Anxiety and Coping With Yelling
March 31, 2013 9:53 PM   Subscribe

My sister yells a lot and it makes me very tense and anxious.

I live with my sister and she yells at her kids a lot. I've addressed it before, telling her that her yelling affects the children negatively and that I have anxiety problems so I can't deal with it either. She ignored me though. My dad used to yell a lot when I was a kid and he was an abusive person. I'm not sure how to deal with the situation and I can't function when my anxiety level is high (I had to put my head down for several minutes before writing this post). Advice please?
posted by Cybria to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her again, until she listens to you. Move out if you have to.
posted by facetious at 9:54 PM on March 31, 2013

Are you on medication?
posted by jacalata at 10:02 PM on March 31, 2013

Being anxious really sucks. I'm sorry you have to experience this.

Do you have a close friend or two, with whom you can stay when your sister yells? It's inconvenient, but sometimes this helps.

Can you afford to move out? It seems extremes, but not having anxiety on a regular basis (or even the possibility of it) does wonders for everyday health.
posted by mild deer at 10:02 PM on March 31, 2013

I'm not on any medication right now.
posted by Cybria at 10:05 PM on March 31, 2013

I'm moving out in four months...I can't afford to move out sooner. so I am trying to hang in there until then.
posted by Cybria at 10:06 PM on March 31, 2013

When I was living with my family who caused a lot of anxiety, I tried to be out of the house for as long as possible...from when I woke up till bedtime. I had 2-3 jobs (this may not be possible for you), went jogging, drove around, hung out with friends, went to the library, went to the bookstore, went to the park, or sat in my car and listened to music. Keeping busy helped a lot.
posted by mild deer at 10:17 PM on March 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Are you able to be out of the house a lot?

When at home, can you retreat away from them and listen to music with headphones on? If you're in a room together and she starts yelling at them, walk out of the room immediately. Do this every time.

Try meditating as much as possible to help get yourself into a calm space (it gets easier with practice).
posted by heyjude at 10:18 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Moving out, as has been suggested, helps you - but what about her kids??

I grew up in this household. Now have a son, only because after YEARS of self-work, I TOTALLY curbed my tendencies to be loud and abrasive.

Your sister thinks this yelling is OK because this was how she was brought up. My mother thought the same way. My brother is still tangentially in touch with our mom. I've been estranged from her for the last 19 years - so that is my opinion on abusive bhavior that won't change in practice.

That said....

It was really hard for me, personally, to break the pattern of yelling, even after disowning my mother for it (and other crimes, I'll be honest, although this was the one I personally found most difficult to resist emulating...)

Your sister is harming the next generation and oerpetuating a cycle of abuse by going down this road.

I'll give some thought as to how you might get through to her about this issue. My mom, her patents, and my brother to an extent - did/don't give a shit about changing - even if they admit the same behavior hurt them a a child.

Come to think of it....

I used to pray daily during the really bad times that a neighbor or other parent would witness my mom and call family services. This would never been a prayer that came true back in the 70's and 80's because verbal abuse wasn't recognized as abuse so much back then, and also I grew up in an upscale neighborhhod where this type of thing was not politely discussed or officially reported.

I bet your nieces/nephews pray SOMEONE will step in.

These days, yellers get offered parenting classes and other resources before having their children taken away.

Anonymously call family sevices and report your sister after the next major tirade. You will be kept anonymous. Chances are, a neighbor, school teacher, or other parent will have had reason to have reported your sister, so you will not be outed as the reporter of the abuse, in any case.

Different amounts of yelling are either acceptable or abusive.

It's not like we can all dampen every emotion, so if you are reacting to PTSD symptoms (understandable given your history?!) and your sister is not truly abusive, don't report her.

I raise my voice significantly (although never yell, and my husband would disagree that my tone of voice in these moments isn't as cutting as a yell) in the very few moments my child (still a toddler) has put himself in mortal danger. Like, almost falling down some stairs when he got too excited type of thing.

My "panic reactions" will always be multiple notches above someone who hasn't grown up more like my son is growing up now - in a household where voices aren't raised, or especially take on a viscious tone, without rare and true cause.

I really don't know what you should do.

There is a lot of self-work, and A LOT of self-realizations between where you and your sister are right now, and where you want the collective dynamic to be.

Maybe you could comment on my offerings and the other comments above, to give us all a better idea of where the situation is and how to help?

posted by jbenben at 10:56 PM on March 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh man, I really feel for you. I would not be able to deal with that at all. I spent a very long time being woken up most mornings by loud angry yelling. It frayed my nerves even more because it was impacting my sleep.

