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Q&A for Teens: Bach & the Shouting Match

February 2, 2012 | by Lauren Roth

Help! My family makes me explode with anger.

Dear Lauren,

I'm tired of my family. They’re always fighting and shouting at each other, especially at me. They’re always criticizing me, yelling at me for any stupid thing and making a big deal out of nothing, until they get the best of me and I shout at them in return, no matter how hard I try not to. What bothers me most is that when they finally make me explode, they always tell me: "Why do you yell at your family?" and they make me feel really bad. They’re the ones that make me explode. They don't get that I try really hard to keep calm, but with their shouts, insults, and attitude it's almost impossible. Please give me some advice!

What’s your favorite piece of classical music? (No, “Oops!...I Did It Again” does not qualify as classical music—and neither does “Born in the USA” or even “Sweet Child O’Mine!”) The classical pieces I love best are the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you’ve never heard them, do yourself a favor and listen to them (especially No. 5). They’re absolutely divine! (And I bet many of you agree.)

Would you believe they were rejected by the Governor of Brandenburg? Bach composed the pieces and sent them to said governor, querying whether he would like to hire Bach to create music for him on an ongoing basis. In a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” move, Bach never heard back from the governor. Good thing he kept a copy of the Brandenburg Concertos! The full score was left, unused, in the governor’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for what today would be $22!

My point is this: many great things aren’t recognized, ever, for their greatness. And many great things are only recognized much, much later. Your family might unfairly criticize you. They might yell at you when yelling isn’t called for. Your job is to do the right thing, no matter whether you receive approval from those around you or not.

So your family criticizes, yells, and hurls insults. I’m sorry for you that you have to deal with the unpleasantness of antagonism. I feel for you because of the pain that must cause you. However, their bad behavior and your reaction to their behavior should be two different entities. I know how hard it is to stand strong in the face of disapproval, but, like Bach, your job in your family circle (your job as a person in this world) is to try your own personal hardest to do what you believe is right, no matter what those around you are doing, and no matter whether you receive accolades from them or emotional rotten tomatoes.

When I talk with children of any age (from age 10 to age 70) who are not getting the approval and positive attention from their parents and other family members that they crave, I try to empower them with the following idea: YOU are the one talking to me, ergo YOU are the one noticing the incorrectness of your family’s behavior, and YOU are the one seeking a better way. Therefore, YOU can absolutely be the one to turn the family dynamic around.

It doesn’t matter that you’re the child and the instigators are the parents; anyone can change the negative cycle of criticism and fighting to a peaceful cycle of giving, sharing, and caring. All it takes is one strong person to have enough self-awareness to pull himself or herself out of the mélange of antagonism, keep his or her head above water, stay calm, and say, respectfully and lovingly, “This is really hurting my feelings. Let’s all be kinder to one another. Can we please talk, instead of yelling?”

It only takes one strong, courageous person with a vision of serenity and peace to change a family dynamic.

The first time you say that, expect the others to yell some expletives, make fun of you, tell you you’re the most unkind of all of them, tell you your “better than thou” attitude is really annoying, or all of the above. But if you consistently stay calm and loving and respectful and refuse to be pulled into the swirling angry maelstrom of emotions, your calming presence can eventually bring the tension levels down and can quiet the inflammatory responses.

It only takes one strong, courageous person with a vision of serenity and peace to change a family dynamic. I’ve seen it happen many times.

I have a good idea: get a copy of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. When you feel stressed out and frazzled and horribly angry at your family, go to a calm place and listen to that music. Take many deep breaths. Get yourself centered and calm. Then focus on your goal. Your goal is to do the right thing, no matter what anyone around you is pushing you towards. Think about the fact that this uplifting music was totally rejected, and what an incorrect assessment of the music that was. Realize that your family can make mistakes. They can yell and insult and criticize, but it doesn’t have to push your buttons because you can choose to be better than that. Get yourself calm so you can have a calm discussion with them instead of a shouting match.

I have a favorite quote from Victor Frankl, the founder of a branch of psychology called Logotherapy, and a concentration camp survivor: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In that space between stimulus and response lies our humanity. In that space between stimulus and response lies our personal spiritual journey that God put us here on Earth for.

You can be the one in your family to change the tune.

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