Intermittent Explosive Disorder: An introduction to grumpiness


Intermittent Explosive Disorder or IED, as distinct from the more famous IUD, is a psychological condition, not a contraceptive device. The latter of course is a remarkable and somewhat controversial advance in fertility control but modern medicine has yet to develop a remedy for Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Researchers probably can’t be bothered investing their time and intellectual capacities in a phenomenon that may erupt only two or three times a year.

Be assured that IED is a genuine ailment. Its elaborate and somewhat disturbing name might lead some to think it’s a fantasy, but it is not. IED is listed in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as DSM-5 although whether it falls within the normal range of human behaviour is still open to question. The psychology industry often pathologizes the slightest deviation from some perceived norm. All obnoxious behaviour nowadays seems to be a disorder or a condition or worst of all, a syndrome.

According to the manual, Intermittent Explosive Disorder is characterised by infrequent but severe outbursts of verbal or physical aggression. The incidents are a failure of impulse control and triggered by stressful, often trivial annoyances. A notorious example has been immortalised on the Internet under the title ‘Hong Kong bus uncle’. The footage shows a middle-aged Chinese man abusing a younger passenger who had the audacity to tap him on the shoulder and ask him to lower his voice during a phone call. The ensuing confrontation became a worldwide sensation and raised many questions about appropriate behaviour, media ethics and the stresses of modern life.

Whatever the causes, I’m convinced IED runs in my family. My brother and I possibly inherited it from our father who was prone to angry outbursts, frequently involving heavy application of his World War 2 swagger stick cryptically named The Waddy. With its bulbous silver head bearing the Australian coat-of-arms, a thin cane body and a silver tip, it remains an indelible and feared memory of my childhood. ‘Copping a thrashing’ was never a light threat in an era when many fathers believed that sparing the rod would spoil the child!

Further evidence of its inheritability is that my nephew also apparently has the condition. While normally self-controlled and patient, he can snap into a manic frenzy. On one occasion, a Jetstar official told him that he would not be allowed to board a plane because of his outrageous conduct in a queue at Melbourne Airport. Considering the length of time it often takes to reach the check-in counter, it sounded like perfectly normal behaviour to me.

Nonetheless, I recognise the serious consequences of unchecked rage. There’s no doubt that spectacular outbursts often result in wounded relationships, the loss of friendships and lingering personal guilt. There’s only so many times you can offend friends before they won’t speak to you any more. Even the most placid and tolerant friends have their limits and I realise I’ve crossed the line when they refuse my telephoned apologies and expressions of remorse. It’s always a sad experience.

When I tell people about the problem they often react with disbelief. ‘Really? I’ve never seen that side of you. I always think you are so calm and relaxed’ is a common observation. Little do they know. However as I’ve explained, IED is intermittent so they are fortunate to have escaped the ugly displays of wrath that emerge unexpectedly from time to time.

I’m explaining all this to account for the grumpy blogs that follow and to provide some background to my personality. Sadly, slowly increasing grumpiness seems to be overtaking what was once my fairly tranquil state of mind and I suspect that IED is behind it. Or is grumpiness simply an inescapable characteristic of old age? In either case, I’m hoping that writing about some issues that annoy me will facilitate a slow release of frustrations and diminish a propensity for more serious outbursts.

Apart from putting myself in prolonged therapy for years, I believe there are other things I can do to bring about behavioural change. Learning better self-control is critical I reckon despite some evidence that a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii plays a role. It’s contracted from cats but I haven’t owned a cat in years and most cat owners of my acquaintance are gentle folk given to quiet evenings on the couch with their feline friend curled up beside them.

I’m sticking to the self-control model and attempting to recognise the warning signs that precede aggressive explosions. Meditation and a sense of humour are also good prophylactics. On reflection the situations that precipitate my IED are frequently inconsequential. If only I’d laughed them off, joked about them, treated them with light-hearted disdain, they might not have developed any further. It’s also why I’m writing some blogs about my peeves. The process is cathartic and will possibly protect some innocent people from unwarranted and unpleasant abuse in the future.

(Above image courtesy Emery Way/ Wikipedia)

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