What would be different if we were all allowed to have tantrums?

February 27 2018 | Guest post by Angelle Conant
Adult tantrums: What would be different if we were all allowed to have tantrums?
Crying Comic Girl Sticker Pack from turddemon

My daughter threw a 30 minute tantrum today.

I say tantrum, but I look at it through more of an RIE parenting lens, so really, she had a 30-minute emotional release. And it all started because she wanted to play with the printer's tray and I wouldn't let her. I said, "I won't let you play with the printer," and physically prevented her from reaching it. She pushed against my legs, crying for the next 30 minutes. And I just let her. I didn't put her in time out; I didn't try to bribe her or distract her with something else; I didn't try to rationalize with her — I just quietly and calmly held the space for her to have her feelings. The most I did was prevent her from hurting me or herself and acknowledge her feelings a few times at the beginning. And I didn't take it personally — I knew that all this crying and pushing wasn't about me or about the printer. It was about something else entirely.

It doesn't matter what it was about. What mattered was that I was able to be her safe harbor as her emotions crashed over her.

Perhaps it was about all the changes that have taken place in our lives the past two months or the busy-ness of it all. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. To be honest? It doesn't matter what it was about. What mattered was that I was able to be her safe harbor as her emotions crashed over her.

When we were about 20 minutes in, I started to wonder what the world might be like if everyone were able to have such emotional releases. If there was a judgment-free, intervention-free place where adults, teens, or children could express their anger or frustration or confusion or sadness or whatever else they might be feeling and have others quietly and courageously bear witness.

They would simply sit there, listening, watching & waiting, as I moved through my emotions.

I was lucky enough to be a part of such a space for seven years in my women's circle and I can attest that it is truly powerful to be allowed to express one's feelings with total acceptance. These marvelous women would bravely sit in a silent circle and bear witness to my pain. They would not offer me a tissue when my nose began to run or give me advice on how to "solve" the problem. They would simply sit there, listening, watching & waiting, as I moved through my emotions. At times, the sobbing would slow down and it would seem that I was done, but these women were wise and knew to wait. A few minutes would pass and a new wave of grief or pain would wash over me and it would all begin again. They trusted that I was strong enough and capable enough to feel my feelings and to know when I was done. It was a powerful experience that I am incredibly grateful to have had and to have given to others as well, including my daughter today.

And what happened, you might ask, at the end of that 30 minutes? My sweet daughter lay on the floor, stomach down, completely spent and sniffling slightly as her breathing began to return to a normal pace. She lay there quietly breathing for about five minutes before she looked up at me slightly and said, "Can I watch Sarah & Duck?" And that was it.

It was over and we cuddled on the couch watching our favorite duck waddle about on the TV.

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This post originally appeared on Our.Lonestar.Life

  1. I cry often, more often then I want to at times…stupid hormones.

    However I also have a husband that throws full blown adult tantrums; screaming & throwing things, saying hurtful things because things aren't his way. In all honesty it sucks for me, our pets & anyone else that is around to witness or be the focus of the tantrum. It fills our life with anxiety because you are always afraid of what will cause the next one. I'm in constant worry about what will get broken that I care about. One year I took the Christmas Tree & decorations down 2 days before Christmas because he started to tantrum & I was afraid he would break the ornaments I have from my Grandmother.

    No adult tantrums are not ok. Being emotional is ok, expressing yourself & communicating like an adult is what being an adult is about. Cry, swear, talk it out…but for the sake of those that love you do not tantrum like a child.

    6 agree
    • This is super interesting to me because of an experience I had in a therapy training class. There is apparently a therapeutic technique of basically letting someone throw a tantrum and actually physically restraining them—but all on purpose. My teacher was doing a demonstration therapy session with a student. The session went that direction, and my teacher decided to use this technique (that we had not learned about or been oriented to). Afterwards, we debriefed and several people, including the practice client, thought it was great. Some people like me were weirded out. And some people were downright traumatized and therefore quite angry. I think that what it comes down to is whether you have a choice in bearing witness to a tantrum. If you don’t have a choice and it is inflicted upon you, it is essentially abuse. My teacher had gotten consent from the client but not from all of the observers. It’s very interesting that the same experience was healing or abusive. Maybe someone like your husband would benefit from finding a therapist who is willing and able to witness his rage in a purposeful way instead of him just inflicting it upon y’all at random. Maybe that could change his behavior at home? It’s exactly like what you are talking about, the difference between being an adult or child is that you exhibit control and still express your feelings in an intentional way.

      2 agree
  2. I throw "slow motion temper tantrums" sometimes, mostly when I'm very tired or hungry. When I'm just fed up and not functioning well, sometimes I lay down on the floor, slowly kick my legs and wave my arms around, and whine… it's a very deliberate, slowed down imitation of a kids temper tantrum. Then my husband and I laugh about how silly it is, I feel better, and I get up and move on. It sounds ridiculous but it's honestly cathartic.

    2 agree
  3. I'm not really sure how this would work. As another commenter said, all people must be willing to bear witness to a tantrum. You can't force it on people. This is why people can't tolerate children who tantrum in public. They are not the child's parent and therefore have not made the decision to let the emotions play themselves out. They are just being assaulted by unwanted noise. The point I'm making is that you can't schedule tantrums. You can't schedule a session for willing adults where everyone gets a chance to tantrum, because you can't schedule emotions like that. I remember my brother when he was in primary school. He was often violent and angry and once physically pushed an adult daycare worked so forcefully that she fell to the ground. He was five years old. The school recommended that he see a therapist. The therapist spoke with him and said they didn't know why he was there. He and I both agreed, but we're unable to convince my parents of this until we were much older, that of course the therapist wouldn't see this behaviour just from talking to him. When he wasn't pissed, he was a normal child; you'd never have guessed at the violent rages he could get into sometimes. The therapist would have had to monitor him at school or at home to see his behaviour, which was not going to happen. So again, you can't schedule emotions, so I don't see how you could schedule genuine tantrums in a safe, non-judgemental place where everyone is a willing participant.

    2 agree
    • I agree. Unwilling witnesses are also dealing with their own emotional stories and histories and as a person who has witnessed violent "adult tantrums" in public it causes me to shrink away and hide in fear. As someone who also sees a therapist, I think that controlled environment is where we learn, as adults, how to vent and express our emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes healthy means ugly crying and wailing, but no one should ever be allowed to hurl angry insults and physically rage at people in the name of open-ness. There is a middle ground.

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