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Impulsive Behavior: How to Deal with It


You always hear the quote “Living on impulse” without necessarily understanding what an “impulse” or “impulsive behavior” mean. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Why do people plan or avoid living on impulse? What is an impulsive behavior? Is it a mental disorder? What if the “impulsive behavior” is disturbed? How do we fix it? Here we learn more about what an impulsive behavior is characterized by and some of the serious impulsive behavioral disorders.

What is an Impulse?

In physics, an impulse is the result of the equation “Force * time”. In a more detailed description, impulse is a force acting for a given time interval.

Impulse definition doesn’t differ much in psychology than that of physics. It is a sudden wish or urge, a driving force for a person to “act” and do something, usually without thinking beforehand. One of the main types of impulsive actions is the impulse buying or impulse purchase. An impulse buyer makes an unplanned purchasing decision directly after seeing the product or being exposed to the service for the first time. It is an emotionally-driven decision even without considering the consequences in case of expensive items like automobiles. Customers end up buying something without thinking about the impact this purchase is going to have on their budget.

Impulse buying could turn into an addictive behavior called “compulsive buying disorder” or in slang shopaholic.

What is an Impulsive Response?

Impulsive response is not always a bad thing. It is the response acquired by people in life or death situations. If you are crossing the street and a car speeds by, an impulsive response requires you to jump out of the way.

Depending on the situation, impulsive responses might be triggered by some factors. Some of these factors are:

  • Situations in which you are more likely to act on your impulse (e.g. getting drunk in a bar, gossiping).
  • People who trigger immediate action from you without thinking (e.g. a friend or a co-worker).
  • Cases when you most regret acting on your impulse (e.g. bar brawls or fighting with a girlfriend/boyfriend).
  • Situations when your urges are completely impossible to resist (e.g. drinking alcohol or taking narcotics).
  • Fight-or-Flight responses.

Impulsive response could lead you to get hurt because you act first and think later. This would result in you getting in trouble more than once, because rarely does a case require immediate action. This kind of behavior happens when people are unsure how to respond to a certain situation. They act on the first thing that comes to their minds. This is the case in conflicting situations like divorces, discovering that your partner is cheating or sudden deaths.

Impulse Control Problems

When impulsive behavior spins out of control, we have a set of personality disorders bundled under the title Impulse Control Disorders (ICD).
Signs and symptoms of an impulsive behavioral disorder are characterized into a group of changes:

  1. Behavioral changes: They vary according to the category of the ICDs. They might include aggression, cheating, compulsive lying, sexual aggression and bizarre sexual activities.
  2. Physical changes: The constant presence of fresh scars. This results in cases of self-mutilation or intermittent explosive disorder. In case of pyromania, burn marks start appearing out of the blue. Sexually-transmitted diseases may result in case of paraphilia.
  3. Cognitive changes: obsession, compulsive thoughts, extreme impatience and lack of concentration.
  4. Psychosocial changes: agitation, irritation, depression, anxiety, isolation, either emotional detachment or hyperemotional attitude, low self-esteem and anxiety.


What are some of the Serious Impulsive Disorders?

Impulse Control Disorders are categorized into six main behavioral problems:

  1. Trichotillomania: compulsive hair pulling which results in extreme hair loss. The plucking of one’s hair is not only limited to the head but also the eyebrows, the eyelashes and even pubic hair.
  2. Kelptomania: strong, uncontrollable urge to steal. The legal term for this impulsive behavior is “shoplifting”.
  3. Pyromania: compulsive firestarting behavior that is purposefully done for relieving tension and experiencing euphoria.
  4. Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED): failure to resist aggressive or violent impulses resulting in assaults, vandalism, property destruction and even murder.
  5. Pathological Gambling:
  6. Unspecified categories: self-mutilation, paraphilia, alcoholism, drug addiction and compulsive buying disorder.

How do you Deal with Impulsive Behavior?

There are various ways to tame impulsivity. They are mostly focused on the “think first, ask later” mantra. Here are a few valuable tips for managing impulsive behavior:

  1. Walk away from impulsive triggers (whether people or situations).
  2. Don’t indulge in gossip or slut-shaming.
  3. Practice breathing exercises and calming strategies.
  4. Exercise more often especially cardiovascular workouts.
  5. When faced with a difficult decision, create an imaginary outline for it, highlighting its pros and cons.
  6. Research any purchases before buying them especially if you are shopping online or in case of highly expensive products.

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