"I Yell at My Children, and They Will Turn out Fine!"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

This article is a response to an old, yet very pertinent comment regarding childhood trauma and its effects.

About three years ago, I wrote an article called Child Abuse and Its Results in Today's Society. Some time after, a person named Lisa left this public comment:

I didn't publish it at the time for relatively obvious reasons, and then completely forgot about it. But yesterday I was looking at all the unapproved comments, saw it, and thought it could be useful to comment on it. This is a rhetorical response only; I'm not actually addressing Lisa personally. I've met and observed many people who say and do similar things, and who have a similar personality and communication methods. I'm simply using this comment as a background context—an example, or a vehicle, if you will—to talk about a bigger, highly common issue that is childhood trauma. Now, disclaimer aside, let's get to it.

Not that I do not agree with any of this, but as a parent (and someone abused badly as a child--in most all ways), I can say some of it is ridiculous. It's confusing right from the beginning: so they agree with everything, yet think some of it is ridiculous. Okay...? I am sorry. Why are they sorry, exactly? For shattering my false perception of reality when I wasn't prepared for it? This didn't happen in any way. For disagreeing? That's not an offence. And they just said that they agree with everything anyway. Again, confusing (more on that later).

Parents sometimes yell at their children. Fact. Does it imply it's in any way justifiable to do so, though? If so, then that statement would be false. Also, does 'parents' mean 'I'? Because not all parents yell at their children, but Lisa definitely does. They get punished and disciplined as the situation dictates [...] The situation can't dictate anything because it's an inanimate, abstract thing; and children don't get punished by themselves—somebody punishes them. Sometimes people attribute human-like characteristics to inanimate objects or concepts and use passive voice to avoid self-responsibility. What is actually happening is that some parents sometimes abuse their children because they think the child deserves it. Because they themselves were punished, and they think they deserved it. Because they were told they deserve it.

[...] and ALWAYS mine know why. Letting somebody know why you are hurting them doesn't justify your actions in any way or make the hurt less damaging. It actually makes the experience MORE confusing and psychologically crippling for the child. Because if you know you don't deserve unjust treatment then it still hurts but at least it doesn't mess up your psyche as much, since at least you KNOW that you are being treated unfairly versus internalizing the thought that you are a bad human being who deserves punishment when in fact you are not and you don't.

Also, it's not the child's fault. If your child "misbehaves," then it's fundamentally your failure, as a caregiver. Teaching them that it's their fault, that they are bad and deserve punishment, and hurting them when they are completely dependent on you is what builds them into a broken adult.

The world is not going to be always empathetic to ones problems. There is not going to be people around to SOOTH them all their lives...sorry, but that is true. Another artificial and unnecessary apology.... It is definitely true that the world, as it is today, is quite an atrocious mess, at least as far as the social aspect of it goes. It's also true that a child won't always have somebody to sooth them, especially when they grow up. HOWEVER, it doesn't follow at all that because the world in some aspects is a horrible place it is okay/justifiable/moral/effective—pick the least triggering word—to abuse and traumatize your child. The world is horrible, so I, the caregiver, the person on whom depends your survival and who suppose to be your guide, teacher, helper, and protector, might as well just abuse you because you need to get used to misery, horror, confusion, fear, and chronic anxiety. Well, thanks a lot, mom/dad! How about instead of THIS you work on yourself more, become a better role model and a more effective caregiver, and raise an at least relatively healthy and independent offspring who can survive and function in this world without having lost their authenticity or having a myriad of deep, everlasting problems?

No, if my kid has a slight scrape I won't over indulge them (they are 10, 12, and 15) as they must learn to do it for themselves too. A lot of people confuse a lack of abuse with a lack of boundaries, or think that the opposite of abuse is doing everything, healthy and unhealthy, the child ever wants. It's not so black and white; it depends on the situation and a child's age.

Also, are you teaching them? Are you guiding, helping, and providing them with necessary tools when they need it? Are you getting out of the way and trusting them when they don't need your assistance and interference?  Or are you just expecting for them to learn how to do things by themselves (preferably in their first try and without any theoretical preparation)? Do you think—and let them know—they are somehow bad if they "fail"? Do you punish them for such "failure"? The second type of child rearing is definitely more popular than the first, but by no means it's more efficient or superior in any way.

