Tantrums and Those Who Enable Them

For many years now I have worked with children.  Most of them have had autism, speech problems, cognitive delays, or some kind of behavioural problem.  It has been an immense privilege to work so closely with so many children and their families over the years.  No two families are the same in how their household is run in my experience, every family is its own unique culture.  However, I have never encountered a family without the most classic and pervasive power struggle dynamic of them all: the tantrum thrower and the enabler.  In every family I have encountered there has always been two people taking on these roles in some way.  Child to child, child to adult, and adult to adult: the methods of throwing a tantrum may vary in age groups, but tantrums are ubiquitous.  Understanding the nature of tantrums is a good strategy for unravelling the origins of dysfunction in any unhealthy relationship.

First, since we’re all about philosophy here, we need to make sure that we define our terms.  A tantrum is a display of hyper emotionality usually resulting from being informed of some bad news.  They can be overt through the use of shouting, crying and other verbal cues.  They can be violent with the throwing and breaking of things.  They can be subtle with silent treatment, passive aggressive words and deeds.  They can be sophisticated with rationales, lies, excuses, and guilt trips.  A tantrum never involves negotiation or an honest account of one’s situation.  Continue reading

Who Makes You Feel?

Inside-Out-5-Emotions2

John was running late to work because the bus had broken down. When he arrived at his office he was worried that his boss would be angry at him. He informed her about the bus, but she just frowned and said you cannot control things like that. John felt huge relief and as though his boss cared about him. Mary was trying on clothes in a store and she overheard one of the staff comment on how fat she was. She peeked out the door of the change room and saw that the staff member who had said it was a thin, tall girl, like all the girls in the store. She immediately felt self-conscious about her body and ashamed.

The two little stories above are examples of events that many people have probably experienced at some point in their lives. What I find curious is the different answers I get from people when I ask them, “Who makes John and Mary feel the different emotions they experience?”

Some people will answer that John has no control over how he feels, it is his boss who decides if he will feel relieved or frightened about losing his job based on how she reacts to him being late. In the case of Mary, she is powerless to prevent herself from feeling self-conscious and ashamed when someone calls her fat. The skinny girl makes Mary feel bad about herself.

Continue reading