By Barton Goldsmith
Tribune News Service.
If you grew up in a household where everyone raised their voices all the time, hearing people yell now may not have a great effect on you. Yelling is a toxin that loses many people their jobs, relationships and peace of mind. If there is one thing that you can do to improve your life and the lives of those you care for, give up yelling! And, yes, it can be done, no matter how long you’ve had this bad habit.
I grew up in a home where nothing was ever said under 87 decibels, and we all just accepted the yelling as a part of who we were. This habit spread to our extended family, and when anyone was upset with anything, they yelled about it. And it did get to me. At about age 10, I started retreating to my room and playing guitar to avoid the cacophony around me. Unfortunately, by then, I had developed the yelling habit, too, and at home it was hard to control. I had a choice: Leave (which at 10 really isn’t an option) or stay, and see who won the yelling wars.
Once I did leave home for college, at age 17, I made a vow never to treat my loved ones the way I had been treated. The yelling was painful; it hurt my ears and my feelings. It also scared me. Yelling in a threatening way is now considered verbal abuse, and it breaks up families way too often. No one should have to live with it.
I thought this bad habit was under control, but it would still come out at times, and one evening many years ago, I was yelling in the kitchen and it rattled the dual-paned windows. My other half left the room, which was the right thing to do, and I stood there taking in what had just happened. I felt bad, but the only thing I could do was choose to recommit to giving up yelling and make the appropriate apology (for several days).
Aside from yelling for the dog or loudly saying “ouch” when I drop a trashcan on my foot, it is now under control. I don’t want to be that person who tries to control others by being aggressive, and I don’t want to have that toxic energy in my home. I haven’t yelled in anger in over a decade, just because I decided I didn’t want to.
When a bad habit gets ingrained in your childhood, it may take a little or a lot to change it, but it can be done. The first and most important step is to make the choice to give up your yelling. You need to look at yourself and say internally, “I don’t want to behave this way any longer.” Then, the key is to catch yourself before the loud voice starts to rumble. You need to watch yourself. If you find that you are getting upset and your voice is starting to elevate, take a break, or just don’t say anything until you can do it appropriately.
By giving up yelling, you are giving a gift to those around you, and you are giving a gift to yourself, because yelling actually sends uncomfortable feelings throughout your brain and body. Now you can relax and enjoy your days, knowing that you have removed this destructive habit.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.”)