Think about the last time you got yelled at...
How did it feel?
Not so great, right?
I hate being yelled at! It makes me feel belittled, hurt, angry and all i want to do is yell and be mean right back.
Yes, that is my impulse: To yell back. At least most of the time. Other times i want to run away or I just stand there like a deer in headlights.
Truth be told, sometimes i do yell back .... (Yes even us therapists are not perfect! We are humans and just as flawed as anyone else).
So what actually happens at a physiological level when we yell? And why is it not helpful?
When experiencing a strong emotion such as anger, our mind and body feel as though there is a danger and it turns on our alarm system in an attempt to protect us from the identified danger: yelling/other person. Our automatic nervous system (ANS) kicks us into our fight-flight-freeze (FFF) mode and we go into autodrive, acting from a place of survival and impulse.
When one’s FFF mode is activated, the prefrontal cortex and other essential parts of the brain that control, impulse control, logical thinking, the ability to regulate emotions... basically go off line. The amygdala and other more primitive regions of our back brain activate and we become driven by our emotions.
Another way to think about this is based on 3 different states of mind from Dialectical behavioral therapy (Linehan). Logical mind (prefrontal cortex), Emotional mind (amygdala) and the ideal combination of both, known as the Wise mind.
Thus, when activated in FFF mode, any type of reasonable, logical conversation is virtually impossible, as one’s logical mind is temporarily impaired and the emotional brain has taken over. So until one’s logical mind is back online any effort to resolve a problem, shift a behavior .... is virtually impossible, as the only goal is survival
That’s why when you yell at your kid, your spouse, your co-worker, your parents.... they tend to yell back, leave or freeze. Often not stopping whatever it is that you are trying to get them to stop doing or do what you want them to do. They to have become activated into the FFF mode themselves and are in an emotional mind state.
So instead of continuing to yell, thinking that it is going to change what is happening, make the person listen or stop a behavior. It may shift something in the short term, but in the long run nothing shifts or gets resolved.
So how about trying something that will actually make a difference?
The most effective strategy that i have come across is to notice when you are started to feel frustrated. Not waiting until the point of anger andgive yourself and the other person a break: Let the other person know that you are feeling frustrated, angry... and that you need to take a break so you can calm yourself down and not let your emotions rule you. Remember to let the person know that you will talk about this again when both of you have your thinking brains back online. If you start talking about the same topic and you start to feel yourself or the other person become activate. Stop, take a break and repeat.
By giving yourselves a break you are:
helping yourself not engage in emotion driven behaviors that often lead to impulsive behaviors that one can regret later.
modeling healthy communication skills.
Showing respect to both yourself and the other person.
Using your physiology to your advantage.