In psychology, impulsivity (or impulsiveness) is a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.

My first attraction to Larry was his spontaneity, a.k.a. impulsivity:

“My infatuation began with Larry’s spontaneity, always coming up with things to do, enhancing our whirlwind spring romance. I loved his creativity to get by with little money, living on “love.” I was awed by his brilliance, explaining organic science, advanced math and physics to me, a social science major.”

FTTC: Our Impaired Courtship

Yes, I was impulsive too, just traveling without reservation into a whirlwind courtship. And just as our romance was peaking, Larry said in a casual conversation:

“’I am leaving for Baltimore to enroll in an accelerated medical school program at Johns Hopkins in two days.’”

Fifty years later, in addition to riding the ADHD rollercoaster with Larry, I still have my own impulsive, sometimes expensive, adventures. I can certainly admit to occasional moments when I:

  • Go on spending sprees, especially for shoes.
  • Receive speeding tickets, even though I’m a poky senior citizen now.
  • Succumb to binge eating, like 5 desserts in one day this weekend.
  • Lose my temper yelling and shouting, especially at my loved ones.

Red flags are indicators that danger is present and can save your life if you take heed to the warning. Too many times we ignored the red flags, and they almost took us, and our children, under.” – Audrey

FTTC: Love, Friendship, and Marriage

The first step is always to recognize the red flags. Why do you think that impulsivity is a problem?

The red flags that disrupt our lives are usually based on acting without forethought or reflection.  Everyone has moments, but the moments become red flags when the same behaviors are repeated consistently at increasingly greater costs. Impulsivity is a problem as the behaviors become riskier as described below.

Unfortunately, without recognition and treatment maturity does not include increasing self-control. Too often, yelling, shouting, and screaming became our hurtful way of communicating. Continued unrecognized impulsivity may lead to being the person who is described as:

  • Self-centered, rude, and difficult to work with
  • Frequent job changes
  • Unable to sustain personal and intimate relationships
  • Argumentative and not interested in other’s opinions or boundaries
  • Prone to addiction as a means of self medicating

How do you work with a spouse like this? You have talked, you have pleaded and only grown more frustrated. Both of you have agreed to go to therapy. But, the biggest problem is not being interested in changing. Is it denial or lack of recognition of impulsivity in oneself?

These simple mindful strategies can reduce impulsivity:

  • Identify personal triggers such as a stressful work day
  • Find better responses to frustration (not credit card shopping)
  • Find better strategies to be patient and tolerant of others
  • Find positive motivators to reduce impulsivity

Correcting My Impulsivity – Dr. Larry

A first step in controlling the negative habits of impulsivity is recognizing this pattern over time. What happened the last time that I decided to change jobs and did not discuss this with my wife? Those of us affected by impulsivity have to admit that we have amazing powers of rationalization and procrastination. We use these as crutches to support our impulsive decisions. What happened the last time I made a large charge or purchase without discussing that with my wife?

Sometimes one impulsive decision just opens up an out of control spiral. Audrey’s diagnosis was obviously the lowest point of our marriage; it triggered impulsive, irrational behavior from me.

The second step is to begin therapy with a psychologist or clinical social worker. Honest discussion with the therapist gives us the opportunity to discuss options to resolve problems created by our impulsivity. Spouses will generally forgive the mess, if you resolve the problems you created and not repeat the impulsive acts. Here is where the therapist works with you to help you control those impulses. Recognize the stressors that lead to the behavior and develop strategies or substitutions that are acceptable. Remember to discuss important, impactful decisions with your spouse.

For me, managing my impulsivity means taking steps to control these negative habits by including into my daily routine:

  • Exercise to reduce stress
  • Eating regular meals and a balanced diet
  • Daily rest, 6-8 hours per day.
  • Medication to improve focus and to be present in the moment.

Extinction of the old habits of impulsivity and replacing it with better habits as described above is a great start, but this not a substitution for communication with loved ones. So where do adults go for help with impulsivity? You go to a professional, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker or marriage counselor.

These professionals guided us to be sensible in understanding my impulsivity in a way that is consistent with our personalities and life experiences.

Most importantly we have learned to let go of the past mistakes.

Categories: News and Events