I am not abusive but, as most parents will admit, I am not perfect. Factually, if you yell at your child you are abusive. It's not the same as severely and routinely beating a child with a stick or raping them, but it's still abusive. It's abusive because it has negative effects on the child's development. The fact that a person doesn't have a clear understanding what constitutes abuse or rationalize their abusive behavior doesn't change reality in any way. Yelling is abusive because it threatens a child-parent bond, on which, again, depends a child's survival. So when this bond is threatened in any way, a child feels that their survival is in danger. Fear instils insecurity, and also teaches to deal with a conflict in a domination or submission type of way instead of a healthier way. A child can't defend themselves, nor can they escape. All of this (and more) makes it traumatizing, hence abusive.

Yelling is only one form of abuse, a more recognizable one, too. Being an unresolved, confused, untrustworthy, unprincipled, unrespectable caregiver is abusive in itself, in many different, often very subtle ways.

Also, saying that you are not perfect is a painfully common justification for bad behavior. Nobody is perfect at anything. Perfection, by definition, is an unattainable standard. Making mistakes is normal and unavoidable, and there's always at least some room for improvement. However, does it mean that we should have NO standards at all and accept NO responsibility for our actions? I would say it's not true. Also, often a caregiver who uses the I'm Not Perfect excuse doesn't apply the same standard to their child's behavior. This is not fair nor respectable (more on that later).

But, the world is not an empathetic place...by and large...they should not have to learn that the hard way. So why are you teaching them that lesson in the hardest and most destructive way possible? By doing what you are doing you are harming them in ways they will never be harmed as adults. A human being will never be as helpless, dependent, and resourceless as they are as a child.

I do not beat, neglect, nor have scared my kids the way I have been. Seeing as I was abused, I do make en effort to do the best I can to not repeat. First, it's admirable that Lisa in some ways was able to become a better parent than her own parents. It's also quite brave to accept that your parents traumatized you—we all have some traumas, but only a few are emotionally strong enough to recognize that. That said, it doesn't negate all the other ways in which Lisa was unable to improve (at least not yet). It's definitely plausible that a caregiver doesn't beat their child or doesn't leave them on the street to die, or successfully provide food and shelter. But these are very basic human needs, and failures to meet them are very clear forms of abuse.

Talking about less evident forms of abuse, sometimes a caregiver doesn't BEAT their child; they just "spank them"—but only when "they deserve it." Sometimes a caregiver doesn't NEGLECT their child; they just force them to do a task without teaching them how to do it and then punish them for being "bad" and "stupid," or just withdraw attention and loving behavior if a child doesn't comply or "misbehaves" in any way. Sometimes a parent doesn't ABANDON their child or THREATEN ABANDONMENT; they just leave to work for a long time, or drop them in daycare, or say that they will leave the child on the street and go home if the child doesn't do what they want them to do.

That's my point: It's important to understand what constitutes child abuse, and heal from it. Otherwise you will justify and normalize harmful behavior, and will inflict it on your own children.

I agree everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect [...] Well, de facto she doesn't believe that.

[...] people piss people off ...and one should be able to correct a wrong and be heard [...] Yes, sometimes some people piss other people off. Although sometimes it's more complex than just "this person was mean to me." I've observed a lot of people who act out on others and treat them unjustly. But I also have seen many—if not more—interactions where it's not so simple, and a person gets too pissed off, or because the situation reminds them of something from their past. It's very popular to say, "That's offensive!" Or, "You hurt me!" Meaning, "When you said or did this, I felt an unpleasant emotion, and it's your fault!" But this does not necessarily mean that Person A actually did anything to hurt Person B.

In a caregiver-child relationship, again, it's not the child's fault if the child "misbehaves." It's the caregiver's responsibility to teach the child how to be a healthy and authentic human being (often it constitutes simply getting out of the way and letting them be who they are), and to help them in dealing with physical and mental struggles that come with it.

[...] if yelling is needed to be heard...so be it! Yelling is a desperate attempt to dominate another person when you feel threatened, or to act out your emotions in a primitive way because you feel overwhelmed. It's interesting how Lisa ends her comment with an exclamation mark, too.

Yelling in an interaction with an adult doesn't improve your communication or your relationship in any way. Yelling at your children scares them when they are small, and makes them lose respect for you when they are older. It also teaches them to yell and over-impose yourself onto others when there's a clash of opinions, interests, or preferences—or to be afraid of and submit to somebody who's yelling. Yelling is not "treating others with dignity and respect.Moreover, is it allowed for your children to yell? After all, "yelling is needed to be heard." Do you listen to them when they yell?

In my experience, often the communication improves when a person stops yelling and starts listening to what the other person is saying (explicitly and implicitly). Also, when a caregiver doesn't listen to their child, doesn't interact with them with empathy and curiosity, then they, guess what, don't learn—or they unlearn—how to listen and how to be empathetic and curious.


