Why the Urge to Scream is a Window of Opportunity (and how to open it)
“GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! NOW! NOW! NOW!” “MOVE! NOW! IMMEDIATELY!” “WHAT’S WRONG? GET UP!” “WE HAVE TO GO!”
We scream when we’re in danger. We scream when we notice our child could be in danger. We scream suddenly and reflexively. We notice the threat–our body before our mind–and we scream.
We can’t talk when we’re feeling threatened or intensely anxious or reactive.
It’s not possible for our brain to simultaneously activate the amygdala to protect us or a loved one… at the same time that the front of the brain potentially comes up with a solution.
We have practiced yelling. I ask parents why they yelled, to choose a recent incident and explore it.
Here are some of the reflections:
Why did you get upset with your son/daughter this morning? Why did you scream?
I screamed because my son and I talked about him being late for school last night calmly and he agreed that he’d do it differently today. And he didn’t.
I screamed because my daughter hasn’t been noticing other people’s needs or requests.
I screamed because she wasn’t responding to me.
I screamed because I was afraid that this way of not responding was threatening to her now and in the future.
I screamed to alert her.
I screamed because I feel so disappointed and hurt and sad.
I screamed to show her how bewildered I feel that she has made a habit of not responding.
I screamed because I feel helpless to get through to my son.
I screamed because I can’t understand what’s happening to him.
I screamed because he has to move forward, and instead he’s riding the brakes.*
I screamed because I remembered that when I told him he had to be downstairs in 20 minutes for the bus, he said that was “unrealistic.”
I screamed at his denial.
I screamed because I feel like something’s wrong and I can’t see what it is. I screamed because I feel like my daughter is in a trance and can’t see the danger unless I yell. I screamed because I feel like we are in distress and she can’t see that.
I screamed because life is going by and I–we all–need to experience and share more peace and joy.
I screamed because I feel so resentful that I have to scream and I feel like crap…and it still does nothing to change anything.
I screamed because I hate everything that’s happening, like I’m in a bad dream, and I want to wake up.
These are such poignant, powerful and profound reflections.
And then another question:
“What do you think is the real issue?”
She hates school because she feels isolated.
He learns differently and controls the pace so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed, including moving slower than I’m pushing him in the morning.
She feels terribly sad that her dad and I are not together. She’s grieving.
He doesn’t think he’s capable of succeeding and doesn’t want to try harder in case he fails…and I think he’s afraid of disappointing and hurting us. I think that’s how he feels.
She feels like she can’t connect with any friends at school. She feels lonely all day. It’s hard to feel disconnected or invisible all day and then snap out of it I guess.
And then this…
What do you think and feel about yourself when you’re screaming? Just before or afterward?
I feel useless. I feel like I have made a mess of it all. I think I’m stupid. I think I’ve spent my life trying to be heard. And it’s still not working. Maybe if I yell LOUDER… I feel small. I feel like a train wreck coming. I think I’m incompetent as a human being. I feel unworthy of respect. Even though I’m screaming because I feel dissed. I think “this is my life…and I’m not really doing a good job at living it.” I feel like I could die of sadness and shame. I think the world is out to get me. I feel like a child who is completely alone in the world. And I’m really mad…hurt and terrified.
Imagine if we stopped yelling…long enough to hear our hearts breaking. And then, instead of running away in fear, yelling louder in distress and shutting down in avoidance, we looked into our child’s eyes and saw the window of opportunity.
For us to encourage. For us to reassure. For us to listen without judgment. For us to connect…at home. For us to repair the breaks. For us to help us both stop riding the brakes.* For us to remind our kids that we love and believe in them unconditionally. For us to heal our own wounds of self-doubt and loneliness. For us both to feel seen, heard, known and cherished.
We can’t open this window when we feel the irrepressible need to yell. Window is sealed shut, with a layer of bricks in front of it so we forget it’s even there. When we feel the urge to yell, and we breathe through that urge, giving ourselves compassion, focused attention on our own heart, breathing through our hearts (HeartMath calls this “heart coherence”) and we notice the pain, sensations, the thoughts pulsing through our systems, the urge, the vitally important signs in our bodies, instead…we can quell.
We quell the yell. We quell our fears. We quell our anxiety. We turn down the heat…so we can tune into the heart.
Yelling = riding the brakes. It may sound and feel like an accelerator pushed to the floor. But it’s the brain’s way of pulling the lever at the factory in an attempt to make everything and everyone halt.
There’s always a precursor to hitting the brakes. When we can practice noticing those signs, signals and cues, we may be able to prevent ourselves from getting to the point of throwing the switch. Sometimes, it’s inevitable. We can accept that with compassion.
And when we do, the brick wall that our defensive systems have built…dissolves. Both between and within us.