CHILDISH BEHAVIOR ISN’T JUST FOR CHILDREN
At what age is it no longer acceptable to throw a tantrum when you can’t have what you want? I was lecturing a man in his forties about being a more considerate husband. He was a college graduate and a successful businessman. He nodded, approving of what I was saying—I thought.
Suddenly, he stood up and shouted, “I’ve had enough of this. I don’t have to pay for this stuff. I don’t need to put up with this lecture!” He wheeled around, opened the door and left, slamming the door so hard the pictures on the walls moved.
He had a tantrum.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang. It was he, apologizing for his behavior. This is what psychologists call regressive behavior: acting like a five-year-old. Why do we continue such behavior? One reason is that an individual believes it still works. Another reason is that anger and wrath are part of our sinful nature.
At what age is it acceptable to cry when you can’t have what you want? A woman sits down for a meeting with me, opens her purse, and takes out a tiny handkerchief. When this happens, I can predict that this woman will cry before the hour is up. Sure enough, I will say something she doesn’t like. At that point, an amazing thing happens: She will produce one tear from each eye. Not two tears, but one. This is her signal for me to back away from the subject we are on, or perhaps to let me know that I have said something she doesn’t like. It is remarkable how long a tear can be suspended in the corner of her eye, but eventually it will trickle down her cheek. At that point she will whisk it away with a practiced hand.
Let me assure you that I am not referring to tears of sorrow or grief or loneliness or real guilt. I refer to the use of tears as a tool to manipulate others so one can get his or her own way. Why do people continue such behavior into adult life? Because it has worked successfully in the past. Another reason is that selfishness is part of our sinful nature.
At what age is it acceptable to pout when you can’t have what you want? I talked with a couple struggling with both temper tantrums and pouting. Their large home was the scene of much conflict. He wished she were more orderly; she wished he were less rigid. One day he flew into a rage over her closet, demanding that she get it organized. Then he slammed the door, got into his car, and took off, spinning the wheels of his car as he went.
The silence continued for three days. She pouted in response to his tantrum. She would teach him not to yell at her and make demands she refused to meet. This interaction between them had been going on for many years.
Why do adults sulk when they can’t have what they want? Because it worked in the past and it still works for them. Another reason is that anger, rebellion, and selfishness are part of our sinful nature.
Paul wrote to some young Christians that he could not treat them as grown-up spiritual people. He pointed out that they were missing out on the happiness that comes with living lives when Christ is in control. They were missing personality qualities such as:
. . . love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV
According to the Bible, the only way to actually acquire these qualities as part of your being is to recognize that you don’t have them unless God gives them to you. Your part is to allow the Holy Spirit to give you something you don’t have.