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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Why Adults Act Like Children

“This is ridiculous,” James said to himself after witnessing his soon-to-be ex-wife losing it because she didn’t get her way. To him, she sounded like a 2-year-old who didn’t get a piece of candy – and was even sharing the same level of irrational reasoning one would expect from a toddler. Her arms flung all over the place, her voice was a higher pitch than usual, and she had gone as far as to throw a few small objects in his direction. All of this was over a location adjustment for exchanging their daughter.

This wasn’t the first time James had seen this display. In fact, her erratic behavior greatly contributed to his reason behind their pending divorce. The frequent fits of rage were unpredictable, volatile, forceful, absurd, and even threatening. Early on he had encouraged her to get help, but she repeatedly refused, insisting that if he just did what she asked then she would never have to get mad.

Desperate to keep the peace, James even tried giving in to her demands for the majority of their marriage. But it never seemed to be enough for her. The more he caved, the more she expected him to. He had become a shell of himself and was embarrassed by his own tolerance for her behavior. The night she destroyed his new phone was the last straw, he had enough of the abuse and decided to end the relationship.

Yet for his daughter’s sake, he still wanted to understand why she continued to rage. So, he decided to seek out counseling and discovered several possibilities. These were the possibilities presented to him:

  • Personality: Part of the definition of a personality disorder is an inaccurate perception of reality. When this distorted perception is revealed, the outcome is frequently anger. There are nine different personality disorders, but the most likely candidates for this type of behavior are those with narcissistic, paranoid, dependent, borderline, obsessive-compulsive, and anti-social (sociopath and psychopath) personalities.
  • Addiction: Addicts need a justification to continue to abuse their substance of choice. Their cycle of exploding and then abusing a substance to self-soothe means they need a constant flow of upsetting events in order to rationalize their addiction. Sometimes, their irrational rage is the first evidence of a hidden addiction.
  • Diversion: In order to avoid exposure in another area, a person might subconsciously generate a diversion tactic. The problem is that the diversion needs to be so exaggerated that others lose their focus. Thus, an extreme rage is born out of necessity.
  • Regression: A popular but frequently forgotten defense mechanism is a regression. When things get too difficult and a person feels vulnerable, defense mechanisms kick in as a way of self-preservation. Regression is a return to childlike behavior as a way to avoid adult-like reality and responsibility.
  • Attention: Just like a toddler, an adult who feels deprived of attention might act out inappropriately. Some adults don’t care if the attention they received is positive or negative, they just want to be at the center by commanding an audience through a tantrum.
  • Shame: Hidden shame or embarrassment is an underlying reason for some explosions. A past history of sexual abuse is a common shameful event. When a person feels triggered by their past trauma, a natural reaction is to come out swinging. This fight response is so instinctive that in severe cases of PTSD, a person might not even realize or remember that they have exploded.
  • Guilt: Sometimes the root of an angry rage is guilt. When a person feels guilty for their behavior or actions, an immature response is to react in anger. While the anger they feel is really more about themselves than another person, it is far easier to project that anger onto others than it is to take responsibility for improper behavior or action.
  • Fear: Once again, an immature response to feelings of fear is to respond with anger. Instead of admitting to being afraid which can look weak in some eyes, a person might do the opposite by aggressively exploding in anger. This suppresses the fear only temporarily, but it does deflect others from seeing the hidden fear.
  • Manipulation: “What are they getting out of this,” is a question that should be asked to check for manipulative behavior. If a person benefits in some way by acting out, they will continue to act out. It is simple cause and effect behavior. To modify this, stop giving the person what they want, and they will naturally find another way of obtaining it.

James realized that there wasn’t just one explanation for his ex-wife’s explosions, but rather, several. Even though his marriage had ended, by developing some compassion from a distance he was better able to help his daughter navigate the rantings and encourage a healthy relationship between her and her mother.

Why Adults Act Like Children


Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Christine Hammond is a leading mental health influencer, author, and guest speaker. As an author of the award-winning “The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook,” and more than 500 articles, Christine has more than one million people downloading her podcast “Understanding Today’s Narcissist,” and more than 400,000 views on YouTube. Her practice specializes in treating families of abuse, and trauma, with personality disorders involved which are based on her own personal experience. Her new book, Abuse Exposed: Identifying Family Secrets that Breed Dysfunction will be published in 2020. Christine is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Qualified Supervisor by the State of Florida, a National Certified Counselor, Certified Family Trauma Professional, with extensive training in crisis intervention and peaceful resolution. Based in Orlando, you may connect with Christine at Grow with Christine (www.growwithchristine.com).

 


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2020). Why Adults Act Like Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2020/06/why-adults-act-like-children/