I feel terrible. I'm wiping away tears as I write this. Today I yelled at my husband and my children. Right in the middle of it the doorbell rang and I answered the door. I was civil and polite to a complete stranger and then went right back to snarling at my family. I don't get angry that often, but still ... they don't deserve it.
I don't yell when I'm at work. I get just as frustrated but I don't vent my anger all over my co-workers. No, I save that for when I'm home. Why do we do this to the people we're supposed to love the most?
Signed, Feeling Guilty
After an episode like that, some people say, "I couldn't help it. I was angry and so I exploded." In the vast majority of cases, this is clearly not true. You can indeed control your behavior to a large extent when you are angry. You find a way to not yell at your boss, your neighbor, or the stranger you pass on the street. So your question is a good one. This is, after all, a choice we make. We choose to act poorly toward our family and with more respect and civility toward others. So why do we feel free to unload on our closest family members?
Unfortunately I don't think the answer is going to make you feel any better. We do this because the consequences are not as severe. In other words, we dump on our kids and our spouse because they will take it, because we can get away with it.
That's not a very pretty picture, is it?
Oh sure, your spouse might yell back and say things like, "You're NOT going to treat me like that!" Your children might give you all sorts of pushback, especially if they are teenagers. So what do I mean when I say they will take it? I mean they will still be here tomorrow. More than that, the bond is so close between you that they will almost certainly forgive you. This is especially true if the outbursts are infrequent, if everyone apologizes and if the mood in the home goes back to normal within a relatively short time. The fight will soon be "forgotten."
Compare that with the consequences of yelling at complete strangers, casual acquaintances and co-workers. The bonds you have with these people range from tenuous to non-existent. Yell at a stranger and you'll be labeled a loony. Explode all over a casual friend and they will probably choose to avoid you, to terminate your friendship. Abusive behavior at the workplace puts you at risk of being officially disciplined or even fired. The consequences tend to more clear-cut, immediate and permanent in these circumstances.
I argue, though, that the consequences at home are also long-lasting, just more subtle. Are the arguments truly forgotten or is it possible they may have residual effects? Your spouse is, after all, human and may carry some level of hurt down deep inside, in places you would rather were filled with trust and closeness.
You also want to build the same positive feelings with your children. Have a look at a family where the teenagers are difficult to deal with and unresponsive to the parents' wishes. Do you honestly believe that situation developed overnight when the kids reached a certain age? I contend parents contribute to those relationships from the time their children are born. Respect must be earned. If you want a better chance of having the respect of your teens, treat them with dignity for all the years leading up to that time. Listen to the concerns of your children and give them at least the same level of civility you dish out to your more casual acquaintances.
Now the occasional sharp word might have its uses, to consciously get the attention of a child when a more moderate tone may be ignored. This is not the topic of today's post, however. I am talking about the times when the anger takes over.
There are those among us with mental health issues who may require medication or other types of interventions to help control their emotional behavior. For the vast majority of us, however, angry outbursts are entirely within our control. This is something we choose to do. Yelling can provide a quick "hit" of emotional satisfaction. It feels good to let the snarling anger loose. Is that short-term reward really worth the consequences, though?
Often, I think, the answer is no. We can make better choices.
All the best,
Today is the last day to submit a response to this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite tomorrow with a link to the winner's blog.
I have also volunteered to be interviewed online, but this won't happen until readers like you submit a sufficient number of questions. You can find the details here.