Sunday, February 8, 2015

For Valentine’s Day, Embrace A ScreamFree Approach To Your Relationship

Interview with ScreamFree Institute Founder & New York Times Best-Selling Author Hal Runkel

I am proud to say that I have worked on and off with Hal Runkel and his Scream Free Institute for the past decade, helping him to successfully launch ScreamFree Parenting into a New York Times best-seller, and then to promote his sequel, ScreamFree Marriage. The Atlanta-based LMFT founded a non-profit organization to help couples, parents, teachers, and leaders to embrace a scream-free world ( and for the past half dozen years has done some terrific work with the United States military, touring over 125 bases and holding retreats to help over 10,000 military families return home to a place of calm.

1. Hal, after your New York Times best-seller, ScreamFree Parenting. launched a movement towards raising kids in an environment of calm, you wrote ScreamFree Marriage.  Tell us how your books encourage us not to lose our cool in heated moments with those we love the most?

--At some level, we all recognize the need to stay cool. But if we simply wait till the heat of the moment to suddenly push pause, we are rarely successful. What helps us stay cool in that moment is a combination of clarity and commitment. Clarity to see what’s happening, both within the relationships involved and within ourselves, and a commitment to calm as our number one priority. That’s where the ScreamFree approach comes in.

Both books give you clarity by highlighting the unique relationship dynamics involved in our spouse and parenting relationships. This includes pointing out some definite lies we’ve all been taught about these relationships, and how following those lies is one of the reasons we “scream.” (Like the idea that strong-willed children need to be controlled, for instance, or the idea that great couples meet each other’s needs).

Both books also foster the commitment you need to stay cool. This comes through showcasing the value, and positive effects, of calm. Before you get any how-tos, you get a thorough why-to, which is so much more important. I will not do anything unless I have a strong motivation to do so, and neither will you. So we need to be convinced that staying calm is by far the best path to handling any moment in the moment. These books do that by demonstrating logical principles, and by telling emotional stories of real parents and spouses making courageous, cool-headed decisions. This combination of logic and emotion gives the reader all the motivation they need to make a commitment to cool.

2. ScreamFree Institute was founded by you to help not only parents or couples, but teachers as well as business leaders.  Please explain what your non-profit has been able to do.

--The ScreamFree Institute exists for one reason: to help people stay cool, so they can learn to handle any moment in the moment. This puts us in the community transformation business, because moments handled well create great relationships. And great relationships change lives. And changed lives transform communities. This is true whether that “community” is a family unit, or a corporate culture, or an entire Army.

And that’s what we’ve been able to do. We’ve trained and certified over 1500 leaders and helping professionals, in 47 states and 16 countries, to lead tens of thousands of people through the ScreamFree principles. We’ve made over 150 visits to U.S. Army installations all over the world, helping thousands of military families and leaders mitigate the effects of war and deployments and injuries and loss.

More than anything, we’ve helped start a movement toward calm, in the midst of a world in chaos. Since our first book ScreamFree Parenting came out almost ten years ago, publishers have released at least eight major new books on calm relationships. In that time, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” craze has become a worldwide phenomenon. Most importantly, waves of new research have documented the transformative power of pause, and it is in the public consciousness like perhaps never before.

We’re very proud to be a catalyst in this cause. And we’re just getting started.

3. A major piece of your efforts over the past half-dozen years has been to help over 10,000 military families. You’ve spoken at over 50 military bases all over the world, encouraging our soldiers to be better spouses and parents. How difficult – and rewarding – is that experience?

Our experience helping military families has been both the hardest, yet most fulfilling, work of my career. Hardest, in that we’re meeting and trying to help people heal through trauma I don’t even want to imagine, but most fulfilling in that we get to see that healing up close, even among the scars of war.

A few months ago I was at Ft. Hood in Texas, delivering a parenting seminar on leading our teens into adulthood. One of the participants was an obviously wounded warrior—he had a leg of titanium and was, not to be too explicit, missing about half of his face. Yet there he was, diligently taking notes and asking questions. Afterwards, my heart and curiosity was drawn towards his woundedness, but he wanted none of it. “I’ve got plenty of people helping me with that; what I need is help with my kids. I’m still a dad, and I’ve got two boys about to be teenagers. I need to be prepared.”

American Sniper has garnered a ton of attention, and is breaking the box office. But the best part of that movie, for us, is that it’s expanding the definition of a “wounded warrior.” Chris Kyle is never really physically wounded, but he carries so much increasing internal pain. As does his wife and kids. These are some of the most devastating wounds, because they don’t get the same immediate help. But we’ve been asked, again and again, to provide that help, and it’s an amazing honor.

4. What are some of the core principles behind the methods taught by ScreamFree Institute?

1.      We are never responsible for anyone else and the choices they make (even our kids). We are always, however, responsible to others for the choices we make. Yes, this level of accountability varies with each relationship (I am more responsible to my wife than I am my co-workers), but our choices affect everyone at some level. That’s why the greatest thing we can do for others is focus more on ourselves—that’s not selfishness, that’s  recognizing we owe it to those around us to be more conscious and in control of our thoughts, words, and actions. 

