throw a tantrum

When’s the last time you threw a temper tantrum? I mean really, really threw one?

One of my favorite podcasters, Christine Hassler, teaches something she calls the temper tantrum technique. (Now that she’s a mother, I expect she has some big reflections on this!)

It’s a way of releasing pent-up emotions so that they don’t get stuck in your body and cause havoc there. And of course, it’s meant to be done in a way that doesn’t harm anyone.

Whether you’re a parent or not, you’ve seen toddlers throw a tantrum: they give it their all—especially at the most inopportune moments and in the least convenient places.

And when they’re done, they’re usually really, really done. They go from screaming to laughing, from violent to calm in an instant.

We used to joke about our kids’ emotional instability because they could go from zero to sixty and back to zero in the space of 1 second.

And yet—being able to release emotions that effectively and efficiently is really a sign of the opposite: stability. Not too many toddlers I know suffer the aches and pains and sleep issues and disordered eating that adults do, so perhaps Louise Hay was right: those are the stuff of stuck emotions.

play toddler

Most tantrums are about fleeting emotions (sadness, not grief; anger, not rage, etc.). 

How fleeting are they? Most “everyday” emotions last between two to twenty minutes. Let that sink in.

What if you could allow yourself to feel your emotions for two to twenty minutes? Or even throw a tantrum for a few of those minutes?

Expressed safely, the emotions might pass even more quickly.

If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you probably know that the walk-in cooler serves two important purposes:

  1. Keeping the food at a safe temperature.
  2. Providing space for employees to let off steam: nobody can hear you scream in there. And you’re much less likely to kill your boss or be rude to your customers after you do that.

Punching and screaming into your pillow can also be effective. So can a workout that raises your heart and respiration rates.

So can crying—into a pillow or in the shower. (If you need a good cry and can’t get started, I highly recommend watching A Man Called Otto or Sophie’s Choice.)

play parent

So go ahead and throw that tantrum next time you experience an emotion that needs an outlet—especially if nobody will see/hear you.

We’re grown-ass adults, though, and our inner adult will usually rear its head at some point in the process.

And then what?

And then, I suggest, you act like a parent for that inner toddler. Not the judgy “why-can’t-you-behave” parent: the kinder, gentler parent who gets curious about the tantrum.

  • What emotion made you throw a tantrum?
  • What triggered that emotion?
  • How do you feel now?
  • What more do you need?
  • Is there something else you’re really asking for?
  • How can I help?

learned behavior

A lot of us turn to food to suppress an emotion or fill a void: it’s a lot easier to eat than to do the deep inner work of working through an emotion.

Or—less frequently—we might turn away from food: it’s easier to control our food intake than to control our environment (inner and outer).

The use of food to suppress emotions is a learned behavior. If, when you were little, you threw a tantrum and were offered a treat to stop, guess what? After awhile, food can become your go-to for just about any emotion.

If, instead of immediately defaulting to a treat, an adult originally asked our little self, “What do you really want?” it’s highly likely we would have responded with: a hug, some attention, some of your time, protection from the monster under the bed….

And if you, as a grown-ass adult, can parent your little self with curiosity instead of judgment, you might discover that you don’t really want that donut; you want a hug. You don’t want that glass of wine; you want someone to spend time with you. You don’t want those potato chips; you want to feel like your contribution at work is recognized and appreciated.

The next task is to figure out how to give yourself what you really want/need rather than the easy way out.

make the connection

Whether you struggle with aches and pains, disordered sleep or disordered eating, getting to the root cause of these issues requires work—deep inner work. This sounds hard … and it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes what you need is a new way to look at the work—a reframe or an analogy that helps, and then a system to help you get to the next stage of your health journey. That’s the gist of what I do as a health coach: help you to nourish yourself—not just with the food you put in your mouth but with all the other facets of your life.

If emotional eating is where you go when faced with your emotions, join me for the fall 2023 cohort of Stewarding Emotional Eating™. We’ll talk a lot more about throwing tantrums as well as this idea of reparenting ourselves!

You can find the details and application link here, but don’t put it off: the deadline to apply is September 30, and the program starts October 2.