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What is a rage episode?

The following is the first in a three-part series first published on the blog of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada.

Neurological storms, rage episodes, rage attacks, explosive rage — it has many names. Regardless of the term, they describe the same phenomenon: a person feels unable to control their anger, they explode, they have an outburst of anger. The consequences, like the names and labels, are also many:

  • Embarrassment
  • Remorse
  • Distress
  • Verbal attacks
  • Damage to property
  • Even injury

Many parents of kids with Tourette Syndrome or adults who have TS themselves say that neurological storms are one of the most distressing symptoms of TS+.

A key feature of these outbursts is that they are not usually consistent with the person’s personality.

It is common for parents or teachers to ask, “isn’t this just a temper tantrum?”

The answer is no.

Temper tantrums are common in young children because these children have not developed their ability to inhibit such socially unacceptable behaviors.

How can you tell the difference between a neurological storm and a temper tantrum? Simply put, tantrums are goal-directed, and storms are not.

Furthermore, rage episodes are different in that they are not age appropriate; a storm is not developmentally appropriate for an older child, adolescent, or adult.

Adults and older children get angry. They yell or slam doors. In the case of a person experiencing a rage episode, they rarely can inhibit their anger. The magnitude of their anger is also much greater.

A neurological storm is also very different from “predatory anger.” The latter refers to psychopathic individuals who get pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Family or friends of people who have rage episodes typically do not consider these individuals cruel or indifferent to others’ feelings.

Parents often are criticized for their child’s rage episodes. Many think that if the parent would only discipline their child, these episodes would not occur. However, once someone becomes more familiar with the child in question, he or she begins to understand how these episodes are different from the child’s regular behavior.

Remember, the person who is most frightened by the storm is often the individual having the storm.

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