If I had a dollar for every time a frightened woman said, “It’s when he gets a certain look in his eye that I become really frightened,” well, then, I’d be rich.

The unconscious mind picks up body language even when we are not consciously aware that it may be threatening.

That is why some people make us uneasy: On the surface, they say the right things, but somehow, they manage to convey a vastly different message. Surely then, how very uncomfortable we feel when someone overtly and obviously uses scary body language.

Scary Faces

So how many ways can someone make a face that is frightening:

  • angry eyes
  • grim mouth
  • baring teeth
  • taut muscles or tendons at the neck or forehead
  • flaring nostrils

And that’s just the face. How about the voice? There are harsh tones, there’s yelling, and one little girl (correctly) pointed out that there is a difference between yelling and screaming. Which do you think is worse? Why? See what I mean?–You do know the intricacies of body language.

And then there is the rest of the body: Tense muscles, rapid heartbeat, sweat. A lady once told me that even when her husband is joking she knows that he is angry if his neck gets red! Which proves my earlier point that a “joke” is frequently not a joke.

High-Conflict Men

Here’s a fascinating piece of information: Neil Jacobson, a brilliant researcher for decades, put all kinds of monitors on men who were in his lab having conversations with their wives. These couples had volunteered for the research because the men were verbally abusive. What he found was that most of the men would indeed show all the body signs of being upset when arguing with their wives: high blood pressure, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, but there was a percentage that would improve during conflicts. His conclusion: Beware of these men! Conflict made their vital signs get better; they might be dangerous.

What Is A Toxic Environment?

Here’s another bit of information: People’s flight or fight response kicks in even when they hear someone yelling at someone else. [Do you know what the fight or flight response is? It is an automatic body reaction to danger and is built into most members of the animal kingdom, including us.] That is what is meant by a toxic environment. And that is why it is child abuse for children to hear their parents yelling at each other. So either way it’s abusive–to your mate or your kids. Or your employee, your boss, your friends, your extended family, your in-laws.

Why Do People Yell?

If you think about it, yelling has got to be one of the most self-defeating behaviors ever tried. Check out this scene: He yells. Now she’s mad, so she yells. Well, he is really mad, so now he really yells. Where, oh where is this going? No where. Of course.

It can’t. Because they are really not communicating, as Murray Straus so wisely said in his extensive research on conflict. They’re not getting to the heart of the issue. Whatever that issue was. In fact, the more they yell, the more they move away from the issue. They add hurt to anger to mistrust to walls to bad feelings. Where does it end? Often in divorce court or death. Neither one is necessary.

Yelling is a primitive means of getting attention. Babies cry. They’re born to cry. When a baby cries, a caring parent feeds, diapers, burps, washes, holds, or sings to that baby. The cry was a good thing because nature (God) created babies to have a relationship with a caregiver such that the caring goes in one direction, from adult to child. The adult, if emotionally healthy, nevertheless feels fulfilled from the act of giving.

As children get older, parents are expected to socialize them. Also known as civilizing them. Parents educate the older child that yelling and screaming is not necessary because now that they have learned to speak, they can just as easily say what they want.

Yelling Stops Communication

That would be the end of the story except for the millions of parents who never learned that simple lesson and therefore can’t teach it. The yelling doesn’t make any sense–and certainly not when one adult is doing it to another.

  • First of all, yelling requires the listener guess at the real meaning.
  • Second, the yelling intimidates the listener so that even if the words are clear enough that no guessing is required and even if the listener/victim does exactly what is requested, it is not given from the heart. How could it be? So in getting what he/she wants, the yeller paradoxically is preventing what he/she really wants/needs, which is love.
  • Third, it invokes anger in retaliation, so the victim has been pushed even further away emotionally by her/his own response.

Yelling Is For Lazy People

An interesting side-effect too, is that the one who yells is also estranged from himself (or herself). Let me explain. Babies don’t need verbal skills; they just do their thing and loving parents have to guess what’s wrong. Sometimes the baby is hungry; sometimes there might be a diaper rash; often a burp is needed; but occasionally, that baby is starting to get sick, maybe even running a fever. The anxious parents must go through a litany of possibilities before discovering the real answer. Luckily, as we develop, we should be able to simply express our needs in plain English (or whatever language).

Instead, people who rely on yelling become out of touch with themselves. Since the yelling has replaced reason and communication, they have gotten intellectually lazy and don’t really know what is going on inside their own heart or head. Now, of course, that frustrates them more because they still want whatever it was although they really aren’t too clear on whatever it was. So, by force of habit, they take it out on their nearest and dearest who, after all should know what they wanted–just like mom and dad should have known what they wanted when they were little. But their significant other is not a mindreader and doesn’t necessarily know, and at this point, it’s moot anyway, since that significant other is pretty hurt, angry and frustrated and no longer cares.

How To Stop Yelling

If we agree that yelling will put a separation between you and those you love and prevent you from getting the very needs met that the yelling was about, then, clearly, it’s time to stop. Here’s how:

1. Practice deep breathing and progressive relaxation when things are fine, so that you can take a few deep breaths when things start to get sticky. Slow, deep breaths will slow down your autonomic nervous system and help calm you down.

2. Practice also, visualizing fun/pleasant/self-nurturing scenes to go with the breathing. Do you like to fish? Swin? Hike in the mountains? Ski? Where-ever, or whatever, practice enjoying “being” in that scene and go to it as you do the deep breathing.

3. Nurture yourself in other ways. The more you get your own needs met yourself the happier you will be. Do you skip meals? Do you work in an abusive environment? Do you get a good night’s sleep? Take care of yourself.

4. Build good-will. Treat the victim you yell at well–switch around your bad habit of being in a negative mood. Force yourself to be kind. Mean it.

5. When the moment of truth comes and you just feel the anger build and can’t seem to stop it, choose one of these: (a) leave quickly and take a long walk, drive, or work-out; (b) bite your tongue. Literally. Then go back to suggestons 1, 2, 3, and 4.

6. When you are not mad, have a normal conversation about what upsets you. Like I said above, people who yell are so frequently out of touch with themselves that they don’t even know how to have a conversation. Practice. And be civil.

7. Get to know yourself. Write a list of your likes, dislikes, values, opinions, preferences, and why. When you know who you are, it will be much easier to communicate that to others.

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