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Asa Don Brown Ph.D.
Asa Don Brown Ph.D.

Please Yell at Me

The effects of yelling and verbal abuse.

Asa Don Brown
Source: Asa Don Brown

How would you define yelling? Have you ever been at the receiving end of someone yelling? Do you consider yourself to be someone that frequently yells? Have you ever used yelling to rebuke, correct, or reprimand another? Have you ever found yourself uncontrollably yelling? If so, you are in good company, because a large percentage of our society continues to utilize yelling. Yet what good comes from yelling and losing personal self-control?

A recent study in the Journal of Child Development found that children who are raised in an environment that yelling is the normal way of life, have a higher probability of developing psychological issues and conditions. Moreover, when parents and caregivers purposefully use yelling as a source of correction and discipline; the children have an increased risk of developing a number of psychological issues: including behavioral problems, anxiety, stress and depression.

Researchers and clinicians disagree on the benefits and the harm of yelling. Naturally, they almost all agree that yelling to protect someone from real and certain harm, threat or even a perceived danger is acceptable. While there are a variety of reasons that one may find themselves yelling; this article is looking specifically at yelling as a source of chastising, rebuking or correcting another.

Researchers are now discovering that yelling can prove as vile as any other form of abuse. Further, researchers have found that yelling seldom eliminates or alleviates an issue; nor does it cause the yeller’s triggers to subside.


"Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." —Mark Twain

For many, yelling, shouting, screaming, belittling, and personal name calling are justifiable. In fact, it is very common for a yeller to be a screamer, belittler, and a name caller. As a society, we justify such behaviors by excusing them as care, protection and motivation, but the reality is, there is seldom an environment with which yelling is justifiable. What would be considered a justifiable reason for yelling? As a society, we have created a justifiable list of reasons with which yelling is permissible and acceptable. The list often includes:

  • parental correction and discipline
  • a coaches, teachers, or instructors desire to inspire his or her students
  • an employer’s rebuking and correction
  • to gain the attention of another
  • to assert oneself over another
  • to incite or stir up emotions
  • to encourage or stimulate a particular outcome

As a species, we are emotionally driven, impulsive, confrontational, and fundamentally influenced by opposition. While as a species we are driven by opposition; yelling and verbal confrontations rarely positively inspire or motivate another. When attempting to motivate through negative reinforcement, the stimulus evokes and provokes strong emotions. Such emotions are negative and resistant in nature rather than positively influenced. If we motivate through a positive, encouraging and persuasive approach, we are more apt to create a positively influenced environment

Asa Don Brown
Source: Asa Don Brown

Yelling has an ability of conditioning those who are receiving or engaging in the act. It is the nature of yelling that makes it reflective of other forms of corporal punishment. The intent of corporal punishment is to deliberately and severely correct, chastise, rebuke or reprimand another. The complexity of yelling is its dichotomy of objectives. Yelling can be used as a source of rebuke and chastisement; it can be used as a source of expressing excitement, eagerness, and exuberance; and/or it can be used to draw attention to a threat, risk, and/or communicate an emergency.

Yelling is seldom a singular event. People who choose to yell, frequently and repetitively use yelling as a form of conditioning others to meet a specific set of expectations or desires. The conditioning is being used in order to develop obedience or compliance of another. Yelling in the corrective form is always unnecessary, excessive, and tiresome. As a clinician, I have no reservations in saying, that yelling decays the human spirit. It breaks the essence of the person receiving the vice, and it is unbecoming of the person enacting or engaging in the tantrum. Yes, in most cases, yelling is a tantrum being propelled from one person and being received by another. Yelling is one of the most reprehensible acts of abuse.

Have you ever heard the following nursery rhyme? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While sticks and stones may break your bones, they are repairable and mendable. As a clinician, I have seldom met someone that chooses to focus only on the physical abuse or injury. Rather, a majority of those that I have served focus on the barrage of emotional, psychological and verbal rhetoric.

Please understand that not all yelling is impermissible, but yelling to belittle, to disparage, to minimize, or to correct, should always be unacceptable. As a clinician, I have no reservation in saying that yelling is one of the most egregious forms of rage. Rage occurs when we are uncontrollable, unmanageable, and an acting aggressively. We choose to use rage, when we have no other known alternatives.

Styles of Yelling

There are several different styles, forms and motivating factors that trigger us to yell. Yelling frequently occurs when an individual is excited, delighted, surprised, or in pain. Yelling may be inspired by a personal victory or loss. It may transpire when we are lacking in confidence, self-control, or certainty.

We yell through a loud or abrasive screech, cry, warning, threat or as an expressive desire. The desire may be stimulated through good intentions or it be maybe full of malice, bitterness or rage. Yelling is not always a bad or harmful act; but determining the good from bad is somewhat an objective feat.