Nothing I have ever said to a yeller has gotten them to change. Either they just don't care or they find yelling pleasurable in a way or they kind of get off on the fact that their yelling has that kind of an effect on someone.

I suggest earplugs covered by noise canceling headphones. Put them on the minute you enter the house. Go in your room and close and lock your door. This is survival mode.
posted by cairdeas at 10:57 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is your sister a single parent? Can you provide occasional respite by taking the kids off her hands -- out to a park or to another room for a board game or a TV show -- for an hour or an afternoon? It might be a win-win-win for all concerned.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:07 PM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've addressed it before, telling her that her yelling affects the children negatively and that I have anxiety problems so I can't deal with it either. She ignored me though.

If you "addressed it" in a way that she heard as criticism, it's no wonder she ignored it. Why should she listen to advice from someone without kids who clearly doesn't understand what it's like?

You need to "strike while the iron is cold." That is, address it when it's not happening, in a situation when the two of you are feeling close. You need to say it in a way where she feels understood, not criticized. Bond with her over what it was like growing up with a yelling father. Strategize with her how your father could have handled things differently and how she can, being careful to not get into a role where she feels scolded rather than helped.

And, as wordwoman suggests above--be ready to help out so she feels less overwhelmed.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:36 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's two things: yelling as a sound, and then yelling as a medium of communication.

Deal with the sound first, as it affects you directly. Earplugs and/or in-ear headphones playing quiet music you enjoy and/or leaving the house.

As a medium of communication, if she's yelling at you, simply don't engage when she does. "I can't understand you when you yell."

As for yelling at others.... well, good luck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:42 AM on April 1, 2013

I feel for you...I grew up in a yelling house and being around yellers makes my anxiety go through the roof.

Maybe if your sister saw/heard a recording of herself screaming at her kids, she might realize that she's become her parent and needs to get a handle on it or start contributing to a future therapy fund for her kids.
posted by snailparade at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2013

Thanks for all your answers...

to answer a few questions, I am concerned about her yelling at her kids too. I have never harshly criticized her for it because 1) She gets defensive easily and would just shut down. 2) I would be on the receiving end of her harshness, which I don't want to be. I've told her calmly in a time when she wasn't angry that her yelling has a negative impact, and also showed her an article about how yelling too often damages a kid's psyche (especially when they are young). She has gone to see a counselor before but it was short-lived. She's on antidepressants now but I wish she'd go to see the counselor again like I've suggested to her before.

She is a single mom and I use to help her with the kids a lot, but I am more reluctant to now because I simply don't like being around her. I use to watch them while she cooked or while she went out with her friends but lately it's once in a blue moon. Sometimes I let them come play in my room so she won't have a reason to yell. Overall though I try to stay as much out of her way as I can. You can tell that she's trying to do well but her issues are just too deeply rooted for her to overcome single-handed. I'll consider the anonymous calling idea.
posted by Cybria at 7:39 PM on April 1, 2013

It's so sad and unfortunate that some parents are yellers. I totally understand your concern for her kids. Maybe you should just all out blast her, telling her she's abusive and damaging her kids, with the possibility that if you do it strongly enough, she'll pause to think about it. But I agree that's she's unlikely to fundamentally change. One thing I suggest you do is tell the kids that yelling is not OK and you totally understand the feeling they must have when their mom is yelling. They must feel very alone and stressed, but if you talk to them it might help them deal with it.
posted by Dansaman at 2:25 AM on April 2, 2013

How old are the kids? Would it be nuts for you to tell them that they don't deserve to be spoken to like that and that they can speak up for themselves if they want to? E.g. If mom is screaming at them, "I know you're mad mom, but it's not nice to yell at people." My friend's daughter does this to her verbally abusive dad, and at least she gets an apology out of it most times.

I guess my point is that telling the kids that they deserve to be treated with respect even if they aren't getting it from their mom may be something worth saying (depending on their age).
posted by tk at 5:56 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Her kids are only 2 (they're twin girls). I decided to go ahead and anonymously call family services. A voice in my head was saying that "it's not bad enough to call them" but then I realized that my nieces are growing up the same way I and my sister did...and I wish someone had intervened for us. So I hope this is the wake up call my sister needs. I hope they make her go to parenting or anger management classes. She needs guidance and help right now.

Thanks again for all your answers. I'm really glad I joined MeFi.
posted by Cybria at 8:46 PM on April 11, 2013

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