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Living with Oppositional Defiance Disorder

Let’s look at what Oppositional Defiant Disorder is, and some strategies that can help to manage it.

Teen yelling and gesturing angrily

What is Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)?

It’s really normal for everyone to act out, be disruptive or uncooperative at times. But some people experience more extreme behaviours that happen regularly, are long lasting, happen across different situations (e.g. at home and at school), and cause problems in their lives.

These disorders are behaviour disorders, and include several different but similar disorders.

ODD is one of those disorders. It is based on a pattern of three different behaviours. Symptoms include: 

  • Angry mood, e.g. easily losing temper
  • Argumentative behaviour, e.g. refusing to follow rules or instructions, arguing with teachers or parents, etc.
  • Vindictiveness, which means being mean on purpose, or seeking revenge.

Other disorders

These behaviour disorders are similar to ODD, and like ODD, they can become quite serious as people get older, if left untreated. 

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). This is when a person has regular angry outbursts. These can be verbal (like yelling), or physical (like throwing things or hitting someone). These outbursts seem out of proportion to the situation, are impulsive, cause distress and cause life problems, like losing friends.

Conduct disorders. These behaviours are usually similar to ODD but more serious, and normally include breaking social rules, like bullying others, lying or stealing, damaging other people’s things on purpose, etc.

There are lots of factors that might play a role in why people have disorders like ODD, conduct disorders or IED. Things like genes, relationships with other people, past trauma and your stress response might all be involved or have an impact in different ways.

Manage stress and anxiety

Research has shown that people with behaviour disorders like ODD are more likely to be sensitive to stress and take longer to recover from stress. When people feel high levels of stress and anxiety, they are more like to ‘react’ in fast and extreme ways. Some people’s reactions can be in ‘fight mode’ (aggressive, defensive). 

Finding things that help you feel calm and safe can help you feel more in control of your behaviours. These might include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Learning to meditate
  • Being physically active, e.g. taking a karate class
  • Spending time in nature
  • Doing things you enjoy
  • And many others!

Manage behaviours

When something happens, we have thoughts and emotions that happen (very quickly) and determine our behavioural response.

For example:

Event: Someone teases you
Thought: “How dare they! I’ll show them!”
Emotion: Anger
Behaviour: Threaten and insult them

Learning to manage your behaviours can take time and practice, but it can make a big difference!

  • Learn to control impulsivity. Recognising clues in our body (like feeling tense), recognising emotions (like feeling irritable) and recognising thoughts (like thinking angry or defiant thoughts) can be helpful ‘warning signs’ that we need to ‘pause’ before reacting.
  • Learn new problem solving skills. People with behaviour disorders often only know negative ways of interpreting and responding to stressful situations. But you can learn to think about situations in different ways, which can help you solve problems using different, appropriate behaviour. We often make up ‘stories’ (assumptions) about what others are thinking, based on incomplete information on their behaviour. Being able to think about a problem or situation in a different way can help us respond differently.  
  • Learn new social skills. Forming strong relationships with friends or family who treat you in a respectful way can be really helpful. The best way to have good relationships is to practice skills like empathy (understanding how others feel), communication and conflict resolution.

Practising new skills actually creates changes in your brain, too (this is called ‘neuroplasticity’). The more you practice, the easier the behaviour changes become – and they can even become automatic sometimes.

It can be helpful to get the support of a counsellor to practice changing your thoughts.

You don’t have to manage ODD on your own. Talking to someone about what you’re going through can really help.

Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email today.

This content was last reviewed 10/07/2020

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