. When you do______________, it hurts my feelings because it feels like you don’t care/your ignoring me or _________”. I’ve been getting much better at doing this and adding humor to the situation. I usually say, I know I’m being illogical about the situation but this is how I feel. Sometimes I can’t help but cry when I have extreme emotions but that’s ok because I am trying to work through it in an adult way.

What if you are dealing with a person who is throwing an adult tantrum? Just let them do it. Sometimes we all need to just get the emotions out. Listen to what they are saying and think about it. Why are they upset that you canceled on them? Why are they upset that you decided not to do that certain thing for them? Have you not been paying much attention to them lately? Are you distracted in your own life and you haven’t been telling them about it? Is your lack of self-care affecting your relationship?

Once they have stopped yelling/crying/whatever, talk to them calmly. Don’t go to bat with them with equal emotions. In these situations there needs to be a calm voice. Try something like this, “It sounds like you are upset with me because__________” “I’m sorry that you are upset. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.” “What can I do in the future so you won’t feel this way again?” “Sometimes I have to be away from you or just do what I want so I can be a better person when I am with you. I only have so much time to give and I’d rather be fully there with you rather than distracted.”

Hopefully this will help those of you dealing with these types of situations! Any questions don’t be afraid to ask!

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