2.      Whenever we get reactive (“screaming”), we don’t just make things worse; we actually end up creating the very outcomes we were hoping to avoid. For instance, if I want my teenager to open up to me, freaking out whenever they complain will only shut them down. Or, if I want my boss to respect and trust me, bitching behind her back will give her no reason to. This principle is true in any moment, in any relationship, and that’s why we base our whole philosophy on committing to stay cool.

3.      No one ever gets the problem they want; what we get is almost always a problem we helped create. One of our most self-destructive thoughts is that our struggles have little to do with us, and everything to do with everyone around us—boss, spouse, kids, government, ex, whomever. That outlook prevents us from accurately seeing the truth: so much more of our lives is determined by our own choices than we realize. This is good news, because if my current situation is largely created by my choices, then simply changing my choices can change my life. And most of our choices are reactions to those around us, not responses. When we commit to staying cool, when we become ScreamFree, we change those reactions (which always backfire) into responses (which have the chance of most authentically representing ourselves). This turns our problems into the best opportunities for life-change.

4.      Put on your own oxygen mask first. We’ve all been on the airplane and heard the speech. If we lose cabin pressure, take care of yourself first—‘cause if you’re out of breath, you can’t help anyone else. This is actually amazing life wisdom from the airlines. When we exhaust and exclude ourselves in the name of serving everyone else, we actually don’t end up helping anyone. Basic self care is the basis for true service.

5. What can people do to get involved with your organization?

Were not just trying to build an organization; were creating a movement. So, people can get involved with this movement at a number of different levels. The most obvious way is to begin internalizing the principles of ScreamFree living. Visit our website and read the blog. Watch the videos. Subscribe to our weekly podcast You Must Chill or buy one of our books. You could even come to one of our trainings and become a certified ScreamFree Leader.

But, beyond being a consumer, once youve seen the transformative power of these life-changing principles work in your own life, share the message with others. Forward the daily eQuips to your friends. Post links to our articles on Facebook. Host a book club in your neighborhood. Spread the message of the power of calm to all the people in your network. Buy a coffee mug or a t-shirt from our online store. Get the word out: Staying cool never goes out of style.

Finally, you can actually partner with us financially. You can do that in a number of ways whether its by bringing us into an organization your workplace, your school, your church, your town or by donating towards our Calm & Connected Retreats for military personnel and their spouses. You could attend one of our events like The Big Scream fundraiser, where youd get to meet all of the folks who make ScreamFree happen, and see some of the people whose lives have been affected by the retreats we host.

Simply put, people can consume the message, spread the message, and fund the message.

6.  What resources are available to those who want to strengthen their relationships through calm and not chaos?

Firstyes, we have books, available at bookstores online and everywhere else, but some people may not know that we have corresponding study guides DVDs of the full seminars with workbooks that are actively used by book clubs or small groups happening around the country and the world.

Also, There are hundreds of helpful articles on our website. We also send out a daily email (Monday through Friday) to thousands of subscribers called an eQuip a short, memorable way to start your day in a ScreamFree way.

One big initiative The ScreamFree Institute is embarking upon this year is to take our content into the digital age, putting as much of it as we can online in both audio and video formats. We want to harness technology to put these principles into the hearts and minds of as many people as possible. Check our website regularly and stay connected with us to see the revolutionary changes were making to bring relationship transformation into the 21st century.

7. As a dad of two and a husband of two decades, do you sometimes find it hard to follow your own advice?

Well, this ScreamFree stuff doesn’t really work; it just sounds good! Obviously, I don’t really believe that, but anyone who’s read my books, or has seen me speak, knows that I usually begin with some humiliating story about me, the so-called expert, screaming my head off in one way or another. Unfortunately, I’ve given myself plenty of material. This is not because the principles don’t work; it’s because I am not naturally a “cool” guy, in any sense of the word.

My natural inclination is toward reacting, not responding. The therapist in me says that’s probably why I started ScreamFree, to try to heal myself first. And that’s not too far off—I will always be my most important client. In order for me to create and enjoy the relationships I’ve always craved, and help others do the same, I need to continually focus on calming myself down and growing myself up. And it’s a full-time job.

What my wife says I do best, along these lines, is ask for feedback, and ask for help. In order to catch all my blindspots, I’ve got to have honest feedback from those around me. In order to accomplish things I’ve never tried, I’ve got to have help from others along the path. This way, it’s not about me following my own advice, it’s about following others’. Not coincidentally, these are usually the things I most try to encourage my kids to do.

To participate in his organization’s third annual fundraiser event on February 22 in Atlanta– or to donate support to their noble cause – please check out


2015 Book PR & Marketing Toolkit: All New

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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