Do you and/or your spouse yell at each other when you fight? Did you know that yelling shuts down your ability to reason in healthy ways with your spouse? “When you yell at someone there’s a part of the brain that shuts down. It’s the part of the brain that houses how we reason through a situation.”
Did you read that right? Yes! Research has shown that when yelling starts there is a part of the brain that goes offline. It’s much like a computer that goes offline when its circuits become overloaded. Our reasoning capability can become overloaded to the point that it shuts down. And when that shuts down the animalistic part of the brain amps up.
That proves all the more how true it is when the Bible says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11) In other words, a fool yells; but a wise person stops, listens, and is then able to better reason.
Yelling Shuts Down Reasoning Capability
Dr. Dan Siegel, who is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and author of the book, The Mindful Brain, talked about this on a Dr Phil television program. He told Dr Phil McGraw that the prefrontal cortex of our brain “allows us to think and pause before we act. It’s what makes us human. It lets us think, and plan and actually look at other people and think about what’s going on inside of them.” This cortex houses our reasoning centers.
Dr Siegel then points to a diagram of the brain and says:
“The more animalistic portion of the brain is centered in this part of the brain. In general, our higher human brain controls that. But if we get really upset, if these emotional centers are getting active, it will literally shut that off, and this won’t be functioning. What do you think life would be like if we try to talk to each other, just from an animal brain?”
Dr Phil added:
“When you start yelling, these other centers become pervasive. They grow and take control. That’s when all reasoning stops. Now, it’s animalistic: attack, fight, flight, survive, and that’s not a problem-solving mode.”
Dr Phil then addresses Dr Siegel:
“You talk in your book about the fact that if you’re going to live consistent with the principles of The Mindful Brain, you’ve got to stop reacting. You need to instead start reflecting and looking for something called attunement.”
Stop Before Yelling Shuts Off Reasoning
Dr Siegel explains that when a person stops before he or she acts or speaks, it gives them the opportunity to reflect. They can then better tune into what the other person is trying to communicate. However, when you’re being yelled at the reasoning part of the brain shuts down. That’s when the more animalistic part of the brain takes over. Along with this comes fear and frustration, and you react rather than think things through in a rational way.
There’s a Proverb that speaks of this concept. In it we’re told, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We may think that when we yell, we’re getting our point across in a stronger way. Yelling may make sense to us. It may seem to be the only way that we’ll get our spouse to grab onto the gravity of what we’re saying. “But in the end,” it most often leads to the death of the conversation going in a productive a direction. This can eventually lead to the death of the relationship if contempt enters in.
It ushers in chaos and frustration in the other spouse to try to defend rather than listen. It proves all the more that, “He who guards his lips guards his life. But he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) Again, yelling shuts down reasoning.
Yelling Shuts Down Our Spouse
We may rationalize that yelling “is the only way I can get them to listen to me!” And it may seem to be effective. Although we believe we reduce ourselves to a lower level when we do this. We also wonder if our spouse really listened. Or could it be that instead, he/she shut down because of our reaction? We believe, that the Lord would rather have us find ways to act wisely and use all the parts of our brains. We should also allow others to do the same, to come to a more peaceable solution.
God tells us:
“A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil. But a fool is hotheaded and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish thing…” (Proverbs 14:16-17)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may BENEFIT those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-31)
As you read all of this, please consider what you’re doing when you yell at your spouse. When you’re frustrated, and angry it’s tempting to yell. We’ve been there. Both Steve and I have done that in the past, much to our shame.
Taking a Break
But in more recent years we’ve learned that when we’re tempted to yell, that’s when we need to take a break for a time. We take a time out! And then we revisit the issue after we have cooled off. That way we can compose our thoughts and listen, as well as talk to each other. When we’ve done that, we’ve never been sorry. Eventually we come back together in a more reasonable way. And then we are able to work out a solution that is satisfying for both of us.
We realize that not all of you have a spouse who will allow this type of “break” to occur. And for that we are so sorry. We encourage you to persistently ask God to give you guidance on this. We’re told in God’s word, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18) “As far as it depends on you” look to God to help you find more peaceful ways to approach conflict.
That doesn’t mean that you just let your spouse run over you with their words. It means that you look for healthier ways to resolve things, to the best of your ability. You may find it helpful to glean through the Communication and Conflict topic, and/or even the Abuse in Marriage topic for ideas.
