What is impulsivity and how do I control it?

Human beings have instincts that cannot be completely neutralized. This is where the principle of impulsivity lies. Man differs from other species on the planet because he has a logical reasoning capacity that allows him to think before acting.

Impulsivity is doing things without thinking, in an unexpected and disproportionate manner, based on the primitive impulse of survival, defense or necessity. In itself, impulsivity is nothing more than a reaction to some external event or situation.

In some cases it can be beneficial, especially if it is for survival and to preserve physical integrity. But when these reactions are constant and without any sense, they can be part of a mental or personality disorder.

Types of impulsivity

There are different ways of dividing the different levels of impulsivity of a person. Some clinical practices divide it into verbal and motor.

To represent verbal impulsivity are the acts in which the person says things without thinking and without measuring the consequences. He/she makes generally inappropriate comments making social normalization difficult.

On the other hand, motor impulsivity can even endanger his physical safety or that of others who are nearby at the time of the reaction.

There are also other types of impulsivity differentiated as more specific disorders. For example, if sexual desire is impulsive and without taking precautions, one can be exposed to contagions, social, emotional and inappropriate behavioral problems. Addictions can be to anything, such as shopping, internet communication connections, gaming, binge eating, smoking or drugs. Mental disorders such as kleptomania, pyromania, tricholylomania, among others are caused by impulsivity, as people cannot control the urge to take these actions.

Symptoms of impulsivity

An impulsive person has constant tension, they are very impatient and want to achieve their goal no matter what. Many times they do not feel guilt for what they do but a pleasant relief in getting what they want.

When these actions are repetitive and are reflected in every aspect of the person’s life it is necessary to intervene professionally to get help.

A psychologist is trained to make the pertinent evaluations and detect if what you have is a type of impulsivity or some other disorder that has similar symptoms. There are times when impulsivity becomes a mental health problem and in these cases it usually reaches its peak in adolescence.

Causes of impulsivity

Some of its causes are the search to satisfy a need, an immediate pleasure or a reward of some kind, as when a craving for something you want to eat is satiated and is done in excess.

Social, economic and emotional problems that affect a person’s life can lead to levels of depression or stress that result in uncontrollable urges.

There may also be some genetic factors that are part of a tendency to impulsivity. The control of these impulses is located in the frontal cortex of the brain.

Treatments for impulsivity

Depending on the level of impulsivity, the specialist in mental disorders will determine the most appropriate treatment for each patient.

Among those used is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which through various techniques the person is led to become aware of their negative thoughts so that the results are consciously changed.

Another widely used method is aversion therapy, which consists in the exposure of some stimulus while being subjected to a sensation that does not please him/her. This way, this unwanted impulsive behavior is associated and eliminated.

For the most frequent addictions, covert sensitization is used. This method tries to inhibit the harmful behaviors that lead the patient to impulsivity.

There is also stimulus control in which an attempt is made to change a previous behavior for a new one by experiencing certain events.

Impulsivity in children

When you are a child it is common to have moments when you do things without thinking, out of ignorance or innocence, but we have all done it at some point. However, when impulsivity in a child is frequent there may be self-control problems.

Among the symptoms that can be observed in impulsive children and adolescents are:

  • Calling attention to themselves with foolishness.
  • Lack of understanding that their behavior affects others.
  • Aggressiveness toward others.
  • Unable to follow simple rules or standards of behavior.
  • Taking unnecessary risks in their daily lives.
  • Having symptoms of ADHD, mental disorders, phobias,
  • lack of sleep or stress, among others.
  • Impulsivity and high abilities

Children with high capacities are those who have an advanced development compared to their peers since they are babies. They are intellectually precocious and this leads them to be perfectionists and very self-critical.

If not developed in time and with proper guidance, it can lead to frustrations in various areas of life such as school failure.

It is very common for gifted children to have hypersensitivity in some of the senses. Simple things like a label on clothing or a repetitive sound can disturb them.

If the frontal cortex is not yet fully developed, impulsivity in them can lead to much more frustration than in other people.

For this it is necessary to have a determined orientation through specialists and professionals in psychology, to guide both parents and the individual to develop their abilities and control impulses.

Impulsivity and genetics: Is impulsivity inherited?

There are characteristics that are undoubtedly inherited, as well as behavioral functions that are learned in the family environment. It is in the prefrontal cortex where the differences between more or less impulsive individuals are located.

The connections that take place there, determined by dopamine and serotonin, indicate that when the level of serotonin is low and dopamine is excessive there is greater impulsivity.

There are many factors that can influence excessive impulsivity and genetic predisposition is of course one of them. But there are also other very influential factors, such as the growing environment. Some circumstances experienced in the first years of a child’s socialization, such as child neglect or abuse, can lead to a person constantly losing control in the long term.

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