Anger

Sometimes aggression, temper tantrums and meltdowns comes with certain temperament types, or with innate or acquired neurological disabilities of a permanent type. That is of course hard to do much about, other than learning coping mechanisms. In other cases, it is more temporary and may have physical, hormonal, social, mental or environmental reasons.

A Klingon temper.* Some people with AS, ADHD, TS or ODD appear to be born with a very intense ‘Klingon’ personality type. They often have a strong will and tend become more or less agitated when not feeling understood, appreciated, loved, respected or treated fairly. (Aspies in particular often have a very keen sense of justice, and therefore expect all rules & demands to be logical, consistent and fair.) Or when stressed out in general.

“I yell out of frustration and when something irritates me. It is not directed against anyone in particular. It’s an expression of my frustration at not being able to handle the situation. And I can’t stop it, I just black out and go crazy. That’s why I’ve decided beforehand how I may react. I can’t shout derogatory things to people, can’t hit them, only harm dead things such as walls, china. Alternatively even hit myself. The screaming consists just of screams, without words.

‘sugrövmanövern’, female Aspie from Sweden

Frontal lobe epilepsy. May produce sudden temper tantrums or aggression out of the blue and may be hard to detect on an EEG test unless the person is having a fit while being tested (according to Temple Grandin).

Brain dysfunction of the parts of the brain that normally regulate the expression of more primitive emotions, e.g. from birth trauma, head injury, dementia, TBE etc.

“My current hypothesis is that left and right hemispheres seem poorly coordinated. My right half is most active; hears music, is somewhat psychic, is artistic. It seems as if emotions rush off before the analytical left hemisphere has had time to have a say. With better integration perhaps the result would be that I said in a firm but friendly way ‘I actually don’t accept that behavior from you’ and went home. But now feelings have time to react first and I leave the room screaming. Afterwards I get executed by the analytical part of the brain that says ‘You did wrong!’

“This happens when the Aspie feels trapped, provoked, subjected to what is unexpected, illogical, false, dishonest etc. It doesn’t happen without provocation.

“It is easier to lose one’s temper if the body is ill, in my case from joint pain, chemo-tiredness, anaemia-tiredness, tinnitus-tiredness and with temporary toothache.”

‘Debbido’, Aspie from Sweden

Drugs, solvents & toxins. Air-borne pollutants, irritants etc. that may both irritate one’s nervous system and hamper proper brain function so that one loses full control over one’s body, feelings and/or thoughts. Just like steroids, drugs, alcohol and solvent fumes are a well-known source of aggression, thought to be due to dissolving the myelin sheath around nerve cells [according to an article in Swedish popular-science magazine FAKTA, 9/1990].

Allergies. Food or additives one may be hypersensitive to can cause unstable mood and temper tantrums over very little.

Hypoglycemia. Hunger & rapid low blood-sugar drop are known to affect temper in some.

PMS time in women.

Fatigue from overexertion, overstimulation or lack of sleep.

My ADHD little sister’s Klingon temper will usually be particularly bad when she has had too little sleep. The difference between the days she can sleep in, vs. when she has to get up early, is striking.

Hm, not that my own patience is overly long when I’m tired either…

Ing, site-author

Sensory overload. Sensory pain can trigger outbursts in individuals with delicate senses.

“Machines with loud engines, the hum of electricity, the scents I encountered, the constant itching from things on my skin, and many various lights used to throw me into a fit of rage. I never knew why I was so angry, or what caused it. I just felt the need to lash out at everything near me, and I often did. I remember being in so much pain and wondering why nobody around me felt it too. I often worried that I was sick and dying of a disease or something.”

“The first thing that I remember noticing as a child, was my reaction to the sound of the vacuum cleaner. To this day, I still can’t stand it unless I am the one pushing it. Even then, it hurts my ears terribly, but I am able to handle it. As a child, my Mother and I got into huge terrible fights, simply because she ran the vacuum when I was home.”

