My father was a yeller. His big, deep roar would come from out of nowhere when I least expected it, and one glance into his bulging, enraged eyes would send a jolt of panic down my spine. It was impossible to predict when he might yell; it would just happen when he’d had enough… enough of whatever: we kids bickering over a toy, or laughing too loudly, or accidentally knocking something over. The final straw would elicit “the yell” and “the look”, and we’d slink away in fear for our lives.
I had never yelled at my son, aged five, until recently when he started yelling at me. The first time he did it, I was immediately triggered. I don’t remember what I’d said, but he responded with a loud, angry, “ALL RIGHT, FINE!!!”
I became instantly enraged and shouted back at him with my father’s crazy eyes and bellowing voice “Don’t you EVER yell at me!!!”
I could see how terrified he felt in the fearful look on his face. His mother had just turned into a monster. (And she felt like one, too.) He started crying and hung his head in shame, and his little body melted over into a hunch.
My stomach balled up into a terrible knot. What is wrong with me? I wondered. I got down on my knees and held him. I told him I was so sorry for yelling at him, and that I’d try really hard not to do it again.
But it did happen again… and again. Each time he raised his voice to me, I found myself in a state of total animal panic. It was as if he was attacking me and I needed to protect myself. I would snap, and I would yell. The worst part was that, each time I yelled was louder, longer, and angrier.
In those moments, I found myself feeling angry with him for making me yell. “WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME?!”, I’d say to him. “YOU’RE MAKING ME YELL!!!” I’m trying to be a good parent! I thought. How can I be if you keep making me yell at you? I was failing at being the parent I wanted to be, and it was all his fault!
Of course, in moments when I wasn’t feeling so triggered, I clearly knew this was my problem alone to solve. My son is five years old. He doesn’t know yet how to control his big feelings. I knew I was supposed to help teach him by setting an example. Yes, I was failing to provide this example, but the problem wasn’t him yelling at me, and the solution wasn’t for me to scare him into not yelling at me. I knew I needed to do something different, and to do it fast.
That’s when I decided to share what was going on with my Listening Partner.
It took a few different listening times to work through it all. In one turn with my Listening Partner, I focused on yelling at people who weren’t there: yelling at my son, yelling at my dad, yelling at the world. Another time, I talked with my Listening Partner about how scared I was of my father. I pretended to tell my father how much I hated him yelling at me with his big, scary eyes and his death-gripping voice. I shook with fear, I cried in shame, and I pushed in anger. In another session, I felt sadness for betraying my son’s trust. I pretended to tell my son how sorry I was for making him feel afraid and guilty and unworthy of my love. I cried for making him feel the way my dad had made me feel. I cried for myself for failing to be the peaceful, loving, gentle and kind parent I had committed to be.
There was a major shift after my third time working on this issue with my Listening Partner. After that, the next time my son yelled at me, I still felt triggered, but I caught myself and paused instead of instinctively yelling back at him. When my response finally came out, it was much less angry and even a tiny bit playful. “Hey! Who’re you yelling at?” He stood there, eyes on me, looking a bit confused.
And then I got an idea. I ran over, picked him up, and said it again: “Who’re you yelling at, huh?” It came out even more playful this time. I spun us around, and he started laughing. I said, “I’m gonna shake that yell right out of you!” and then I leaned him over, head first, and started shaking him like a salt shaker. We both laughed as I shook him. I nuzzled him on the cheek and neck, and said, “You better not yell at me, my little cutie-pie!” Nuzzle, nuzzle. Spin. Shake. Laugh, laugh, laugh. It was a beautiful moment that we shared together.
Did it work to stop my angry yelling? I’ll say! He yells at me way more often now, and we laugh about it every time. Most of the time when he yells at me these days, it’s on purpose – when he wants to get close – with a cute little smile below his forced wrinkled brow. And sometimes he still yells because he’s angry, and we end up laughing anyway.
My trigger to yell turned into a trigger to connect. Does it get any better than that? That’s what I call a happy ending!
— Crista Bock
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Listening Partnerships are a fundamental tool allowing parents to unleash burdens, resolve stress and discover triggers that brings lightness to their parenting. Read more about the healing power of Listening Partnerships in Five Minutes of Listening Turned my Day Around.