Scream! Go Ahead, Let It Out. I Want to Hear You SCREAM!
In the past year, more people have come into my office telling me they want to scream than I’ve ever experienced before. In looking to understand this phenomenon, I started to pay attention to places where people are screaming.
I heard the scream in Rebecca Traister’s book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, where she documents women’s screaming voices in American political history and how their screams are transformed into action. I heard Leni Zumas’ “Wife” scream silently throughout the National Bestseller Red Clocks until she is ready to express herself out loud. I heard Grace Fryer scream until her death from radium jaw, due to the ingestion and absorption of radium, in a performance of D.W. Gregory’s Radium Girls, the true story of the injustice toward women who died from radium exposure while painting clock and watch dials during WWI. I started hearing screaming on the radio coming out of the mouths of Peter Gabriel in the song Shaking the Tree, and “off the back of my tongue” in Alice Merton’s current hit Lash Out.
In my quest to understand screaming, I went to the DePaul Art Museum to witness artist Whitney Bradshaw’s project “Outcry,” which documents over 100 women screaming. Floor to ceiling portraits hung in a narrow gallery, filling the space with poster-size photos of women. These women were coached by Bradshaw to belt it out for the camera. Based on the volume of photos in the exhibit, there is no shortage of women who wish to engage in this courageous and cathartic experience.
Although my initial curiosity led me to focus on women, I have come to realize that it is not just women who want to scream — men want to scream, too. Yet as much as people talk about screaming, actually doing it is considered by many to be culturally taboo. It’s often seen as impolite, an embarrassment, a transgression, or something to apologize for.
What to do? Screaming often enters the world unannounced. It pops out. It’s an unexpected explosion. Only after the screaming has started does one realize the need to decide what to do with this powerful expression of emotion. A scream is a cue to reflect on what is going on internally. In his book Hegemony How-To, A Roadmap for Radicals, Jonathan Matthew Smucker talks about a moment in society that is held up to us like a mirror. We see something there that we hadn’t identified before. He is talking about the 99% seeing themselves in the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the concept seems to apply to screaming as well. In this case, the mirror is the scream.
When I tell people to go ahead and scream in my office, their reaction is that they usually laugh. They may be very angry or hurt or afraid and feel like screaming, but they rarely do it. In truth, I don’t really expect them to. Instead, we work together to determine what to do with this extraordinarily intense feeling. Some people decide to continue to scream until they are heard. Others decide that if they continue to scream, their message will get lost. Some people scream because they don’t really want to be heard. The scream serves as a distraction from underlying pain. Screaming may be a release; an outward expression of internal pain, like cutting oneself or addiction.
Whatever the reason, a scream signifies a lonely and highly personal experience. Will anyone hear it? Will anyone listen? I take the desire to scream seriously. Who screams relentlessly? Babies. They scream when they are vulnerable and when their needs are not being met. Similarly, adults scream when we feel vulnerable and our needs or desires are not being heard. A therapist can help you understand and respond to in a manner that feels right to you. My focus is to listen to your scream, help you identify what it means and determine how to respond to it. Now, when you use the scream as an auditory mirror, a more resonant and integrated voice will echo back.