Tracy, HSP from USA

“The tantrums come from frustration that arise from other problems caused by SID/ADD and from memories of being made fun of when I was a kid. Other kids used to taunt and tease me, KNOWING that I’d go ballistic and throw a glorious surround-sound tantrum with choreography. The problem here was SENSORY OVERLOAD.  It’s still a problem.”

Kevin, dx SID & ADD

One of the few things that can cause my normally peaceful self to lose its cool and erupt in a string of curses, is if I get blinded by light (e.g. in a car, by meeting traffic or by the sun) because it hurts my eyes so much. A stray insect on my monitor when typing can frazzle my nerves no end. A dog barking when I’m working on something can make me think very uncharitable thoughts about dogs… and about neighbours who don’t keep them indoors!

Ing, site-author

Stress. When subjected to stress, confusion, multi-task demands or contradictory priorities, some experience mental meltdown. Some of us are simply not designed to function in stressful environments or situations.

“Being an aspie is tremendously stressful. I’m not even sure that most of us fully realize just how much stress we’re under because it’s so constant and unrelenting. So any additional stress that gets added to that already teetering load can just set things off. People around us who don’t understand will sometimes say things like, ‘What happened? She went off over nothing!’ or ‘He’s overreacting to this!’ What they don’t realize is that we don’t go off over nothing and we aren’t overreacting. We just already have such a huge plate-load of stress that even something that is small by itself, like a broken shoelace, can cause the plate to overflow. When the stress that’s added is a big one, like fear of homelessness, the entire table overflows on to the floor!”

Sparrow’, female Aspie from USA

Social stress. Some find everyday social situations unbearably stressful/taxing and can’t really deal with having a family too. After being social they just need to be able to chill out completely, and kept from doing so they may lose their temper completely.

“He was so charming, polite and agreeable that everyone loved him. That’s all stuff he always did with neighbors, and at home would be a monster. He was very psychologically abusive to both my mother and myself.”

William, Aspie from USA, about his possibly AS father

“I wonder if this is not a bit like the autistic child at school and at home. They can behave perfectly reasonably and sweetly at school and then come home and be little monsters. It is as if they only have the energy to ‘pretend to be normal’ for a certain length of time and then it all goes pear-shaped.  I coped by turning on the TV set when I got home from work and taking time out for an hour before engaging with the family (a pattern I developed long before I was diagnosed). Apparently many guys with AS can only cope in a social context for an hour or so at any one time and then have to have time out and maybe even have to sleep for a while.”

Rory, Aspie from South Africa, in reply to William

Provocation. Some react very strongly to provocations, jabs, criticism, neglect or rudeness from others.

“I have recently got an AS diagnosis but also have several other disabilities. If you’re tired and weak, you’re of course more easily agitated but I’m still wondering… it can happen that if I am very badly treated by someone, I can’t talk at all, only run out of the room and slam the door so the whole house shakes. It happens under influence of a quick adrenalin rush where I totally lose control. This loss of control later fills me with shame and sorrow. I never direct my anger physically against another human being, but I get a bad reputation anyway.”

Debbido’, female Aspie from Sweden

Demands that one feels unable to comply with without violating oneself, can lead to a feeling of helplessness and despair that eventually may result in outbursts. Many of us sensitive/creative people are unable to do things unless we feel inspired to and have enough energy at that particular time. Being forced or forcing oneself can make one’s body or feelings react with outbursts that one is unable prevent, because they are instinctive survival mechanisms below the threshold of conscious will. Same with those who suffer from dyspraxia. Being judged and possibly punished for something one is unable to control will only increase one’s feeling of despair. If someone reacts that strongly against a demand, it may be a clue that there is a deep need involved and see what can be done to make the situation tolerable for all parties.

– Hyperfocus. Getting interrupted at a precious moment (e.g. when watching a favourite film, listening to a favourite record, when being inspired or focusing on one’s favourite special interest) can make some react with aggression that may seem inexplicable to the unsuspecting intruder. Probably one of the most common reason for outbursts in sensitive & atypical people.