Lowering Impulse Control
We also realize that some of you have allowed yourself to give into the habit of lowering your impulse control. You have yelled when you knew you shouldn’t. You gave in to your impulse. We understand how that can happen. We’ve done the same thing in the past and deeply regret it. But we also know that God shows us a “way of escape” from even our impulses when we sincerely pursue His help. God has definitely helped us. And He can help you too as you pursue Him.
“Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)
“God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
We pray this gives you “food for thought.” We hope it is a wake up call! Please pray for God to help you work through your anger in healthy ways. And then work with Him to not to yell at each other. Yelling shuts down the parts of the brain where reasoning and kindness can come through. It shuts down sensible thinking and ushers in sinful behavior. When we do that, we entertain the enemy of our faith. And why would we want to do that?
Please know that we have many articles and recommended resources posted on our web site that can help you as you look for healthier ways to resolve conflict. You can find a number of them in the Communication Tools topic. We have found it to be freeing and helpful to our marriage to work through this issue in our lives. We hope you will also.
“Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent. And humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:19-21)
Cindy and Steve Wright
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4 responses to “Yelling Shuts Down Reason”
(USA) I can relate to this article first-hand. I was married almost 11 years with each one being a challenge in that my ex-husband was always raging about something. If there was nothing to yell about, he would literally find something. I have come to understand that this was by design to control me. But the screaming really shuts everything down. I suffer with anxiety even now. I lived with an extremely narcisstic individual who caused division between everyone that I loved. It had to be him or nothing. I had one son prior to marrying him who was fully grown and excited when we got married. He talked of suicide prior to moving out of our home with all the craziness.
The sad thing is that my ex hid most of his anger issues by pretending to be nice person who had just lost his wife. I will not blame him 100% because there were red flags in retrospect. What you see is what you get. I just know that this was way too traumatizing for me and now I suffer emotionally and mentally trying to rebuild myself. I am trusting God to help me get back to a better place than I knew before meeting this person. I also pray that eventually I can forgive and move on with greater “joy”.
The really sad part is after asking for divorce, he is now on wife number four and is asking what he should do since they are having problems. Thanks for sharing this article.
(LA) This is really good. x3 I know the feeling. Even though I’m not married I still have a lot of problems with my family. My father and I usually butt heads a LOT! I try to understand his point of veiw but he yells and I kinda blank out and clench my fists and breath. Though sometimes it doesn’t always work, I scream, and yell back at him. I feel that when he yells he’s blaming me for his problems which I’ve told him myself, that it isn’t and wasn’t my fault.
He had 5 kids, which he’s said to my face he didn’t even want, *sigh.* I’ve tried talking it out with him but it doesn’t work very well. He’s too bull headed. It’s almost like we are married!!! I’ve gone into a bit of depression but I’m holding on not letting others bother me and stuff, and this has helped me. I’m reading it every time I get angry, and it’s going to help keep my on my path. Oh thank you!! I’m glad I found this. Its helped a lot. I hope to read more soon in the future.
(USA) My wife constantly yells and seems to not have any idea of the negative effect it has on the relationship. She then wants to tell me while yelling that I need to read about how to make a marriage better, because she does. How do I reason with the personality?
Raising one’s voice is a shame, granted. I don’t believe in yelling or rage and subscribe to the notion that one person’s “strong voice” can be another person’s “shout.” However the opening strap line “Yelling Shuts Down Reason” touches on a point where I think a strong voice is called for (open to disputation I know).
The situation I have in mind is, ironically, the persistent abuse of reason. Reason can be abused through persistent self-justification rather than with a more balanced ‘give and take’ manner which involves seeking to understand. Not really listening to what the ‘other’ is saying while demanding listening from the other, no matter how many reasons are used, is then a question of will and not reason. People exercising their will are playing a power game and employing reason to justify. They rarely have a ‘reverse gear’ and are usually blinded to their own inconsistency.
People who are wrong can employ reasons too and call it “Reason”. Not only that but when their flawed ‘reasoning’ or lack of equity is met with a strong voice they cry ’emotional abuse’ and defend their ego-centric persistence as “only saying” or “just asking”. Therefore, sometimes to address the will of my antagonist, while I undoubtedly prefer to exercise patience, I choose (important) to raise my voice if I detect this lack of fairness.
As a result I get accused of “shouting” (and on a FEW occasions I admit that I have shouted) but this is not the issue for me. My irritation is not to do with attacking the person but the double-standard which usually indicates a power/control motif.