Adult Temper Tantrums

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Psychology: Adult Temper Tantrums 

We have all lost our “cool” at times. Is this the same as temper tantrums? I do not believe they are the same. Temper tantrums in adults are more of a chronic issue that typically shapes one’s reputation. We may know these adults as “hot-heads,” “moody,” or some other unflattering description.


The first step in exploring any topic is to define the terms. Temper tantrums are emotional “explosions” designed to express extreme personal displeasure while attempting to manipulate the behavior of others to our desired end. Another way of describing temper tantrums is they are an interpersonal “game.” Temper tantrums serve the same purpose for adults as they serve for children.


What are some possible causes of temper tantrums in adults? 

1. EMOTIONAL IMMATURITY. Adult tantrums can be due to emotional insecurity. Developmental psychologists like Erik Erikson theorize that when people do not accomplish the emotional challenges of one developmental stage they tend to get stuck at that stage. Part of growing up is developing to skills to deal with disappointments. By the end of the teen years the skills should be in place. Erikson, for example, described young adulthood as a time when people try to form intimate relationships. Intimate relationships are impossible to maintain with an emotionally immature person. The problem is compounded when both partners are emotionally immature.

2. EMOTINAL INSECURITY. Emotional insecurity in adulthood can prompt tantrums. Emotional insecurity produces frustration with life. Little is needed in the way of additional frustration or disappointment to spark and emotional outburst.

3. UNFORGIVENESS. Unforgiveness motivates adult tantrums because they person feels they are already the victims of injustice. The otherwise minor setbacks of the day can cause lingering feelings of being treated unjustly by others to transition into anger. 

4. PERSONALITY. Adult tantrums can be related to personality traits. The five factor model of personality includes a dimension labeled “neuroticism” that includes characteristics associated with tantrum-like acting out. High neuroticism could cause people to have a tendency towards emotional outbursts. 

5. STESS. Stress is the inability to manage the demands of two or more priorities in life or due to our inability to successfully resolve inconsistencies between two or more demands on us. Stress has our emotional tanks already in a boiling state and little more is needed for stress to manifest in generalized anger. 

6. SELFISHNESS. A final possible cause of adult tantrums is selfishness. Children have tantrums because something or someone is preventing them from getting what they want. Adults can be the same way. The tragedy with selfish adults is they never gain enough to cease being selfish. Overcoming selfishness requires that adults develop the skills of saying “no!” to what they want and learning to see through the eyes of others.

More about this author: Robert Grice

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