I have a good friend with two kids under the age of five and a husband who is away a lot for work. She reads a parenting blog that I also enjoy, but unfortunately the woman who writes the blog has led her to conclude that if she ever "loses it" in front of her kids, she is "abusing them" and "ruining them for life." Good parents don't "lose it."
By "losing it" she means yelling. I keep seeing this on Facebook as well, "Yelling is abuse," people write. Never yell at your kids or you are the cause of murder and war.
I don't have the answer yet (more reading/thinking to do) but here is what I know so far and can share with you that gives me the inkling that this cannot be true.
Humans don't usually yell with intent to abuse, but rather because they don't feel heard.
When yelling-humans are listened to and feel heard, they generally stop yelling. And they feel grateful and connected to the person who listened to them.
When triggered-humans don't feel heard, they are capable of doing dangerous things in order to be heard. Their yelling is a wonderful and helpful social signal for us to stop and listen.
When a human doesn't feel heard, but has been raised not to yell, he doesn't not "lose it." He just loses it in a non-yelling way, often by calmly and vindictively engaging in various manipulative or passive aggressive behaviors.
Or he loses it by causing violence to himself, the violence of stuffing down his feelings and needs with ice cream, television, video games, sex, workaholism, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, etc.
In many ways, yelling is actually more honest than not yelling. This reminds me of Foucault's Discipline and Punish. The physical punishments of history were--in many ways--simply more honest and open than the sneaky ways we punish/express power now.
For parents, yelling is not nearly as damaging to children as serenely and kindly rewarding and punishing them--controlling them. I wrote an entire book about this, so I wont go into it here, but using force against anyone is The Most Harmful Thing. Force can be done with violence, manipulation, or a quiet and serene expressions of power.
On that note: Maybe it all depends on intent and interpretation. The facial expression of disgust is supposedly the most disconnecting/destructive for relationships. I had a very loud yelling-mother who none-the-less made me feel very loved. I had a father who never yelled, but who I always felt despised me--I can still vividly remember the look of pure disgust on his face when he caught me doing something that displeased him. But I imagine there are people who could say the opposite.
Are we serving our children when we teach them that yelling-people are bad-people "abusing" them?
Most children yell. What do children decide about themselves by hearing that yelling is abusive and people who yell are bad?
Oh wait--is yelling only abusive when an adult does it?
That doesn't work for me. Non-contradiction axiom.
And people who teach their children to that yelling-adults are bad--but yelling-children are okay--are saying, "I am better than you. I am in control. You are not. You will be as good as me one day. But right now you are Bad." I don't think it's possible to excuse a child's yelling, but not an adult's, without implying the child is bad.
What if children were taught that yelling-people are just people with overwhelming unmet needs and need to be heard?
(With the caveat to know the difference between a yeller who needs to be heard and a yeller who has crossed the threshold of safety and may harm you and therefore you should get away.)
On that note: People who have lost their shit can be very dangerous. I do not think that the "benevolent authority" parents do their children a service by falsely giving them the message that they are powerless and incapable of making someone lose their shit.
Children can make people lose their shit. It may be a good thing for children to experience this at home where it's safe, so they know not to push strangers--or Grandpa--too far.
I have read, like these people crying abuse, the literature that states that those who have bosses who yell are much more likely to have high blood pressure and therefore (if high blood pressure is an actual cause and not just correlated) suffer from heart attacks.
So yelling raises blood pressure, but does it raise blood pressure because of how you were raised--to believe that yelling is abuse, and you are being abused, and this person is bad?
If you were raised to believe that a yelling person needs your compassion and listening and mirroring, if you felt like yelling-people weren't actually that scary because you had the skills to connect with them and help them through... would yelling still raise your blood pressure? Or would you feel like a competent person? There is a good chance my son will have a friend or a relative or a wife who one day yells at him--and I want him to feel competent at staying connected to that person and helping them through. This is what NVC teaches.
Another interesting thing I know is that the "not yelling" rule is an upperclass rule. Upperclass folks do not yell. They are in power and to yell--to imply people aren't hearing them--would lower their status, so they are taught as children to never ever ever ever yell. (This is conjecture. We don't actually know why upper class people tend to teach their children to not yell, but we do know that trend-wise, teaching children not to yell is an upper class thing.)
