Temper tantrums are common parts of the developmental process among toddlers and children. But when an adult has an uncontrolled emotional outburst, this could be a sign of a serious medical or mental health concern.
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What is an Uncontrolled Emotional Outburst?
An uncontrolled emotional outburst is a sudden and dramatic display of one’s thoughts and feelings. Uncontrolled emotional outbursts typically involve negative feelings, such as fear, frustration, sadness, anger, or despair.
Informally, someone who has an uncontrolled emotional outburst may be described as “blowing their top” or “reaching their boiling point.” These experiences can involve yelling and crying, making verbal threats, and acting in a destructive, aggressive, or violent manner.
What Causes an Uncontrolled Emotional Outburst to Happen?
Uncontrolled emotional outbursts can occur for several reasons. It’s not always easy (or even possible) to determine the cause of every such outburst, but potential causal or risk factors include:
- Overwhelming stress or pressure
- Reactions to certain prescription medications
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Anxiety disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Certain personality disorders
What Does it Mean When Someone Has Emotional Outbursts?
When someone has emotional outbursts – especially if these outbursts occur frequently – this usually means that they are incapable of effectively coping with the demands that have been placed upon them. These demands may involve work-related stress, expectations within the context of their relationships, or other personal, academic, or work-related responsibilities.
It’s important to understand that emotional outbursts don’t mean that a person has endured an exorbitant or particularly overwhelming amount of stress. It can simply mean that the individual lacks the capacity for properly processing their feelings and controlling their response.
An uncontrolled emotional outburst can be dangerous to the individual who has the outburst as well as to others in the vicinity. Depending on where the person is when they have the outburst, potential dangers include:
- Accidental or intentional physical injury to self or others
- Suspension or expulsion from school
- Being suspended or fired from one’s job
- Ruined relationships
- Being ostracized by peers or colleagues
- Loss of valuable interpersonal support
- Legal problems, which can include being sued, arrested, fined, and/or jailed
Can You Prevent Emotional Outbursts?
If you’ve been having uncontrolled emotional outbursts, there are several steps that you can take to prevent them, or at least minimize the likelihood that they will continue to occur.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Identify and address your triggers. Triggers are events or circumstances that typically precede an uncontrolled emotional outburst. For example, are you more likely to have an outburst when something goes wrong at work, on days when you weren’t able to get enough sleep, or when you forget to take certain medication? Once you’ve found possible causes, you can take steps to avoid them or learn how to respond in a healthier manner.
- Practice mindfulness. In addition to encouraging you to be fully present in the moment, mindfulness also involves observing your own thoughts and feelings as well as events that occur around you without judgement or immediate reaction. Mindfulness reminds you that emotions are not permanent, nor are they the controlling factor in your life. You can choose how you respond to your own thoughts as well as to the actions of others.
- Develop strategies to calm yourself or redirect your negative emotions. Take slow, deep breaths. Close your eyes and count backward from 10. Repeat this as needed. Visualize yourself in a safe and serene environment. Find a mantra, or a simple statement that you can silently repeat to yourself. Anything you can do to forestall a reflexive reaction while simultaneously allowing your anger to dissipate can make a world of difference.
There are myriad other ways to prevent emotional outbursts. No single technique is perfect for everyone or guaranteed to work every time. What’s most important is that you plan ahead, remain cognizant of your thoughts and behaviors, and remember that you are in control.
For some people, self-soothing or other techniques aren’t enough to prevent uncontrolled emotional outbursts. If these behaviors are symptomatic of a medical condition or a mental health concern, professional care may be required.
Depending on a variety of personal factors, one or more of the following options may be right for you:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: If your emotional outbursts are related to a history of untreated trauma, EMDR can be a valuable component of treatment.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a short-term, solution-focused approach that can help you replace negative thought and behavior patterns with healthier ways of thinking and acting.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This approach can help you enhance your capabilities in important areas such as mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness (getting along with others).
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): This innovative intervention uses the focused application of brief electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. TMS has proved to be effective at easing symptoms of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
As with the techniques that we discussed in the previous section, there isn’t one therapeutic approach that works for everyone who has been struggling with uncontrolled emotional outbursts. When you are evaluating treatment providers, focus on finding a place that will assess the full scope of your needs and develop a personalized plan just for you.
Treat Uncontrolled Emotional Outbursts at Montare Behavioral Health in Southern California
If your life has been upended by repeated uncontrolled emotional outbursts, please know that help is available. Montare Behavioral Health offers a full continuum of customized mental health services at multiple locations throughout southern California.
In every program and at every location, you can work with skilled professionals in a safe and highly supportive environment. Our team can help you identify the underlying causes of your struggles, then provide the focused services that will help you regain control of your behaviors.
To learn more about us or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.