It DOESN'T go to 11... How to overcome a fear of yelling?
November 12, 2010 9:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I overcome my fear of being yelled at, and getting all disregulated when I do get yelled at?

Whenever someone yells at me, even in a friendly-get-my-attention way, I freak out.

Coworker, down the hall: HEY SHADEPLANT!
Coworker: Uh, wtf?

It's like I can't even think before I respond, I get so worked up. Yelling was a pretty common childhood discipline tactic in my house, and was sometimes followed by physical discipline and some out of line stuff but nothing torturous. I've had a problem with high-volume stuff my whole life, like loud talkers, concerts, etc. I'm working on some anxiety issues but I also feel like THIS IS JUST AN AUTOMATIC RESPONSE TO LOUD STUFF. *hides*

Can this be reprogrammed? I'm hoping there are more suggestions than exposure therapy, like listening to more and more yelling 'til I get used to it, cos, well, that sounds horrible.
posted by ShadePlant to Human Relations (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This is post-traumatic stress disorder. I have a similar problem. I cannot handle anyone yelling in anger anywhere near me - it doesn't have to be directed at me. I also grew up in a house where yelling was a discipline tactic and often preceeded physical violence. I also dislike loud ANYTHING, but people yelling angrily will actually cause a fight or flight response and then if I don't get away, I will shut down.

Consider therapy.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:43 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm already in therapy, and my therapist is awesome, so I'll bring this up. I guess it just never seemed relevant to my primary depression/anxiety issues, but I will mention it.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:44 AM on November 12, 2010

For me, mindfulness meditation helped me to feel focused and present--not thinking about my next step or my to-do list, just present in the moment--and I know this sounds cheesy, but psychologically, I felt grounded when I subsequently encountered something that caused me anxiety. You know the difference between lifting something properly vs. straining your back? It was kind of like that--I still felt the weight of the anxiety, but I felt more equipped to face the challenge. I'm not saying this is guaranteed to cure you of this fear, but there's no downside to trying it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: elsietheeel is right on, but to add -- is there any chance that at work you can reprogram yourself to shout, "OH MY GOD -- you startled me!" (ideally shouting the OH MY GOD and then saying "you startled me" in a more normal voice) instead of "STOP FUCKING SCREAMING AT ME!"?

Because then people will just get the idea that you're very jumpy and easily startled and will feel bad shouting at you down the hall when they know it might startle the crap out of you and instead they can call you or walk an extra 20 feet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, Eyebrows McGee! It's startling and unnecessary for people to scream and shout. Somehow calmly make it clear that such is not helping situations. I'd say wait a bit and talk to the shouter/s. People may not even realize they are doing it. As for reprogramming yourself to deal with it, if it is due PSTD /anxiety (I'm certain I am more sensitive to yelling /getting startled due to such) and all I can say is that my reactions to shouting has gotten better with time.
posted by marimeko at 9:56 AM on November 12, 2010

I used to be like this. Angry, scary yelling was also common in my family. But instead of yelling back at whoever was yelling, I'd get eerie quiet and shaky. This was the case well into early adulthood.

Now, my SO has the habit of yelling for me, as he has a two-floor house and comes from a loud family, full of brothers. This is our exchange:

Me: (not cringing, exercising trained response --->) WHAT?!?!?!

Instead of yelling back, "STOP FUCKING SCREAMING AT ME!" you can retrain yourself yell back, "WHAT?!" That might make your brain start distinguishing the difference between someone yelling at you and yelling for you.

Also, this:

I also ask people who are relatively close to me not to raise their voices at me.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:24 AM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: This is all great advice, and I agree "Stop fucking screaming at me!" is not an awesome thing to yell back... It just slips out before I can even stop it because I get so upset! I will work on a more appropriate, conditioned response.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:26 AM on November 12, 2010

Can I ask if your response is just a knee-jerk "Stop fucking screaming at me!" and then you're okay, or is there prolonged anxiety? Also, I'm pretty sure exposure therapy, beyond just sounding pretty dreadful, wouldn't be terribly helpful in this case.
posted by eggyolk at 10:33 AM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: It's elevated arousal + rapid heart rate for like 3 min, simmery anger for like 5 min, then a slow descend into "man I just yelled at my clueless, gruff, old Polish "work boyfriend" " guilt... Then this "should I apologize or tell him why I get snippy like that?" debate in my head.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:35 AM on November 12, 2010

