“Few realize how loud their expressions really are. Be kind with what you wordlessly say.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes
The Silent Treatment
Franklin was a special kind of guy. He did have a good heart until he didn’t. If he got into one of his moods, watch out, the silence was deafening.
I can see some of you tilting your heads trying to figure out what I’m saying.
Franklin came from a little hole in the road in southeast Kansas during the dust bowl days. He told how millions of acres of native grassland had been plowed up for planting with the rising need for wheat during World War I. Then a four-year drought-hit and everything shriveled up and died leaving the topsoil to the mercy of the wind.
His favorite story to tell was about Black Sunday, the year he turned 21. A massive windstorm with black billowing clouds of dirt hundreds of feet high blew through where they lived. People hurried home so they wouldn’t be caught in the cloud of dirt, which meant sure suffocation. All transportation came to a standstill. All the doors and windows were shut with blanked over as many cracks as possible, But, the fine dust still found its way through minute cracks in every building.
Franklin and most of the people in southeast Kansas packed up their belongings and moved west. Franklin and his family settled in Washington where it rains. They had had enough dust and dirt for a lifetime. They wanted green.
Franklin had had very little education or schooling as he called it, but he was good with money. Or should we say he was a penny pincher? He wasn’t much for spending money or giving much away, but he always had time to help someone else.
Without much education and very little family life, he developed his own ways of dealing with situations.
He had a bad temper, but he tried very hard to control it, especially since he married a woman preacher. A temper tantrum was not something that would have gone over well. It wouldn’t have passed muster.
He developed his own silent temper tantrum, a quiet way of expressing unhappiness, sadness, anger, hurt, pain, disappointment or whatever emotion he was feeling at the moment.
You knew when he was upset. You would see him at the dinner table or pass him in the hallway and all you would hear was his silence screaming at you. He would keep his face as expressionless as possible, but you knew. You always knew. He was not happy with something.
He didn’t disappear in the flesh, but he disappeared in spirit. It might have been easier to deal with if he’d just yelled or cussed and got it out of his system, but he didn’t. He would churn on whatever it was for days on end because he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
As the only kid in the household, I would go to any lengths to avoid him during those “silent temper tantrums.”
“The silent treatment grants useless power, but solves nothing.”
Adult Temper Tantrums
Franklin is not the only person who throws silent temper tantrums.
Roberta Satow, Ph.D. states that “being able to calm and console yourself is a central part of being a resilient adult, yet many people are unable to do it.”
Franklin, was the owner and operator, of a nursing home and eventually became the Justice of the Peace in his town. He was well respected among the patients, the help, and citizens in the town. Yet, every time he was frustrated or disappointed or didn’t like what someone said or did, he’d throw an adult “silent temper tantrum.” He’d retreat as much as possible from everyone around him telling himself, “I don’t care, it doesn’t matter,” which Roberta Satow, Ph.D. states is an adult version of kicking down a sandcastle. Franklin never learned how to tolerate deal with his emotions or how communication his feelings.
Temper tantrums in children are disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts that usually involve physical acts or yelling. Children throw temper tantrums in response to unmet needs or desires. Also, very often, they don’t know how to express their needs in words or know how to control what they feel.
Adult temper tantrums usually aren’t physical. They may involve yelling nasty comments or cursing, abruptly ending the conversation and leaving the room, disappearing or going silent. During temper tantrums, adults often do or say things that they later regret, like threatening to quit a job or end a relationship.
Roberta Satow, Ph.D. states that adult temper tantrums aren’t just a lack of necessary skills to deal with emotions, but they indicate a hole, a missing part, of their sense of self.
Dealing With Adult Temper Tantrums
When children don’t learn good coping skills their temper tantrums are continued on into adulthood.
- Stay Calm. It’s impossible to reason with an adult who is having a temper tantrum. It’s very easy to get sucked into their temper tantrum if you do try to reason with them. Also, it’s often difficult to get away from them if you allow yourself to get sucked in. Then it’s not only a temper tantrum, but it becomes a confrontation. If you sense things are escalating pull out before it’s too late.
- Realize that you can’t control the other person. It is very difficult to acknowledge that you can’t control what the other person does or says. You can offer help, but you can’t control them.
- Ask what is upsetting the other person. Adults who do throw temper tantrum are usually not good communicators. Calmly and patiently, yet, persistently ask he/she to explain. You may say, “I know you said there was nothing wrong, but your actions and tone say that you are upset.” If you’re dealing with a silent temper tantrum, ask if they are upset and what can you do to help. You may or may not get a response, especially if you have to leave a phone message. But, it’s worth a try.
- Assess Potential Danger. If the person having a temper tantrum is on drugs or alcohol or threatens physical violence. Leave the premises while you can and call 911. In some situations, it becomes difficult to leave because the person throwing the temper tantrum won’t allow you to leave or call 91. In that situation, you must do everything within your power to calm the situation, which means make sure you are completely calm.
- Validate the other person’s emotions to show you understand. “I understand that you feel I was criticizing you unjustly.” “I understand that you feel you are right and justified in what you are saying and doing.” It is very important that they feel heard and understood. Many times when they feel heard and really understood their emotions will calm. In showing understanding you have to be sincere. You can’t say this with any kind of attitude or it will make the situation instantly worse. You must be sincere.
- Apologize for any wrongdoing on your part. If you had a part in how they feel apologize. If you do not feel that you did anything wrong you can still apologize that they have been hurt. Use the words “we” and “us” instead of “you” and “your”. In the silent temper tantrum. If you leave a voice mail, apologize for anything you did wrong.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t go wandering off into blame or he said, she said. Stick to the facts.
- Set Boundaries. After you express your understanding in a very calm voice and attitude you must set boundaries for their behavior. For Example, “I understand that you feel you are right and justified in what you are saying and doing, BUT YOU CANNOT THROW THINGS AND CURSE AT ME.”
If the person continues with his/her temper tantrum then:
- Give them space. Adult temper tantrums are or can be very interactive. As mentioned above, it’s very easy to get sucked into the tantrum until it becomes a confrontation. If the tantrum doesn’t subside, tell them you will be happy to discuss the issue with them at a later time when he/she has calmed down, but at the moment you will be leaving. Usually, leaving the room will facilitate the tantrum ending quicker. If he/she follows you to a different room, then leave the house.
Adult temper tantrums are difficult to deal with. The silent tantrums are even more difficult because there is often no communication. He/she has never learned to express or be comfortable with his/her emotions when angry or upset. Consequently, when they have a problem they run from the problem and all persons involved because they don’t know what to say or how to handle their feelings.
The silent temper tantrum is often a very passive-aggressive way of punishing you to satisfy their anger. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the silent tantrum, especially when you have to idea what you did wrong, you know just how ruthlessly effective this form of emotional manipulation can be. It leaves you feeling guilty. The longer it goes on, all you want to do is find out what you did wrong and make it right, even if you didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. The silence becomes difficult to deal with.