The Reason We Yell

Jeff Plunkett, MAMFT, LPCJeff Plunkett, MAMFT, LPCJeff Plunkett, MAMFT, LPC

In my counseling practice and personal life I have witnessed a great deal of high volume communication within families. By a vast margin, the majority of that yelling is done by the adults. They are either screaming at the other adult within the home or the kids; and from my observation over the last forty-seven years, the children are the recipients of these emotional outbursts more than anyone else.

I would now suspect that the responses to my last sentence are quite varied. Some agree and some disagree. Some may want to point out that children yell too; an undeniable fact for many children. Some may want to argue that not all people express themselves with decibels; another undeniable fact. However, while your experiences may have been different than mine, I am speaking from my observations.

My point here is not to argue the statistics, blame, or frequency of loud, emotional communication. My question here is, why do we scream at each other? What motivates us to increase our vocal volume to our greatest capacity and invest so much energy and physical resources in order to express a thought?

I am going to propose my answer and then explain my rationale for believing it to be probable. I believe we yell as a result of fear. To be even bolder, I believe fear is at the core every time we yell at someone emotionally. I could even make the argument that just yelling at someone across the room to get their attention is also motivated by fear; “I was afraid they wouldn’t hear me”, “I was afraid you would leave before I got the chance to talk to you”, or “I was concerned you would walk into the bathroom. The lock is broken and Aunt Kathy just went in there.” But, I will limit my point to strong, emotional yelling like; “I told you to clean your room and you’re in here playing video games!”

Let us first think about other times we scream. We might scream if someone jumps out of the shadows and scares us. We might scream if we are falling off of a cliff or building. We would likely scream if we are being attacked by a lion. Many scream while riding a very intense roller coaster. And, if you have ever been to a boy band concert, you know that preteen and teenage girls scream anytime someone says “One” or “Direction”. While I might have to stretch a little to say that the reason girls scream at a One Direction concert is because they are afraid of missing out on their best, while extremely unlikely, chance to be the future Mrs. Harry Styles, the other examples of screaming are clearly motivated by some level of fear.

Why does your dog bark? Mine barks every time (and I mean EVERY TIME) it thinks someone or something is approaching, entering, or even looking at our house that does not live there. Why does a monkey or primate scream? It screams at potentially dangerous intruders. Even a tiny, mother finch will squeak at you loudly if you approach her nest full of baby finches.

Before I wrap all of these things together in order to make my point, allow me to present one more interesting example of yelling. I am an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. While I am a fan of every one of the guys on the team, from his very first year I have been a huge fan of Serge Ibaka. He is an example of hard work and perseverance. If you have ever seen a Thunder basketball game, you have likely seen Serge yell. Just before the start of the game, the players will gather in a tight circle and Serge will yell loud enough to be heard over thousands of fans. Does he do this out of fear? No, he does this as a sign of dominance and strength; just like the dog barking at danger or the finch warning the predator to stay away because the mother finch, while tiny, will not go down without a fight.

Here is my point: emotional yelling, barking, screaming, chirping, or other high volume communication is an attempt at showing strength and dominance. The only reason you would need to show dominance is if you sense the potential for being harmed or dominated. Parents yell at their children when the child does not do what they have been told. The parent, at the core, perceives this as a challenge to their authority or competence. A person yells at a spouse because the other has questioned their judgment, intelligence, character, talent, or something of intrinsic value.

As people, we absolutely have the right to yell if we want to. If you feel the need to be dominant and threatening, go right ahead. But, keep in mind that when you become dominant and frightening, the person to whom you are yelling is potentially feeling threatened and therefore, they have the same right as you to respond with an attempt to be dominant by yelling. I do find it interesting that when people come across a scary looking dog that is barking at them, they immediately try to diffuse the dog’s fear by showing that they are not a threat. People are naturally understanding of a mother finch that is squeaking at them and will remove the threat to a bird. However, many people choose to be threatening to one another, even toward the people they love.



Jeff Plunkett, MAMFT, LPC

Majority Managing Member

Above All Behavioral Health Services, LLC


Posted on May 18, 2015 .