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The Symphony of Some Relationships: Yelling, Screaming, and Anger


I am a communication person.  I wasn’t always that way, but I’ve always been a talker.  These days, I’m good with a sit-down conversation in a relationship to see where each one is at.  To talk about things of substance, and even talk about feelings, rather than just “stuff”.  That’s communication.  Screaming, on the other hand, is not a language of communication, beyond “Hi, I’m pissed off,” but damned if it isn’t a language I’m well versed in translating.

If you haven’t already, be sure to head over and read part 1 of this series of posts (this is part 4), in particular the Introduction section that puts this into a bit of a larger context, and gives a couple of disclaimers (like, for instance, assuming that I’m talking about a specific person or persons in these posts.)  Even if you don’t read the rest of that post, read the Introduction.  This isn’t just about a single person in my life, and it’s not about men or women.  While it happened to a guy, and it’s being told by a guy, you can change “he” and “she” to any gender you like, and it still fits.

The Target Matters

I don’t like yelling.  I don’t like yelling at someone, and I don’t like being yelled at.  I don’t actually know anyone that likes being yelled at – including people who yell at me.  Which says a little something about yelling and screaming in the first place:  if people don’t like being yelled at, but people like yelling, there’s obviously a little bit of control involved.

There are different reasons people yell.  There’s the obvious one of “DUCK!” – the emergency yell.  That’s basically a universally accepted form of yelling – everyone can get behind that one.

It can also represent sadness.  “Whaling and rending of clothes” is a Biblical term, too.

But, often it represents anger and frustration.  Let’s look at two different way anger and frustration could play out:  “Honey, what’s wrong?”  (Yelling at partner in response:) “That son of a bitch at work really need to get his fucking shit together!”

“Honey, what’s wrong?”  (Yelling at partner in response:) “You, you son of a bitch!  You’re what’s wrong!”

I’m pretty sure that anyone who reads this can see there’s quite a bit of difference between the two situations.  One is venting loudly about a problem.  The other is attacking someone.  It’s not just the volume that does it, of course – it’s the target, and what’s being said.

This is one of those moments where I get to serve up myself as a bad example.  I don’t yell at people (unless really, really provoked, by yelling at me – more on that in a moment), but I have been known to lose my cool at stuff.  In a later section I’ll dig into this further, as it took me a while to understand it, but the short version is:  I have a temper.  It’s incredibly controlled.  I learned to control it, and worked very hard to learn better techniques.  It wasn’t uncommon at one time to hear me yelling at something in my office when dealing with a problem.  I broke keyboards (Apple keyboards are weird – they’re thin enough you can actually stick them in the wall, like a throwing star), mice, etc.  I haven’t done anything like that in quite a while – I’m still using the last Apple keyboard I purchased.  I would still be using the previous keyboard, but it developed a weird glitch on it’s own, and died (which is a pity – it was a nice mechanical keyboard.)  There’s more to it than “I just calmed the hell down,” though – and, as I said, I’ll get into that in a later post.

I learned early on that temper can scare people.  A girl was with me in my office back when I worked for someone else.  I was looking through my email, and something really pissed me off.  I slammed my hand on my desk, and said “damnit!” loudly.  I scared her almost to the point of tears.  Unknown at the time, there had been some abuse in her history, and behavior like that made her cringe, a lot.  (Side note: a very large number of the women in my life have had some form of abuse, physical, emotional, or sexual.  I have zero problem believing the statistics on abuse, based on what I’ve learned over the years.)  While my actions weren’t pointed at her, it didn’t mean it had no effect on her.  That’s around the time I started deciding that maybe I needed to calm down a bit.

And, it took me years to do that, by the way.  Now, about the worst that happens is you might hear me exclaim “damn it” at a moderate level.  Even that has gotten really rate.  The process of getting there took me years.  It upsets me if I lose my temper.  It’s just a thing.  And, if I do lose my temper, I work on it even further.  I honestly can’t say the last time I lost my temper.

Yelling and Screaming at a Partner

Yelling at the TV isn’t abusive.  It’s annoying, but it’s not abusive.

