“Intermittent Explosive Disorder”

It’s that time of the year again!  Happy Holidays, lots of cheer and tension and stress.  And in such conditions, the possibility that someone will explode goes up.  And with it the chances of misery and even injury, perhaps a permanent break in a family group.

This blog has been very concerned about domestic abuse, and the fact that women are so often the target.  So I was  interested to see today in a list of recent papers that crossed my desk a reference to intermittent explosive disorder.   (I  didn’t know it had such an official name!)

According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a disorder characterized by:

Intermittent explosive disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation …  Later, people with intermittent explosive disorder may feel remorse, regret or embarrassment.

Explosive eruptions, usually lasting 10 to 20 minutes, often result in injuries and the deliberate destruction of property. These episodes may occur in clusters or be separated by weeks or months of nonaggression.

Road rage. Domestic abuse. Angry outbursts or temper tantrums that involve throwing or breaking objects.

Like many other clinical diagnoses, the behavior described may be exhibited without the full disorder, so there can be a number of different conditions that produce the frightening 10 to 20 minutes of rage that may be accompanied by behavior designed to hurt, either physically or emotionally.   

These anger fits can be dangerous; they should less bad that the systematic bullying and brutalizing that can go on.   But as always, anyone feeling in danger needs to try to get out of the situation. 

If it seems not that bad – maybe all that will happen is that a day is ruined for the rest of the family – then simply heading the tantrum off might be possible.  It completely sucks  to be stuck with such a problem, and the last thing you should think is that  you are responsible; think of taking action as instead like a way to protect oneself against the elements.

The Mayo Clinic suggests part  of the solution lies with anger management.  If you know someone you are concerned may throw one of these frightening tantrums, you might consider whether you can use any of the information on self-management.  Some of these translate into ways to head off the behavior in others.  For example, you can arrange some time out by suggesting a walk or another sort of break.  Other  things you might talk over with people who seem likely to explode. 

  1. Take a ‘timeout.’ Although it may seem cliche, counting to 10 before reacting really can defuse your temper.
  2. Get some space. Take a break from the person you’re angry with until your frustrations subside a bit.
  3. Once you’re calm, express your anger. It’s healthy to express your frustration in a nonconfrontational way. Stewing about it can make the situation worse.
  4. Get some exercise. Physical activity can provide an outlet for your emotions, especially if you’re about to erupt. Go for a brisk walk or a run, swim, lift weights or shoot baskets.
  5. Think carefully before you say anything. Otherwise, you’re likely to say something you’ll regret. It can be helpful to write down what you want to say so that you can stick to the issues. When you’re angry, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
  6. Identify solutions to the situation. Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work with the person who angered you to resolve the issue at hand.
  7. Use ‘I’ statements when describing the problem. This will help you to avoid criticizing or placing blame, which can make the other person angry or resentful — and increase tension. For instance, say, “I’m upset you didn’t help with the housework this evening,” instead of, “You should have helped with the housework.”
  8. Don’t hold a grudge. If you can forgive the other person, it will help you both. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want.
  9. Use humor to release tensions. Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Don’t use sarcasm, though — it’s can hurt feelings and make things worse.
  10. Practice relaxation skills. Learning skills to relax and de-stress can also help control your temper when it may flare up. Practice deep-breathing exercises, visualize a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase to yourself, such as “Take it easy.” Other proven ways to ease anger include listening to music, writing in a journal and doing yoga.

Any other suggestions?  Comments?  Thoughts?