It sounds reasonable to me to explain your reaction briefly to your coworkers, without going into detail about your childhood. Just frame it as trying to explain to them why you react in a snippy way. I don't have this issue, but I would be appreciative if one of my co-workers said to me, "Listen, I really have a thing about loud yelling. So when you call my name loudly I find myself snapping at you without meaning to. So please don't take it personally; it's just this automatic response I have." If you're closer to them you can certainly ask them to try to remember not to call out at you.
posted by aka burlap at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2010

I think the "Oh my God/oh jeez, you startled me just now," response is good. Or, "Please don't yell at me unless I'm on fire." You could also take a minute to collect yourself, maybe with a hand on your chest or heart. If they come up and ask if you're okay, then use the words that @aka_burlap gave you.

I approached a coworker and ended up startling said coworker. I immediately apologized, and now try to make some noise if I'm approaching someone, like tapping the wall, to not scare the bejezus out of them.

Being a jumpy sort of person, I have a similar knee-jerk reaction if suddenly approached from behind or out of my field of vision, so I can relate. And, yes, people have been snapped at by me.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: Rehearsing a standard "I have been startled" reaction is good. "Gah!" tends to be mine. Then I slap my hand on my chest and pantomime a heart attack. It's a jokey kind of thing, but it gets the point across.

Then I usually go with, "Let's use our indoor voices" or "Dude, don't, like, yell at me," depending on the situation. If it really is a distance thing, I just hold up my finger calmly in a "please wait" gesture, and walk towards the person so that we can talk at a civil volume. Like adults.

"I can't handle it when people yell at me" is a perfectly acceptable response, in a pinch. Treat it like it's one of your quirks, the way someone else might say "I can't handle the sound of a balloon being squeaked" or "I can't stand the sound of a styrofoam cup being picked apart."

Sometimes I joke that "I totally would have been awesome as a Navy Seal or Special Forces or something, except in boot camp I'd be all Don't yell at me! You can just ask nicely! *mock sobbing*"
posted by ErikaB at 3:02 PM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: This is post-traumatic stress disorder.

Am I the only person who cringed when I read this? Seriously people, this is the equivalent of responding "This is cancer" to a question about a weird mole. I understand that this reaction is related to negative and possibly traumatic childhood experiences, but to tell someone they have PTSD based on one symptom is ludicrous. PTSD is a fairly complex diagnosis that requires a total of at least 6 symptoms from 3 separate symptom categories to obtain. I'm not saying the OP doesn't have PTSD, but there is simply not enough information here to make a statement like that. Sorry if this is preachy, but PTSD is serious shit and it is highly controversial, so please be careful. You never know who is going to google "fear of yelling" and think they have PTSD after reading this post.

FWIW, I burst into tears anytime anyone yells at me. Nthing talking to your therapist about it. The only thing that helped me was going through a very rough experience where I was yelled at and freaked out in front of, like, 30 people. It sucked tremendously, but it definitely helped to reduce the shame I felt about my irrational response to yelling (I also was in weekly therapy and processed the experience to death). Once I wasn't worried about where/when it might happen next, it sort of seemed to disappear (or at least it hasn't happened since).
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 3:09 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

You're right, I should have said it could be post-traumatic stress disorder. I was projecting my own PTSD/childhood abuse issues.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:30 PM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: It seems like a bunch of us here share this childhood. I would very gently talk to your Polish office-husband (as I call it :) in private, saying "I'm sorry, but shouting at me really upsets me, I can't explain why. Can you please go a bit easier on me?"

My gut reaction to the idea of you exclaiming and clutching your chest dramatically/comedically is that he'll start to think (like the old dudes do) that you guys are playing and joking around, and the yelling will not stop at all because he's received reward for his behavior, and the yelling will (non-maliciously) continue as a fun "thing" you guys have now. However, it's certainly progress to turn it into a joke rather than scream obscenities back at him. I understand the reaction, though, it's a fight or flight defensive thing.
posted by mostlybecky at 6:46 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Thinking outside the casserole   |   Help me price these dolls Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.