In this article, we are going to discuss anxiety from being yelled at. Can you become anxious due to yelling? What are the effects of constant yelling on your mental health?
“Wounds heal, but not ill words.”
When people think about the anxiety from being yelled at, they often think about verbal abuse, parent-child relationships and interactions, attachment and parenting styles, childhood trauma, panic attacks, depression, negative developmental effects on children’s brain, personality and future relationships (socialization).
But what most people forget is that the anxiety from being yelled at can be experienced in any setting, be it home, schools or at the professional front. Having said this, there is a plethora of research on this issue from the perspective of children and their childhood experiences, and for a good reason.
The reason why yelling may give anxiety
The reason may lie in a psychological and biological mechanism, namely, conditioning and neuronal plasticity, respectively. In simple terms, any experience that we have results in a biological response wherein, our brain sends signals to various body parts to respond through the release of hormones or chemicals.
This means that each time we are yelled at, our brain sends signals to certain regions of the brain (like the amygdala), and signals for the release of certain stress hormones, which activates our body for a fight or flight response. Due to these mechanisms certain physical or bodily changes may be experienced by us in the form of increased heart rate, heavy breathing, sweating, dry throat etc.
In this manner our brain starts associating (conditioning) certain physical sensations whenever we feel fearful or anxious from being yelled at. Hence, even when we move out of that context which originally brought about a particular physical sensation, we continue to feel the same sensations due to similarities in the triggering stimuli.
In this manner our brain produces new neuronal pathways and rewires itself (neuronal plasticity) to produce certain reactions everytime. For instance, if you were yelled at for every little mistake as a child by your parents, this lived experience gets transcended to other areas of your life as you grow old. So now, even as an adult, if any authority figure expresses his displeasure with a stern and raised voice, you feel the same amount of anxiety, you felt as a child.
Are parents really at fault for yelling at their child?
Yelling can happen sometimes. So the problem is not in the act itself but how it is executed i.e. the tone, volume, body language, the context in which it happens (situation that lead up to it and whether it was outside or inside the house), the frequency of its occurrence, the content(s),and your response to the aftermath.
Hence, an important lesson to understand here is that occasional occurrences of yelling can expose children to an aspect of life that is very human. Not all people can act like saints all the time. Hence it widens their understanding of human nature and that there are all sorts of people they can encounter in this world.
A lack of negative experiences or over pampering can also make children over sensitive. On the other hand, too much of it can be detrimental to their development and health.
Hence, we need to understand that there is a fine line between losing your cool at times and being over critical/ over-abusive, almost to the point of being negligent to a child’s basic need of psychological and emotional nurturance in the form of love and care.
Understanding the bright side of conflicts and interpersonal differences
Conflicts can be wonderful opportunities for understanding ourselves, others and our interpersonal relationships. They can be stepping stones to developing all these three spears. How so?
Disagreements make you aware of your preferences- your values and principles in life, things that are important to you, causes that you believe in, people that you would want to be around, the kind of behaviours that you expect of your children, spouse, friends etc.
Things that you dislike in others let you know how you should not behave with other people.
Eldridge Cleaver once said, “too much agreement kills a chat.” Disagreements/ arguments and conflicts give you different perspectives of looking at things. Instead of looking at them as obstacles in your relationships, they should be respected for the purpose they serve in your daily interactions.
It also teaches you to be tolerant in many ways.
Each time you stay calm in dealing with people, be it your children, your partner, parents or someone at work, you are teaching yourself to respect people for who they are. You are teaching yourself and your children, alternative and better ways of dealing with differences which are bound to happen time and again.
In the context of parent-child interactions, these can be utilized as opportunities for establishing or working out new rules as well (When can the screen time be extended? Chores that are expected of them, etc.)
You see, anxiety can both be an antecedent to and a consequence of yelling. It is an established fact that anxiety can be manifested in the form of anger. Hence, we need to understand the relationship between anxiety and acts of yelling as both a cyclical and a linear relationship to be able to deal with it.
So why has this issue been given so much importance?
Since the advent of the study of child psychology, a common agreement has been that childhood experiences (positive or negative) play a huge role in how a person leads his/her life. This is the first reason.
The second reason is plain and simple. Yelling is the most common response that people choose when they give in to their frustrations and emotions. It is an easy pattern to fall into and can easily become a habit! From the perspective of parent-child interactions, this becomes a key issue.
So what really happens when you yell at children?
For anyone, the first response to someone else’s anger is fear and anxiety. In the case of children too, many studies have proven that verbal abuse in the form of yelling and shouting can be detrimental to a child’s brain development, over stimulating brain areas like amygdala and stress releasing hormones, resulting in the body to be in a constant state of fight or flight response.
In such a state the body’s usual response is to direct the body’s resources towards the limbs, heart and lungs etc, and reduce their supply towards cognitive functions or digestion etc. This means that in such a state a person will not be able to think rationally and logically.
Imagine the vast consequences that this single aspect can have on a child’s life if the fight or flight state prevails for most days, for a major part of his early childhood.
Such a child won’t be able to concentrate well, learn well, socialize well and the list is almost endless.
Parent-child relations are known to form the basis for the relationship that one develops with oneself and others. In such a case where healthy attachment hasn’t developed, a child will develop poor sense of self, low confidence levels, will have self-doubting tendencies, depression, weak resilience, difficulties in making friends, unhealthy attachment styles with future partners etc.
