If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
When someone you love acts unpredictably, lashes out with hurtful statements, or has erratic behavior, it can be challenging to decide how to proceed. However, there are steps you can take to support your loved one while keeping yourself safe, happy, and healthy.
What Causes Unpredictable Behavior?
Many people enjoy turning to education when they don't know how to solve a problem. When someone you love has unpredictable behavior, you might feel responsible for helping them cope or predicting how they might act in any circumstance.
Understanding why a behavior occurs might help you understand the patterns this individual showcases. Unpredictable behavior is sometimes a symptom of mental illness. Talk to the person about how their behavior is impacting you. If they have a mental illness, you might educate yourself on the common symptoms of their condition and how it might align with their behaviors.
Other causes of unpredictable behavior might include the following:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- A medical condition
- Chronic stress
- A significant life change
- Personality traits
- Difficulty with commitment
If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing a medical condition, consult a medical practitioner for support.
How To Cope With Unpredictable Behavior
If your loved one's behavior is impacting you negatively or you're worried about the consequences of their actions, you might benefit from the following coping skills.
Prioritize Your Well-Being
When someone you love is hurting, trying to fix all their problems can be tempting, but you might forget to pay attention to your needs. You may have heard the phrase, "You can't pour from an empty cup." This phrase explains how becoming mentally, emotionally, or physically drained may do the opposite of what you're hoping, as you might not be able to support those you love.
Try to set aside time for yourself, even while you are taking steps to support someone with unpredictable behavior. Self-care might include practicing mindfulness, taking a few days alone, setting healthy boundaries with this individual, or playing with your pets. Whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled, try to spend more time focused on it.
If you love someone with unpredictable behavior, you might notice that you struggle to rationalize the situation with them or yourself when they act this way. Try to consider the logical conclusions of their behavior. If someone is acting illegally or dangerously, let them know, and try not to include yourself in the situation.
If an outburst occurs, keep your composure. Talk in a calm and even voice. Avoid phrases like "That doesn't make sense" or "You're ridiculous." While those phrases might reflect your feelings, they can be invalidating and painful for another person to hear.
Have An Open Conversation
If you're considering offering support or resources to this individual, include them in the conversation. Wait for a time when they seem to be in a positive mood and are receptive to having a serious discussion. Approach them and let them know you are concerned for them and want to help them with their behavior. You may also choose to illustrate the hurt, fear, or anger you've felt due to their actions.
Once you've discussed your feelings and any boundaries, ask your loved one what you can do to help them make changes. Pay attention to their responses, actively listen, and note the points they make. If you feel their suggestions are unhealthy or put too much responsibility on you and not themselves, you might let them know you're uncomfortable with their suggestions.
As a team, you can use the points discussed in the future. When you see patterns of unpredictable behavior returning, you might remind them of the conversation you had. Redirect them using the feedback they gave you, and consider what they stated might help them regulate.
Validate Their Feelings
When someone is acting unpredictably, try not to call them names, invalidate their feelings, or tell them you're better than them. Even if you find their behavior unhealthy, outrageous, or unfounded, it is up to you whether you want to remain in a relationship or proximity with this individual.
Validating someone's feelings may be possible even if you feel their actions are unfounded. For example, you can tell someone, "Your anger is valid in this situation, and I need to take a break to think more about what you've said so I can understand." If you don't need a break but want to support them in their feelings, use a reassuring tone and ask them how you can help.
Specific phrases and approaches may prove ineffective or worsen the situation. If your approaches aren't helping, ask this individual what would help them. They may know what support means to them and be able to help you help them.
Compassion can help you build a bridge between yourself and your loved one. When used in conjunction with the other skills you have learned, it can be a powerful tool against erratic behavior.
Compassion can mean genuinely caring for the person you are interacting with and wanting the best for them. Compassion often comes from the heart and with no expectations for return favors. It can involve acts of service, kind words, gifts, gentle touches, or quality time together.
Resist The Urge To Argue
If you disagree with someone's behavior, you might want to argue with them. However, this person may not have a rational mindset when acting erratically. Engaging in an argument with this person may make you both feel unheard.
If you feel a conversation with another person is going in circles, let them know you're upset and aren't comfortable discussing the subject at that moment. If the individual often experiences anxiety when you pull away, you might tell them you still care for them and want the best for your relationship. If they continue to try to argue, politely let them know that you are leaving the room until the situation has settled.
After you both feel more regulated, you may be able to return to the conversation. Ask them if what you said helped or made the situation worse. In addition, encourage them to confer any feedback they may have for you. Since the ins and outs of erratic behavior can be internalized and challenging to access, try to work together.
Avoiding unpredictable behavior can be difficult for some people, including those living with a mental illness. With mental health, recovery often takes time and support. These behaviors may not have developed overnight and may not be resolved overnight, either.
Understanding how behavior impacts relationships can help you see how you and this person may be able to work through the challenges you're facing. If you're dedicated to continuing this relationship and are confident in building a healthy connection with this person, try to be patient and understanding of what this individual is experiencing.
Speak To A Therapist
If you feel helpless or that you've hit a wall while trying to support your loved one with their behavior or emotions consider seeking support from a professional. Someone trained in the causes of unpredictable behavior may be more equipped to help. If your loved one is your partner, you may also be able to participate in couples therapy together.
For some people, unpredictable behavior can make it challenging to stick to appointments. If you relate, you might be able to try online therapy. Research shows that electronically delivered therapy is as effective as traditional face-to-face counseling, which makes it a convenient option. One study by Brigham Young University researchers found that internet-based therapy could provide benefits, including lower cost, no travel time, a straightforward approach, no waitlists, and trackable progress.
If you're seeking convenience, an online platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples might benefit you. Online counselors can treat mental health conditions and symptoms like face-to-face providers. When you connect with an online provider, you may also be able to choose the session format that works best for you, whether it's video, phone, or live chat sessions. If you're attending relationship therapy, you and your partner can attend sessions in two rooms or locations.
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