Here are a few unpleasant things I’ve done in my life in order to avoid getting yelled at:
1. Stayed in a dying romantic relationship for way, way longer than I should have.
2. Ended said relationship with a weird, cowardly, morally questionable back-door dumping.
3. Lied about my personal debt situation to people who could have helped me out.
And here, also, are a few cool things that I didn’t do, because I was afraid of getting yelled at while doing them:
1. Pursue a career in music journalism (because a rock star yelled at me during my first-ever interview, and what if they all did that?).
2. Pull one of those bad-ass networking moves where you approach someone you admire and tell them about how great you are (because what if the person I admired just yelled at me for bothering them, and then I would clearly have no option but to go commit suicide via massive Taco Bell Doritos Locos ingestion?)
3. Actually attempt a writing career as soon as I realized that I wanted to attempt a writing career (because if I did that, I’d have to tell my dad, and then he’d yell at me, and then I’d have to get…yelled at).
Getting yelled at is terrible. But, like most terrible things, it is also an inescapable part of life — especially a life that involves healthy risks. So, how do you make sure that fear of experiencing this terrible thing doesn’t keep you from doing the things you want to do in life? Let’s discuss.
To clarify: I am not talking about when an argument between respectful peers gets out of hand, or when you actually do something shitty and deserve to get yelled at about it.
I’m talking about the bullshit, short-tempered kind of yelling that occurs when a person who has more power than you — a boss, a parent, a professor, a notoriously irritable rock star, or even just a rude stranger — dresses you down over a minor mistake, or maybe a mistake that you didn’t even make.
The two most common tools that people use to cope with being yelled at are to: 1. yell back until everyone is exhausted and feels horrible, or 2. accept being yelled at with what you pretend is a dignified silence, when in reality, you are totally dying inside.
I used to make copious use of both of these techniques. And since I’d feel horrible afterwards every time I used them, I made sure to steer clear of any situation that I could imagine devolving into conflict, aggression, or getting yelled at — which included taking on new challenges at work, getting involved in cool projects that involved temperamental people, or being honest with my family about my dreams. So, basically, I avoided all the risks that can make dreams become realities.
I was focused on how I interacted with the people who yelled at me, but I should have focused on how I was processing those interactions internally. I was absorbing all the hostile shit being said to me, even though I didn’t want to. My subconscious would frantically pick through every harsh word being said, looking for thoughts and phrases I could use to torture myself later on. I didn’t know how to protect myself, and I let in a lot of hurt that I didn’t need to.
I think that you should learn how to protect yourself.
Because, unfortunately, there are a lot of assholes out there — assholes who want to intimidate you, assholes who are mad at you for trying to make your dreams come true, assholes who fling their aggression around like a monkey throwing his own poop at the zoo. These assholes want to ruin your life. But you can stop them.
And even if your goals never bring you into situations where you have to cope with power-trippers, someone, somewhere, is going to yell at you for no reason. And soon! Maybe at your family reunion, maybe in the bathroom at Target, but it will happen, and if you haven’t thought through how you’ll react to it, it will ruin your fucking day.
So, how do you keep it from ruining your day?
1. Realize that you are an amazing person with inherent worth, and this angry person can’t change that.
2. Realize that, usually, people aren’t yelling at you because they have reviewed the relevant documents, crunched the numbers, and come to the conclusion that the only way they can convey their very important information is by acting like a turd-face.
People yell because they are angry, hurt, frustrated — usually about something that has nothing to do with you, and often about something that happened 15 years ago.
My mother yelled at me constantly when I was a kid because she was mad about her own childhood. That rock star yelled at me because I asked her a question that reminded her of how vulnerable she had felt early in her career. My boyfriend yelled because he was in agony that our relationship had run its course. My dad yelled because he had been discouraged from pursuing his own artistic career when he was young, and had never processed those feelings.
See? Nothing to do with you.
3. Tune the fuck out.
I know this is not easy to do. You’re a sensitive, respectful person. Also, feelings are awesome! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But sometimes, in the name of protecting your future feelings, you have to tune out someone else’s bad feelings in the moment.
Practice tuning out during your commute, or while on line at the coffee place. Practice maintaining a completely blank facial expression while remembering every lyric to “It’s a Small World After All.” Practice recalling every dog or cat that has ever made you happy. Whatever works for you. Just practice disengaging
Then, the next time you get yelled at, tune out as much as you can, as hard as you can. See how it feels. In your inner monologue, flip the script, so that it’s not about whether the yeller has any valid points, but about how much you pity the yeller. “That poor, pathetic soul,” you’ll think to yourself. “It’s really sad that he’s still working out all his issues from high school in this, a public park/ gourmet pretzel store/ the Skycoaster at Six Flags Over Georgia.” And breathe in, and breathe out, and move on.
When the yeller has finished, you can tune back in and either say something classy like “I understand you’re upset, but this is not an appropriate way to discuss this issue. We can revisit it when your feelings have settled down a bit,” or you can just let out a cool and brutal “Okay.” Ooh, who’s in charge now? You, Coolface McOkay, that’s who!
Getting yelled at sucks. But it also sucks to miss out on awesome stuff in life, just out of fear of having someone make you feel like shit. You don’t have to feel the way other people want to make you feel. You can rise above it. You can move this much closer to living a life that’s guided by your own desires, rather than the fear of conflict. Arm yourself with self-esteem and disengagement, and commit your existence to doing what you want with your life. It’s a world of laughter and a world of tears, dude. Don’t let it pass you by.