I yelled at my son.
Not like a, “I raised my voice at him,” type of yell. I’m talking, “At the top of my lungs, spit coming out of my mouth, he has a terrified look on his face” type of yell.
The shame I felt right after…wow.
It only took three and a half years. I finally did it.
Nine months into 2020, arguably the hardest year we’ve had in a long time. Personally, this has been an extremely challenging year for me and my family. But not just for the reasons you might think.
We got debt free, moved out of my in-laws, had our second son, all around the time COVID-19 started impacting the world.
These things are stressful enough, but recently, Oregon had significant fires that were putting many people in danger, polluting the air quality, and scaring me more than I’d like to admit.
Due to the fires being only a few miles away, my wife, boys, and I had to evacuate our home. We grabbed all the things we thought were most “essential,” whatever that means, and stayed with friends in a safe zone.
It was not an easy time for me. My wife was emotional (understandably), my three and a half year old knew something was wrong but couldn’t explain why, and my 4-month-old son started regressing in his sleep. The stress was simmering below the surface.
I felt like my job was to be the stable one. The one who doesn’t freak out. The one who completely trusted God and stood firm as the rock of our family.
Does this mean that under the surface it wasn’t a volcanic eruption of emotions? Absolutely not. My inner world was wild and hectic.
But I was keeping a lid on it. Keeping the emotions in, trying to protect my family and those around me from my negative emotions.
And I thought I was doing a good job.
At least, until I yelled at my son so loudly and forcefully that he started screaming and crying.
We had been living with friends, evacuated, for almost a week at this point. Brady, my three and a half year old, had been struggling for a couple of days with his emotions. Super high highs and super low lows. That morning, he was in a very low low.
He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t control his body—flailing about, couldn’t calm down or sit still—and I basically drug him into the car so we could just get out of the house.
I knew he was struggling with what was going on. Even though we didn’t tell him that we could lose our house to fires, he still could sense something was wrong. Whether it was Amy and I being uptight or if he heard us talk about all the smoke, he knew something was wrong and he didn’t know how to process it.
He was yelling at me, crying he didn’t have his shoes, and wouldn’t let me think. That’s when I hit my limit.
I turned around and yelled at the top of my lungs. This was now a few weeks ago and I still can’t remember what I yelled at him. But I do know what I was trying to communicate, “Don’t you get it? I’m stressed too. This sucks for me too! Just give me a break!”
When we blow up and do the things we don’t want to do (in my case, blow up at my kid), it’s not just a decision we make in one moment. I didn’t just decide calmly and non-limbically that yelling at my kid was the best idea. No. These responses are the result of a string of events–emotional experiences and directional thoughts–that take us to the places we don’t want to go and to actions we don’t want to do.
That morning, in the car, the events of evacuating, the fear of losing our home, and the thoughts of “I can’t protect my family from losing our home,” all led me to responding in uncontrollable anger toward my son. The irony of this is, I felt like I was taking back control by responding in anger. So much was out of control and anger would give me a sense of getting some of it back.
But like all of my unwanted behavior, I felt immense shame immediately following. I knew I messed up. I knew I scared him and hurt him. I knew immediately that I had to restore our relationship.
You see, I’ve realized over these past few weeks that Brady and I were experiencing very similar things. Life is out of our control. I don’t really understand what’s going on inside of me. I don’t know how to regulate my emotions. I want to take control back any way that I can.
Brady chose to act out and lose control of his body. I chose to yell in anger.
Oddly, we were in the same situation, responding to the same emotions, and revealing the brokenness inside both of us.
So, how do we stop from reacting in anger or going to pornography or emotionally eating before bed or any other unwanted behavior?
Well, I’ve come to start asking the question, “Why am I so angry?”
Doing some internal searching, I now see that I was stressed, sad, afraid, and felt completely powerless. But instead of expressing this and being honest about my feelings with trusted people around me, I kept it inside, letting it fester and then eventually blowing up. That blow up hurt my relationship with my son.
If you have unwanted behavior in your life right now, why not ask it questions?
- “Why are you here?”
- “What emotion are you helping me avoid?”
- “What memory are you keeping me from revisiting?”
- “Why do I run to you when I feel this way?”
The cool thing is, if you start to ask yourself these questions, you’ll realize that you have some really good and revealing answers. You’ll start to see how our unwanted behavior is connected by a string of events, emotions, and thoughts that bring us back to the same old numbing agents we’ve used. Whether it’s food, social media, sex, or anything else, we all use them for the same reasons.
Ask some questions, face what’s really going on under the surface, and make the changes in your life that you’ve always wanted.
And if you do yell at your kids at the top of your lungs, with spit coming out of your mouth, and he’s screaming and crying…be quick to apologize and vulnerably explain what’s going on in your inner world. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one dealing with negative emotions.