  • YELLING AS A WARNING: May be offered as an advance notice of the possibility or probability of something occurring. We may choose to use our voice as an indicator of an impending danger, problem, or an impeding threat. An example of such yelling might be, “Amanda, watch out for that falling tree!”
  • YELLING AS A SCREAM OR PLEA FOR HELP: If we are screaming or yelling for help; we may be using our voice to serve as an aide to avoid an accident or a critical incident; or we maybe requiring assistance to avoid a dire event or situation. An example of such yelling might be: “Help, I have fallen and I can’t get up!”
  • YELLING AS AN ACT OF INTIMIDATION, THREAT, OR VIOLENCE: We have all personally or vicariously experienced yelling in an egregious way. Yelling a curse or threat at someone can prove emotionally damaging and is a form of abuse. “If you do that again, I won’t be your friend.”
  • YELLING AS A PUNISHMENT OR CORRECTION: Yelling for discipline often occurs when parents are at his or her wits end. Parents often choose yelling as a resource for discipline, because it is what they know and have personally experienced. Furthermore, yelling often become a necessity for parents or couples when they feel overwhelmed, exacerbated, and when they have perceivably lost control.

Yelling rarely shows little concerns for the feelings and the personal welfare of others. It is harsh and abrasive and sometimes calibrated to cause harm. When yelling is not used for constructive purposes (i.e.warning someone of an impeding threat or requesting urgent assistance), it is an emotional and psychological form of abuse.

The Benefits of Not Yelling

Avoiding the use of yelling, is not an indication that we are weak, permissive, laissez-faire, or lacking in personal strength. Rather, by avoiding yelling, we are capable of being in personal self-control and competent during challenging times. Research has clearly and definitively shown us, that yelling is associated with issues of lower self-esteem in children. If we avoid yelling, then we are purposefully choosing an alternate and healthier form of communication. Essentially, we are showing a higher degree of respect, dignity and honor unto those with whom we interact. When we have personal self-control, we are empowered to manage, direct, and lead others in a healthy way.

Distinguishing between yelling and a raised voice can prove challenging as well. Yelling is characteristically devised of harsh, abrasive and punitive form of communication. A raised voice is a firm, but supportive voice with the intent to direct or lead. It is important to know that we can be firm, supportive, and decisive without engaging in the act of yelling. Yelling is demeaning, hostile, and threatening with the intent of chastising. Yelling is condescending and demeaning, whereas a firm voice can be reassuring, but directive in style.

When someone is acting out, try the following forms of verbal and nonverbal communications:

  • PRACTICE ACTIVE LISTENING. Be certain to engage and be thoughtfully committed to the conversation.
  • BE EMPATHETIC. Try relating to the other person; be aware of his or her verbal and nonverbal feelings, emotions, and desires.
  • SPEAK CALMLY AND SOFTLY. Speak with confidence and self-assurance. As you communicate, speak with a quiet, soothing, and nurturing voice.
  • BE AWARE OF YOUR DEMEANOR. Be attentive to your personal verbal and nonverbal messages being communicated.
  • BE SUPPORTIVE. Avoid judgmental or critical statements. Be certain to provide encouraging statements and emotional support when needed.
  • BE EXPLICIT. Be direct and clear with your desires. Leave little room for confusion or doubt.
  • BE AWARE OF YOUR PERSONAL LIMITATIONS. Avoid engaging in environments that you do not feel confident or lack the skills with which to interact. Do not hesitate removing yourself from environments that you feel unqualified to engage in.
  • BE VULNERABLE. Allow others to see your humanity. Always accept ownership of your mistakes, errors, or misjudgments. Accepting personal responsibility allows for personal growth and maturation.
  • ALWAYS REASSURE. Always provide the reassurance of another’s self-worth and personal value; even when they are acting out. Focus on trying to remove any doubts, fears, or insecurities the other person maybe experiencing.
  • EMPOWER. When we empower others, we are giving them the authority or power to make wise choices, offer feedback, and be capable of communicating without hesitation or reservation.
  • BE MINDFUL. When engaging with others, be mindful and aware of your personal demeanor. Consider using breathing techniques, prayer, or meditation.

We should not beat ourselves up for making mistakes, but should find new ways of managing our anger, frustrations and personal challenges. The American Psychological Association states that “Making the changes that you want takes time and commitment, but you can do it. Just remember that no one is perfect. You will have occasional lapses. Be kind to yourself; minor missteps on the road to your goals are normal and okay. Resolve to recover and get back on track.” As individuals, we should intentionally set obtainable goals. Setting goals will help us to focus on the positive, productive, and on employing new methods of communicating with others.

As individuals, we should always be seeking forms of communication that are uplifting, inspiring, encouraging, and supportive. Even when you are correcting an individual acting egregiously, be certain to offer supportive and reassuring statements. Be certain to create a healthy level of expectation.

For instance, children should be expected to pick up their toys, complete an assignment, or have daily chores. It encourages a source of pride and ownership. Encouraging your child begins by the words with which we choose to communicate: “You are welcome to join your friends outside, once you have completed your homework.”

Be attentive and responsible for your words. When we purposefully focus our attention on the good of another individual, we are reengaging our minds on the positive aspects of that person. Always be certain to offer the gift of unconditional acceptance, approval, and reassurance. It will enrich the lives of those with whom you interact as well as your own.

About the Author
Asa Don Brown Ph.D.

Asa Don Brown is an author, speaker and clinical psychologist.

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