Yelling at someone else is borderline abusive, depending on who you talk to.  I think there’s probably some context that need to be in there, and that it’s a little more case by case.  Me, personally, I err on the side of “don’t yell at someone.”  Just a good rule to have.

Yelling at someone, and calling them names?  Well, that’s abusive.  And, well, welcome to what part of my life was like at one time.  I had a relationship with someone who was an extremely angry person.  She had issues – and she wasn’t doing anything about them.  Nor was she interested in doing anything about them.

This ended up being a bit of a nightmare over time.  It really wasn’t too long after the relationship started that she yelled at me over something.  I was taken off guard by that, but she apologized about it later.  No biggie.  As the relationship continued, it got worse.  There were times I was being yelled at nearly daily.  Screamed at.  Sometimes she’d do it until she was hoarse.

This, by the way, was after I had realized I need to calm down, and learn to control myself better.  For a while, I did just that.  I wouldn’t yell back.  Slowly, though, she continued to attack me over and over verbally, yelling and screaming.  She didn’t just want to yell at me.  She wanted me to yell back.  Eventually, I started doing that.  I found myself returning her verbal attacks.  Sure, I wouldn’t call her names, but I was still engaging in the behavior with her, raising my voice. Even then I played by a set of “fair play” rules – screaming the way she did wasn’t an option.  But, I can say this:  I’m ashamed of the times I raised my voice in return.  I let someone goad me into doing something I shouldn’t have.

There was even once I really let go.  I matched her volume.  When it happened, I scared her so badly she backed into a corner and cried.  I had quit playing by my rules – and the rules of the game she had set up – and changed the dynamic.  I never did that again.  See, while she’d goad me into raising my voice, I never wanted to hurt her.  Never, ever.  And, maybe the tears were just a tool.  I really can’t say.  But, that’s not something I’ll ever put someone through again – screaming isn’t an option for me.

Often, she’d apologize afterwards, and I’d forgive her.  Hell, long after the relationship was over, I still maintained a state of forgiveness about it.  I mean, it’s not like she said those things intentionally, right?  Or that she yelled at me intentionally, right?  She had anger issues, after all…

And, it’s probably easy to say “it’s just words”.  You remember what we learned in school:  stick and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.  That’s bullshit.  It can.  Repeat it enough times, preferably at a loud volume, and it’s going to eventually hurt someone.  And, it will be lasting if you do it long enough – I can tell you that personally.

One of my big beefs with yelling:  it breaks communication.  See, I want to hear what’s wrong.  I want to know if I did something my partner objects to.  I want to discuss it.  I want to be able to have a sit down chat.  I realize that, in my mind, I live in an ideal world where no one yells or screams at their partner.  We sit down, and we communicate about it instead.  Preferably it’s a clear communication (it’s possible to have a calm, sit down chat with nearly zero clarity), but even if it’s not, it’s still preferable to channeling anger at your partner.  I sincerely want to know what’s wrong, even if the answer is just “I’m angry, and I don’t know why.”

In theory, it’s possible to be angry, then yell and scream at someone, and it not fit part of the definition of emotional abuse that’s listed in some places: is there an attempt to harm, belittle, or do similar things to the target?  If not, well, it actually doesn’t fit the model of abuse that some places list.  But, let’s face it:  it’s hard to yell and scream about something without some name calling, belittling, blame, or similar things involved.

And, a good chunk of it comes down to the people involved:  I’ve met people who yell at each other quite often.  They belittle each other.  And yet, they seem to be OK with how this works.  That’s a bit of a mystery to me, but not all relationships are the same.  The important point is that they are both OK with it.  There’s an equality to the situation.

Additionally, yelling and screaming are often a symptom, not the biggest issues themselves.  Someone took exception to my infidelity post, as part of abuse – that’s only one thing going on in their relationship.  I won’t defend it – and I won’t defend yelling or screaming – but for some people, this is acceptable in their relationship.  But, it does mean there’s some serious communication breakdowns occurring, or someone is dealing with a lot of anger.

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