Tantrums and anger can be intimidating. We need to take a stand against them
eople recoil from anger. Glaring eyes accompanied by loud, angry voices frighten us, causing us to feel viscerally threatened. We’ll do a lot to avoid encounters with upset human beings.
“My 18-year-old daughter Yael has always been very rude to me. Recently, however, she crossed a line. When I refused to buy her an expensive pair of gloves, she insulted me mercilessly.
I reached out to a mental health professional for advice and she told me I need to set clear boundaries with my daughter. But I’m afraid to do that. I know how Yael responds to correction and I’m scared of her.”
Why is Mom scared of her own child? Is she afraid the teen will become violent and hurt her? Or does she imagine that Yael will destroy property or harm herself? That Yael will say more awful things? And if it’s this latter issue, why should that be of such concern that she won’t do what she needs to do as a parent? So what if Yael mouths off for a few more minutes? Isn’t that a price worth paying in order to put an end to the cycle of abuse?
Yael has successfully set a boundary for her parents. They don’t dare to attempt to educate her, censure her, or establish appropriate boundaries with her. She has intimidated them into silence.
“I fudge the truth a lot. If I tell my wife the truth about forgetting to pay the bill, for instance, she goes bonkers. Once in a while she’ll catch onto my lie, and then she really goes bonkers, but I figure it’s worth it because I get one major blowup instead of ten regular blowups.”
Like Yael’s mom, this man feels intimidated. His wife’s loud noise — her harsh words, her hysteria — shuts him down. He likes to avoid that scene and does what he feels he needs to do in order to accomplish that.
However, his strategy is bad for his marriage in many ways. Besides the fallout from dishonesty, his failure to address his wife’s verbal abuse and unacceptable reactivity leaves the marriage in a far weaker state than it needs to be in. He needs to face and deal with marital problems, not just hide from them.
When violence is a possible outcome, families need professional intervention. In these cases, the issue of anger management is not a do-it-yourself affair.
However, in the vast majority of families, loud noise suffices as a technique of intimidation. It may or may not be accompanied by harsh words, ugly facial expressions and the like, but it’s basically a very unpleasant racket uttered by small, medium, and large children and spouses. It’s awful to be around, but it’s not dangerous. And, without intervention, it tends to be persistent. Family members who tiptoe around screamers only ensure that the screaming will become a permanent feature of the relationship.
The way to put an end to this sort of intimidation is to stand up to it.
“I have a very strong-willed seven-year-old. When I say ‘no’ to him, he can yell and scream for an hour. Naturally I’ve been trying to say ‘yes’ as often as possible.
Lately I realized that I’m not doing him a favor by avoiding his tantrums. I’m just ignoring something that I should be attending to for his own good! He needs to learn how to accept limits and how to express feelings in a more appropriate way.”
“I’ve begun to say no more often and, after briefly acknowledging his disappointment, I just carry on with whatever I’m doing and refrain from interacting with his noise. I also gave him a few lessons on how to act when he gets a ‘no.’ It’s been a couple of weeks, but he’s already having much shorter and fewer meltdowns!”
When noise is the main form of intimidation, it’s important to recognize it for what it is. The disturbance is annoying, yes, but the only way to ensure that it doesn’t become a permanent feature of family life is to intentionally tolerate it during a boundary-setting process. With or without professional help, parents and spouses must stand up to it, insist on more appropriate forms of communication, refuse to be cowered or influenced by the disturbance, and do whatever else is necessary to address the problem successfully.
Noisemakers need help in finding healthier ways to communicate. Loved ones need to stop avoiding the issue.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 680)