“When you have AS and autism it is as if your thoughts follow a track, like a train. When unexpected things happen, when someone argues or tries to tell you what to do, or when you’re interrupted in the middle of an activity, it is like being derailed. When one is on one’s way in a given direction in one’s head and someone or something makes that train of thought or activity get off track. Anger tantrums at such a time is not because the [ASD] person is angry, but because he looses balance and doesn’t understand. One should absolutely not yell at him or try to convince him or ‘talk some sense into him’ when he gets that angry. The more you try to talk, the more you stress him out. His brain is in overload in such a tantrum and cannot handle any additional stimuli.”

Micke S, Aspie from Sweden

Bullying. Being misunderstood, mistreated, judged, scorned, ostracised, used, physically or verbally abused etc. in their youth and never appreciated for who they are, can make some people paranoid, disillusioned, negative or sarcastic or in their communication style. Children spoken to or treated harshly sometimes adopt a similar way of interacting themselves. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly win more acceptance and approval, so breaking the cycle can be hard.

– Miscommunication. Mis-matching communication styles, differing cultural habits/values and misinterpreting other people’s motives etc. are probably some of the most common reasons for bad feelings and violence between people all through history.

– Impatience & frustration when things don’t go smoothly enough. The type anyone can feel over things that really are annoying may be even more annoying to someone already on edge.

“What usually gets me angry enough to destroy something is a machine that doesn’t work like it is supposed to. I’ve smashed a number of printers that stopped working because they were cheap bits of crap from a company I will no longer buy anything from. Sometimes they are surrogates for other things, like the one or two phones that have been smashed because I’ve been on hold listening to crappy music and that chirpy voice telling you how important your call is (every 15 seconds or so and I’m sure its deliberate) for like half an hour, and that after searching through menus for 10 minutes trying to find a way to speak to a human..”

William, Aspie from USA

“I think it is more when one get’s really ticked off because the remote batteries have run out. Once I kicked the car because it wouldn’t start. Throw away all food because the sauce curds, Being really angry because they raised the BBQ oil with 2 kroner. Often it’s a stress-related thing. One probably acts a bit like an angry person in a comedy.”

Mardröm’, male Aspie from Sweden

“I can get angry/frustrated with things and even sometimes people – but more generally systems in this world that are stupid, ineffective and annoying. I don’t hit others when I am angry (although I did when younger) – I will occasionally throw something (very rare and not at living things).”

Julie, adult Aspie from England

To summarise; if someone gets frustrated and upset when they’re being overwhelmed, stressed, interrupted, questioned, criticised or bossed around, they just may have good reason to. Still doesn’t make it acceptable to become violent or verbally abusive, but identifying the cause may be a good start when trying to deal with the problem.

Reducing frustration and aggression

The best way of reducing aggression must surely be to figure out the cause of it and then to adjust the environment to better accommodate each person’s individual needs (as well as setting reasonable limits, of course).

– An allergy check and diet change may do wonders if that happens to be the main problem, as well as checking for possible pollutants in the house, e.g. from new furniture or household chemicals.

Reducing stress. See what can be done to decrease sensory overload, quarrels, stress-inducing demands and nerve-jarring interruptions when one is blissfully hyper-focusing on something, without putting unfair limitations on other family members/classmates/work associates. (See also the Needs page for more info and tips.)

– Communication. To help the aggressive person become aware of their needs and express them in less drastic ways. A course in Non-Violent Communication is highly recommended – for everyone involved. These are some of the things I learned from it:

Finding a harmless outlet for one’s frustration (e.g. tearing up something intended for the trash anyway, or hitting and screaming into a pillow) may also provide temporary relief.

