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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Home Stressed Home

Shouting among frazzled family members has multiple consequences

By Christina Quick
March 14, 2010

Virtually everyone who lives with a family has been there. A preschooler dawdles when it’s time to get going. A sibling argument erupts over the television remote control. A teenager rolls her eyes in defiance. A spouse makes a thoughtless comment.

A certain number of irritations go with the territory. But when stress levels are already maxed out, even little things can trigger a grown-up meltdown.

“As frustration increases, you can almost hear and feel the tension level building until it comes out in the form of shouting,” says Glen Ryswyk, an Assemblies of God chaplain and Chaplaincy field representative for mental health/pastoral counseling. “The cause of yelling is really frustration on the inside over not feeling capable enough to handle a situation.”

In an age of conflict management training and team-building seminars, there is less tolerance for angry outbursts in the workplace. Yet Ryswyk says America’s homes seem to be growing increasingly hostile.

“In our culture, where we’re pushed toward perfectionism, we often use this terribly harsh inner voice with ourselves,” Ryswyk says. “Eventually, that’s going to spill out on our loved ones when they frustrate us or fail to meet our expectations.”

On a popular Internet site that asks users to list goals for self-improvement, dozens of people confess a desire to stop yelling at family members.

“I’m a good, interactive father,” one post begins. “I wish I was more patient with my kids though. I find myself just yelling and being angry when they don’t listen. But after five years of this, the only thing it does is stress out me, my wife and the kids.”

A mom writes: “I keep telling myself I am not going to scream at my son, age 5, anymore. But I keep doing it. I feel so out of control when it comes to this.”

“I think my bad habit of yelling at my husband is transferring over to my son,” another woman says on the site. “He yells back at us now, and some days it feels like we spend the entire day just yelling at each other.”

According to a University of New Hampshire study, the vast majority of parents resort to such tactics. Nearly 90 percent of respondents with children between the ages of 2 and 17 admitted yelling at their offspring in the previous year. Half the parents with children under a year old acknowledged screaming at their babies.

Certainly, no parent is immune to an occasional overreaction. However, Christina Powell, an AG minister and Harvard-trained medical research scientist, says a hostile home environment can be damaging.

“High levels of stress hormones negatively impact brain development and can lower resistance to diseases by weakening the immune system,” Powell says. “Medically speaking, when yelling starts, learning stops. Stress hormones interfere with the biochemistry of learning. On an emotional level, a stressful home environment can make a child feel insecure and fearful.”

Children who grow accustomed to shouting also may have trouble responding to normal tones, Powell says.

“A child may learn to tune out parental instructions, paying attention only when a parent starts yelling,” Powell says. “As a result, a child may do poorly in school, since he has not learned to respond to instructions spoken calmly.”

Ryswyk, who is also clinical director of the Christian Family Counseling Center in Lawton, Okla., says that dulling of the senses can carry over to other areas as well.

“Those receptors in the brain that allow us to respond to life can get turned down, and the only thing they become perceptive to is that loud, bold message,” Ryswyk says. “Other things have to be big, bold and loud, too. Those are the kids that aren’t satisfied with an ice cream cone. They want the entire box.”

Hostile family relationships can also distort a child’s concept of God, Powell says.

“If a child sees God only as a harsh authority figure instead of a loving Heavenly Father, the concept of His grace — central to an understanding of the gospel message — may be hard to grasp,” Powell says.

In today’s world of digital conversations, healthy face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art, according to Brenda Spina, an AG minister and family therapist at the Center for Family Healing in Menasha, Wis.

“Real communication means you have to take time to stop and look your loved ones in the face and watch their facial expressions, listen to their words — guess what they might be feeling by the look in their eyes,” Spina says. “In the busyness of life, we sometimes snap at each other because we don’t really know how to connect.”

Ryswyk says people can’t fully connect with their families without first establishing a connection with God.

“We’re flawed by nature, and we cannot make ourselves righteous,” Ryswyk says. “We’re much healthier when we realize we’re dependent on God for His righteousness. Out of that surrender comes the flow of grace, and that begins to affect our parenting and our family relationships.”

Experts suggest the following steps for creating a more peaceful atmosphere at home:

• Seek God’s help.
“The Bible teaches we can do all things through Christ,” Ryswyk says. “God wants to give us wholeness and peace on the inside. And He is able to give us wholeness and peace in our families.”

• Step away and gain perspective.
Spina says a sudden spike in stress can hinder a person’s ability to think straight. Rational thinking shuts down, and yelling may ensue. She advises taking a few deep breaths or temporarily stepping out of the room to help restore a sense of self-control.

“I try to stop and think before reacting so I can put the current frustration in perspective,” says Powell, mother of two girls, ages 7 and 3. “In the great scheme of life, a little paint spilled on the new rug is not such a big deal. I can teach my daughters how to manage their emotions by modeling how to calmly solve problems and communicate respectfully.”

• Choose words carefully.
Gary R. Allen, national director of pastor care for the Assemblies of God, says he often reminded his two sons as they grew up to “rephrase it.” That cued them to replace angry words with kinder, more constructive comments.

Allen says the advice applies equally to parents.

“There were a few times that we as parents had to stop, apologize and rephrase it,” he says.

• Reduce stress.
Routinely resorting to shouting and harsh words is a sign of stress and exhaustion. Experts suggest finding ways to reduce the stress load and live a healthier lifestyle: Scale back activities and commitments, get more sleep and exercise, eat balanced meals, and set aside time for daily devotions.

“Taking care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally is key,” Spina says. “We need to be healthy if we’re going to be available to others on an emotional level.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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