Make us your home page
Tell Me About It | by Carolyn Hax

Underlying cause of venting or tantrum is pure frustration

Underlying cause of venting

or tantrum is pure frustration

Q: What's the difference between a female who's "just venting" vs. having an "adult tantrum"? Seriously. My adult daughter (37) says she's just venting; but on this end, it sure sounds like, feels like, an adult tantrum (with a lot of blame for others thrown in). Help me understand, please.


A: It sounds as if you do understand, but haven't found the words that will shift her viewpoint over to yours.

Good luck with that. Seriously. If you're right that the theme to her outrage is that others have done her wrong, then you're up against an established unwillingness to look inward when something goes awry.

That alone is a campaign-ending hurdle: Since the only thing any of us can improve about our world is our relationship with it — and since we can do that only if we look inward to see where we're falling short — that means refusing to look inward leaves a person no recourse but to "vent"/complain/throw tantrums.

Meanwhile, if she is "venting" on a regular enough basis for you to be asking for help, then there's a good chance she has a high working level of frustration — and you're trying to reason with her just as that frustration peaks.

Finally, referring to her as a "female" suggests you're seeing this through a lens tinted by gender. If you want to send a distressed person completely over the edge, that'll get the job done.

Put all of it together, and this much is clear: You won't make your case by attacking. Just the term "adult tantrum" is an attack, and her defenses are already high.

Provided you really want to take this on, invite her to drop her defenses instead. Often it's a reflexive response to try to solve every problem you hear; often that serves only to create new problems when someone just wants to be heard. If her complaints are valid, force yourself to listen.

If the complaints flow in streams unabated, then override your fix-it impulse in a different way: by listening, then asking questions that point her toward fixing things on her own. What outcome were you hoping for, what would you have done differently in retrospect, is this likely to happen again, what will you do in that case, have you found any reliable sources of relief, is there any way to expand upon those? Just some examples, of course.

If, in the end, what she really wants is to bask in misfortunes and the attention they bring, then it may be time to accept that she, as an adult, is free to make childish choices, and you, as an adult, are free not to give them your time.

Debating desperation?

Listen to people you trust

Q: What does it mean when someone says you're "desperate"? Intellectually, I would say it's a synonym for "needy," but in context it often seems to mean "interested in the wrong person." The former may be a legitimate comment; the second may just be obnoxious. So the better question may be how to tell the difference.

Desperate, adj.?

A: It depends on the legitimacy of the people calling you desperate, which depends on the legitimacy of their motives. Assuming your meter's not broken, it really is this simple: Heed warnings of people you trust.


Underlying cause of venting or tantrum is pure frustration

06/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 11:07am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours