How to Respond to Anger Tantrum in Adults

When dealing with a five year old, sometimes the best way to deal with his tantrum is to ignore him altogether. But what about an adult in the midst of a complete public breakdown? It happens (and not only at press conferences on television).

Think of those angry diners at restaurants demanding to speak to a manager, or thatviral video of a woman who had a nervous breakdown at an Apple store because she didn’t make an appointment. What if you watch an adult entertain a tantrum in real time?

Your first tactic is simple: just listen and remain calm no matter what you may have to say. “It’s unlikely that you will have a constructive conversation when someone is in the red zone,” psychologist Susan Orenstein told the Wall Street Journal . “But I think it’s important to say something like, ‘I really can’t listen to you when you throw things. But I would love to hear it when you calm down. “

At this point, you don’t need to validate their thoughts or feelings, especially if you disagree with any of them; just reassure them that they are being heard. (Joel, our senior video producer, once witnessed a tantrum from a family member over a minor misunderstanding. His strategy? Make them angry, at least for now.)

When the crisis is over and the anger has subsided, Orenstein recommends getting to the root of the problem by figuring out what might have caused their anger. Avoid being attacked and put off answering open-ended questions instead. Could it be a job or a simple misunderstanding?

Obviously this also depends on your connection. If you have a complete stranger in front of you, you do not know what can provoke him, and questions can only worsen the situation. If it’s a friend, then it might be worth investigating the source of the problem in order to avoid similar failures in the future.

And if that doesn’t work, psychoanalyst Robert Satow recommends assessing the potential danger in a post for Psychology Today ; If you feel uncomfortable at any time, Satou recommends setting boundaries. Explain immediately why you are uncomfortable and set boundaries with that person. If they neglect your feelings, your next tactic is to give them space.

Go away, let them cool down and see if you are ready to put up with a new tantrum. “Consider an ultimatum – but only if you’re serious,” writes the WSJ . And if that doesn’t change, heck, you should consider turning them off entirely; here’s how to do it .


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