There is a possibility such a child will also grow up to be submissive, or indulge in people pleasing behaviours, or get into toxic relationships and friendships because of the ways they have been treated all along by their parents
A drastically opposite reaction could also be that they develop anti-social behaviours or faulty personality traits, making them indulge in bullying behaviours, violence or even delinquency.
But here’s the catch! The role of culture..
In some cultures the power dynamics between authority figures and their subordinates is very different. This is a classic difference between west vs. east, or collectivistic vs. individualistic cultures. Hence, in some eastern and collectivistic societies, families don’t have an egalitarian approach and there exists a hierarchical mindset between parent-child interactions.
Due to this parents in such cultures often rely on “raising their voices” or various forms of “punishments” to deal with their children’s disobedient behaviours and tantrums. This helps to explain why not all individuals grow up with anxieties and all the other negative consequences mentioned above.
This leads to the next question.
Does this mean there are protective factors against developing anxiety (and all the other probable issues) from being yelled at?
Different people respond differently to the different stressors (in this case verbal abuse in the form of yelling) in their life.
These could be related to personality, their temperament, resilience, sense of self, the kind of relationship they share with their parents in general, the culture and society that they belong to, moral and cultural teachings in early school life, presence of other positive relationships like those with their grandparents, siblings, friends etc, social activities like playing sports which give some form of emotional ventilation etc.
How a parent deals with his child after the situation has passed is also really important.
When a parent talks to his child, while depersonalizing the problem behaviour, letting him know that his anger is a result of his disappointment with his behaviour and not the person that he is, he makes the child realize the faults in his actions. That he is still loved by his parent, despite his behaviour that led to the ugly situation.
There are times when parents end up saying harsh words when they let their emotions take over their rationality. In such situations also, parents who discuss the real issue and apologize to the children (giving them the respect they deserve), help in reducing the damaging effects of the verbal abuse.
With regard to this we need to address three questions.
First. What can you do as a parent to stop yourself from falling into the habit loop of yelling?
Practice Mindfulness: become mindful of your tone, facial expression, choice of words, triggers/ situational cues, parenting and communication style when dealing with your anger.
Overcome your own traumatic childhood experiences, if any. Heal yourself first. Practice self-soothing behaviours and indulge in self-care of any form.
Consider meditation and yoga.
Develop patience with your limitations and those of others. Accept yourself and others fully. Leave no room for judgment.
Help your child in understanding basic emotions and how he/she can identity and manage them.
At the end of the day remember that children learn the most through observation and imitation as scientifically proven by the famous psychologist, Bandura, as well. So practice what you preach.
The key solution is in developing emotional intelligence.
Second. What can you do if you have been a victim of verbal abuse in the form of yelling?
Your negative past experiences can be hard to overcome, so give yourself time.
Work on replacing the negative self-talk with a positive one. Work on getting rid of the faulty beliefs that you may have internalized.
Keep a thought dairy, an efficient Cognitive Behavioural Technique for monitoring and mapping your thoughts and emotions to different situations of daily life.
Start keeping a gratitude journal and start practicing affirmations. Both the techniques are known to target on your thoughts and emotions, ultimately influencing your behaviours in a positive manner.
Develop a tolerance towards distress by meditation and yoga.
You may also consider seeking professional help along with all these practices.
Third. How can the government and media help in tackling with this situation?
In the present times of Covid-19 when activists are speaking against the increased cases of violence against women due to the obligations of staying at home or the lockdowns in various regions of the world, we must also remember other sections of the society like children, who are still dependent on their parents and elders.
The increased stress in the lives of parents (working or non-working) due to various factors cannot be negated. It is especially important now, more than ever before, that the government takes steps to ensure children’s safety as they are often at the brunt of this stress.
Law and order can only do so much.
Awareness campaigns need to be carried out for psycho-educating the society as a whole on the relationship between anxiety and verbal abuse and their effects on children. Just like how government carries out campaigns for malnutrition, or diseases etc.
In conclusion, in this article we discussed the relationship between anxiety and verbal abuse in the context of parent-child relationship, its significance, its consequences on the child’s life as a whole, protective factors against the same and some solutions and steps that can be undertaken by parents, victims and the governments of the world for tackling this issue.
FAQs: Anxiety from being yelled at
Can being yelled at cause anxiety?
Yes, it may if the yelling is intense and frequent and the way it is carried out. Sometimes despite these conditions it may not cause anxiety depending on the personality traits, temperament of the child, presence of good social support in other areas of life, or if the parents has healthy discussion after each such incident.
Can yelling at a child cause trauma?
Yes, in extreme conditions it may cause trauma.
Why do I get triggered by yelling?
Any emotional trigger is usually a result of an association (conditioning) developed. So you need to identify what situations/cues while you are being yelled at, trigger your emotional responses to it.
Is yelling ever okay?
Yelling is a normal human response like any other response. The problem is not in the act itself but how it is executed i.e. the tone, volume, body language, the context in which it happens (situation that lead up to it and whether it was outside or inside the house), the frequency of its occurrence, the content(s),and your response to the aftermath.
In fact, a new kind of therapy called “Scream Therapy” has emerged. But it does not involve screaming at someone. But rather involves letting out your emotional frustrations. For more details it is advisable to consult a professional.
How does yelling affect the brain?
Yes, it can hamper its functioning and/or development temporarily or in the long run because of the activation of fight or flight response.
Is shouting at your child harmful?
Yes, it can be, depending on how you do it, how frequently you do it, the words you use at that point and how you handle the situation after the situation has calmed down.