Middle class parents tend to follow this dictate as they are always interested in doing whatever upper class people do.
Lower class people yell. They also (often) beat their kids. And for those who consider this normal, it is not damaging. Studies have been done on this. I am not advocating beating children, but it is important to know that abuse is a judgement word, an interpretation. Many people believe they have been abused when people yell at them, other people just think this is normal human behavior and really don't worry about it so much. Same with hitting.
The never-yelling families tend to be not only upper and middle class, but also from WASP backgrounds. WASPs were the original never-yellers, and considered themselves superior to the nasty ethnic folks who yelled all the time.
To be anti-yelling is to be racist! Just kidding.
I took care of a lot of upper class children who basically melted down if anyone ever yelled, who literally couldn't handle someone yelling, who had no idea what to do if a fight broke out, etc. I don't think it is helpful for children to be raised to be this helpless. But then, I was raised lower class and that is a rather lower class position. (Lower class parents want their children to be "tough." Though I am not raising Anders to be "tough" around yelling-people, but rather, to feel competent at connecting with them.)
As adults, I see the children from the yelling-is-bad families blanketly write people off for the rest of time if they ever have an emotional outburst. These adults don't realize that this may be class prejudice and/or racism. That person who yells may have no idea that yelling is as inappropriate as you think it is.
Yelling is just one form of "losing it". Everyone "loses it" at some point in their lives, and most will "lose it" fairly often. The experience of being overcome with unmet needs--this is a common human experience. I watch newborn babies get overwhelmed and lose it. Young children do the same. Adults are no different. As adults, we might know how to "put off" our emotional release until we are home alone, but we all "lose it." It is not weird. It is not something that only happens to bad people. It is not even a rare occurrence. I do not think parents do their children a service by failing to introduce them to and teach them about this aspect of reality.
"Losing it" will never be socialized away. So what is a good way to lose it?
I would rather Anders yell, so that I can know there is a problem, listen, and help, than secretly stuff his face with a pint of ice cream.
As a parent, what if losing it in front of your kids is... wonderful? They are going to lose their shit. They probably do often. How you respond to them when they lose it, is exactly how you should teach them to respond to you when you lose it.
How you lose it is the model for how they will lose it when they get older. If you "lose it" into a bottle of wine or a video game ... that is actually more disconnecting than yelling. At least the yeller wants to talk to you.
In my personal experience, the NVC (listening to the yeller) response is actually far more effective than shaming them. It is the proper response to children who are flipping out ... and adults. No contradiction.
I have read that anger is a mask for tears. People yelling actually need to cry. But they don't want to appear weak or admit their powerlessness or they "don't cry" so they yell instead. Maybe if crying were more socially acceptable, there would be less yelling?
I remember in Marshall Rosenberg's book Non Violent Communication, he yelled at his kids about his needs, "I am feeling overwhelmed! I see mess and I want to see clean! I am so tired I can barely deal!" or something along those lines. I remember thinking, "If one is going to yell, that is how to do it properly."
So... I am leaning on the side of being yelling-accepting. But more research is required.
And to be clear: I don't think parents should start yelling at their kids all the time; I just don't think it's abuse. I don't think it's a tragedy. I don't think it damages children for life. I think the parent who yelled should tell her child she was feeling overwhelmed and could really use a hug.
But, many people wrote to me after I published this piece, there are yellers who seem to be yelling for power and control of the other person rather than from emotional upset. There are people who seem to be yelling to harm others! What about them?
That's exactly what NVC teaches – boundaries. We can listen to and empathize with a yeller without being controlled by him/her. When someone is yelling, it is never about you. It is always about them, etc. Yelling has no power over you, if you don't give it power over you.
I think that most of the time, the person who sees the yeller as wanting to control them is misreading the situation. If Anders wants me to buy him a toy, and I say, "No," he may be upset and yell. If I listen, empathize, mirror, and hug him, he usually is totally fine with not having the toy. It may have appeared as if he was yelling to manipulate me into buying him the toy, but what he was really needing was empathy.
