My boyfriend and I got into an argument recently about my quickness to yell when I get angry. The irony about yelling about my yelling habit is not lost on me. I explained at the time, while yelling, that my quickness to yell was rooted in my father’s ability to do so at any moment, about anything.
To be clear, my dad’s voice runs at a noise level higher than most people’s. If he’s happy, he’s yelling. If he’s excited, he’s yelling. And if he’s angry, you bet he was yelling. Maybe I’m just used to it by now, but it never really occurred to me that yelling was inappropriate because everyone did it. My aunt yelled at my grandmother who, at 80, yelled at all her children and grandchildren. Yelling was the soundtrack to my young life.
So, as an adult, I yell. I desperately wish I was the kind of person who could calm myself down, or not get invested in an argument, or maybe just *chill out.* But I can’t. Years of therapy have proven that I cannot relax when I get angry. The conclusion my boyfriend and I came to was that yelling had for so long been an integral part of the way my family handled our collective frustrations. We would bicker, yell, one of us — usually me — would cry, and then we would all get ice cream together an hour later. We had perfected the art of the rapid fire argument. It’s kind of like when it rains for thirty minutes, but those thirty minutes are absolute hell complete with lightning and thunder. But then, it stops. Maybe there’s even a rainbow. You would never have known there was a storm in the first place if you hadn’t been right in the middle of it.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Child Development found that nearly half of parents used harsh verbal disciplinary techniques on their children in the past year. The same study found that yelling produces the same levels of anxiety and fear in children as physical punishment would. However, yelling at your children has nothing to do with a parent’s ability to show warmth or care — parents who are warm and caring toward their children still yell. The study notes, though, that depressive symptoms in adolescents increased after a screaming match, regardless of if the parent was warm to their children. And while I have struggled with depression and anxiety in my life, the roots of those problems have little to do with my family’s yelling habit. I was badly bullied — sometimes physically — my entire life. I transferred schools because of it. The anxieties I deal with are mostly interpersonal: the way I am as a friend, the way I am as a girlfriend, and if I am “good enough” at being any and all of those things.
In the case of my own relationship to my family, I never felt unloved or uncared for even when I was being yelled at. And when I yell at my boyfriend during a fight, it definitely does not mean that I don’t love him. Quite the opposite actually: I’ve realized that i only yell at the people I care about the most. In my other friendships, I’m relatively calm during arguments. This is also not to say that yelling is how I show love — that would be abusive, wouldn’t it? Googling this kind of thing doesn’t help. It seems like every article blames the yeller or calls the relationship abusive or manipulative. But don’t all couples yell at each other at least sometimes.
So where does this leave me? Confused, mostly. My family are my biggest fans. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the aforementioned bullying without the friendship that my family gave me. My dad, who perhaps yells the most out of all of us, was always the first one to do anything with me, as long as he could take of work. He, to this day, brags about my accomplishments to his friends and clients. He actively supports me in following my dreams both financially and emotionally…and also yells. He’s not a bad parent, he’s just a loud one.
And I am not a bad girflriend, despite what Yahoo and Quora wants to tell me. While imperfect in my fighting, I actively support and love my boyfriend. We wouldn’t be dating if I didn’t. But maybe it’s just time for me to understand my own shortcomings, because isn’t that the point?