“My son has a hard time controlling his temper, as did I when I was younger. He now rips up newspapers, which seems to work for him. I must admit recently when going through a lot of paperwork and ripping and shredding things no longer needed was very satisfying 🙂 apart from the thoughts about all the waste and poor trees.” 😦

Julie, Aspie from England, mother of Aspie teen

“The first way is to have a channel for the anger, anxiety, adrenaline, etc.  One way is vigorous exercise, either intense aerobics exercise (which includes things like jogging, sports, fast dancing) or strength exercise, such as weight lifting.  I find this is especially helpful for me if I feel a racing heart or tense muscles.

“Other ways to channel the aggressive feelings include playing video or computer games where you are killing monsters or enemies, tearing paper into little pieces and hitting a punching bag (or other object you can hit without fear that it will break).

“I also find that writing a down all my anger in a journal helps.  If I feel like yelling at some one I will write down everything I feel like saying.  After I have that out of my system I can usually give them a much more polite and restrained response telling them that I didn’t like something.

“The second way is to do something quiet, calm or relaxing.  Some examples might include reading, meditating, yoga, drawing or working on a craft.  What is relaxing varies a lot from person to person.

“I also find that humour helps a lot.  If I read or watch something funny it helps me to feel less stressed.  If I am real upset I might read through an entire stack of comics and not even laugh once, but I do feel lots better afterwards.  So don’t think that the humour is not working if it doesn’t make you laugh.”

Ilah, adult probable Aspie from USA

Note: Although some Aspies and Highly Sensitive People may react to provocation and have a meltdown from sensory overload and stress, the majority of are peaceful and absolutely harmless – usually even more so than the average Joe. Even when pushed beyond endurance, most would rather take their frustration out on themselves, on inanimate objects, or just keep it inside.

Those who are more regularly aggressive, and lack impulse control, usually have some additional condition, e.g. ADHD, bipolar or a personality disorder.

*Expression borrowed from Star Trek by Rick José and his wife, inventors of the VG/AH theory, to describe naturally temperamental people.

LINKS

Compassionate Communication articles by Marshall Rosenberg

Center for Non-Violent Communication

BOOKS

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift (Nonviolent Communication Guides)

The Anger Cure: A Step-by-Step Program to Reduce Anger, Rage, Negativity, Violence, and Depression in Your Life

Asperger Syndrome And Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions For Tantrums, Rage And Meltdowns

5 Comments »

  1. ashley said,

    im only aggressive when touched or when people come at a time when im mad, some times it helps but the other time it just makes me more annoyed i wish i had a more calmed personality. this is my S.O.S

  2. BARBARA DAVIS.. THANKS . THIS INFORMATION WAS VERY HELPFUL

  3. I’m not that much of a internet reader
    tto be honest but your sites really nice, keep iit up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back in the future.
    Cheers

  4. thedoctorisin said,

    All this is such horseshit. None of these symptoms make you ‘special’ or have any particular syndrome. They are ALL normal, human reactions and feelings! Why does everyone have to think their normal humanity is special and gifted and such? EVERYONE gets irritated in traffic or interrupted from an enjoyable activity or being extra stressed at the same time they’re lacking in sleep. These are not proofs of being ‘gifted’ or anything else.

    I think most ‘aspies’ are just kids raised by emotionally incompetent or abusive parents who are too lazy to do their jobs correctly. Why? Because parenting in the modern world IS more stressful but too few of these people think in advance of getting pregnant how hard it all will be. So, they drop the ball and the emotional health of the developing infants/toddlers are interrupted. Then, as young kids, they become too much for their idiotic, stressed out parents who begin ignoring and/or failing to train them correctly. But no, let’s label, blame, and medicate the kids. And these kids grow up into more inept, not gifted, adults who feel powerless, isolated, weird etc instead of normal people with normal feelings.

    I mean, really?

  5. Yes! We aspies have a very strong sense of justic. It always angered me to no end to see injustices. When I hear about a teacher who did nothing while a child was bullied, the blood goes to my head.

    And sometimes I go into shutdown in order to avoid meltdown. I think it’s more common in females. I’ve learned to fear my rage attacks as a child. The loss of control scared me, as did the loss of reason and ability to think. It’s emotionally draining to no end.


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