I have seen this work with myself as well. I can be very upset about something that my husband did or didn't do, and after he listens to me and empathizes with me, he doesn't need to DO anything else. The empathy, the listening, that was what I needed. It's quite incredible to experience and quite beautiful. I absolutely love what NVC has taught us!
When you condemn something, when you hate it with all of your being, when people who do X are categorically super-bad, it's because you have used force against yourself to not engage in this behavior that you have desperately wanted to engage in. This was one of my epiphanies. I had already read about this in various psyc books, but I didn't truly understand it until one day I was shopping in Beverly Hills and became obsessed with how terribly everyone else was dressed. I sat down on a bench and people watched and berated everyone who passed in my head. "Schleppers!" I thought. "You should all be ashamed! You disgust me, look at yourselves!" Then I became fascinated with my own hatred of everyone, and it hit me: I forced myself to "look presentable" at all times, even when I was tired, even when I didn't feel like. I loathed spending an hour getting ready, resented it, but felt I had to look nice. I thought good people look presentable. I had even started to hate going to parties because it required an hour in front of the mirror! In that moment (about 5 years ago) I gave myself permission to be a total schlepper if I didn't feel like dressing up. I became a classic Californian, wearing my yoga pants and flip flops--in Beverly Hills even! After about two years of basically looking terrible all the time, I started to enjoy dressing up again. But now it's different. Now I dress up sometimes, when I want to, and it's fun. I actually love a chance to get dressed up and go to an event! The rest of the time I don't dress up. And that's okay.
My point is: The people condemning yelling ... really really really want to yell. And they can't. Because that would make them bad. And that kills them. If they can't, you should't be allowed to either! And if you do, you are bad!
As much as I think yelling is not a tragedy and should not be treated as such, as much as I think losing it with people is better than losing it into ice cream, it should also be noted that the idealization of the never-yeller is also based in reality, but we have confused the cause with the effect!
In our brains we categorize, look for patterns and trends. Then we generalize. Successful people and good self-care and communication skills are correlated. People with good self-care and communication skills tend to not resort to yelling very often. Perhaps they appear to us as wealthier or perhaps just happier. Either way, our brains are always seeking to learn from those who have what we want e.g. I want to be more like that person! He seems so happy and successful! I want to follow the example of those successful people! (This is probably the same reason why I was interested in dressing "presentably." I had noted the difference between how my lower class people presented themselves and how the upper classes presented themselves and decided to adopt the behavior of the class I wanted to join.)
Not-yelling (often) is the result of having good self-care and communication skills, not the cause.
Which means if you find yourself yelling often, most likely there are some things you want to look into. Either better self-care is required so more you have more of your needs met or better communication or emotional skills are required. People successful at getting their needs met won't "lose it" often.
I think people who have learned the beautiful and valuable art of communicating in peaceful and empathetic ways to get their needs met are admirable. They are heroes. But heroes are the exception, not the rule. And it is important not to mix the cause with the effect.
There are many horrible communicators out there who do not yell. There are people who say all the right things with derision and scorn in their voices. People who remain calm at all times – except for that facial tick. People who stonewall and think they are superior for it.
Many people who don't yell are not yelling because they have fantastic communication skills. They are not yelling because to yell would make them "bad." They don't yell and write the person who upset them off. They don't yell and play video games for five hours straight until they forget about what happened.
It's important, when communicating our ideals to the people around us, that we communicate causes not effect. We must admire the hard work and fortitude of those who earn great wealth – not the wealth itself as it could have been gotten in less-than-ideal ways. We must admire people with great communication skills, not people who "don't yell" as if that is the single thing required for being a good communicator.
Great communication skills + the self-esteem to assert ones needs + good boundaries and self-awareness + a strong connection with loved ones = people who rarely find the need to yell for all the right reasons.
These heroic and admirable people are easy to recognize because they don't have a problem with people who yell – they have empathy for them. Other people's emotions don't "control" them, so they don't fear them. They are comfortable with themselves, so they don't need other people to be like them.
Naturally anyone ranting about people who yell being abusive ... is not a good communicator, not empathetic, not in touch with his own emotions, and is not yelling for all the wrong reasons.