When is IMPULSIVITY a problem and where do adults go for help?
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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impulsivity
My first attraction to Larry was his spontaneity, a.k.a. impulsivity:
FTTC: Our Impaired Courtship
“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.”
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.
FTTC: Love, Friendship, and Marriage
“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
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.
Red Flag Impulsivity in our young adult sons was repetitive and dangerous:
Driving after drinking destroying property came together like the perfect storm. After a simple fender bender on the highway our son agreed to pull off with the other driver at the edge of the city to exchange information. Then came the impulsive decision:
FTTC: The Jones Wrecking Crew
“That was my first thought, but then I got a better idea. Since our house was across the park, I just figured we could lose her in the park and escape to our house. Rob didn’t even know what was happening because he was still passed out in the passenger’s seat. One quick turn, and we crashed into the tree. The car ignited. Rob was still out for the count and didn’t move. I had to rescue Rob from the burning car—see, he’s okay!”
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 other people
- 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 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?
RECOGNITION AND TREATMENT – 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.
FTTC: Being the Enabler Turns Deadly
“I really was afraid that Audrey was going to die, and there was no way I could explain that to her. I resorted to being clinical and vague because I was struggling with my own feelings about her illness. The other person who had really loved me (my mother) died and left me when I was 19. I could not go through that pain again. As I have learned through counseling, I never really got over my mother’s death. My feeling of being lost caused Audrey to think that I didn’t care. I just did not know what to do and my sons were in outright denial that their mother was really sick.”
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 import, impactful decisions with your spouse.
Mindful lifestyle management is a step to control these negative habits by including into your daily routine:
- Exercise to reduce stress
- Eating regular meals and a balanced diet
- Daily rest, 6-8 hours per day.
- Meditation 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 will support you and guide you to sensible management of your impulsivity that is consistent with your personality and life experiences.