So even when Lisa thinks she did overcome her childhood trauma (and to some degree she probably did become a better parent than her parents), fundamentally she is replicating the same behavior that was modelled for her when she was a child.

Lisa, you yell because you want to dominate, because you yourself were dominated and controlled, and you are replicating the same dynamic with your children, and they probably will do the same. You yell because you don't know how to express yourself in a sound, reasonable, and understandable manner. You yell because you want for others to agree with you and do what you want them to do. You don't know how to explain things. You don't make much sense. Your thinking is unclear. You are confused. Your comment is incoherent, scattered, contradictory, and unreasoned (double negatives, convoluted sentence structure, unnecessary, fake apologies, numerous contradictions, over-emotionality, lack of clarity, lack of argument, avoidance of self-responsibility, justifications, etc.). And when a person doesn't make much sense, can't reason, and can't convey an argument, they can't understand things and explain the world to their children—or to other people in general. So out of frustration, confusion, and insecurity they yell, babble, and try to dominate.

The question is WHY doesn't you child listen to you? What does 'listening' mean here? Does it mean 'doing what you want them to do'? Does it simply mean 'comprehending what others are saying'? Are you making sense? Do you actually have arguments and explanations for things, or do you simply expect for your child to obey? If so, why is that the expectation? Why should or shouldn't they do what you want them to do? Can you explain your reasons to them in a sound manner? Do you even know those reasons, and do they actually make sense? Can you explain things to yourself? What does this behavior teach your child? Why doesn't your child respect you? Could it be that in some regards you lack respectable qualities or disrespect your child and others? Do you listen to your child? Do you show empathy and curiosity? Do you respect them? What does 'respect' mean? Do you model the behavior you want for them to internalize? How do you know that the behavior you are modelling for them or expecting from them is 'good'? Where and how did you learn all of this? How did you feel as a child when people yelled at you, disrespected you, or told you what to do?

These are just some of the questions that caregivers could ask themselves. Answering them in an honest manner could help you gain more clarity and possibly improve your relationship with yourself, your child, and others.

An alternative to abuse, domination, chronic anxiety, and confusion is sound thinking, psychoemotional maturity, mental clarity, respectable behavior, and healthy relationships. Break the cycle.


P.S. It's always interesting to comment on such issues, because there's always a person (or fifty) who reads it and maybe agrees with some things but feels mentally threatened by other things, and since I'm the one saying it, they get upset at me. As if I, Darius, am essentially important to the validity of my arguments and observations, or as if interacting with me will change the reality I'm describing in any way. It's either true or false.

Negative reactions to my content is nothing new—it's the Internet, so you can't win; I've dealt with it many a time. But if you read some of my articles or watched some of my videos and felt upset, perhaps instead of sending me an angry email saying I am a moron who knows nothing about anything or giving some other incoherent response you could ask yourself how you feel and why—and then honestly answer it. More likely than not it either has nothing to do with me, or people misunderstand something, or read something in an aggressive tone, or it's simply that the things I point out are true and it's mentally uncomfortable. As a result, a person feels an urge to silence me or deal with me (as if it changes reality) instead of dealing with the real issue. Think about theses things some more, build arguments, observe, study, reflect, analyze, conceptualize. That way even if you disagree with somebody about something at least you would know why or have a decent argument.

Either way, you are always welcome to leave your feedback in the comment section below or by other means of your preference.

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  1. I agree with your reasoning but am uncomfortable with your tone. I think that a more appropriate tack would have been for you to either tone down your response to this childhood abuse survivor or left her name out of it.

  2. Unknown,

    First, the comment was public, not a private message to me, and she decided to use her full name and Google+ profile when she didn't have to (exactly like you just did). Also, I gave an explicit disclaimer at the beginning of the post: "This is a rhetorical response only; I'm not actually addressing Lisa personally. I've met and observed many people who say and do similar things, and who have a similar personality and communication methods. I'm simply using this comment as a background context—an example, or a vehicle, if you will—to talk about a bigger, highly common issue that is childhood trauma."

    Second, regarding tone, if the most uncomfortable thing about this is my tone than your priorities may not be well thought out. I addressed that quite a few time before (even at the end of this article), so I refer you to "You're Judgmental and Bad" – A Response to Common Criticism and Silencing the Voice of Reason (Part 2): Values, Principles, and Lack Thereof and Common Reactions to The Topic of Childhood Trauma


  3. Great article. Like Kafka said to his father : "If you think that beating me will prepare me for the harshness of life, then you better kill me, it will be the best way to prepare myself for death." (or nearly)

  4. Sophie, thanks for your feedback.

    I remember learning about Kafka in university. He didn't have a good childhood at all—which also explains his writings. Great quote, though!