These may seem like the only options available to you and, if you’re anything like most of the people I work with, you will have felt powerless and kept everything to yourself, resulting in feelings of stress, anxiety and frustration that lead to physical pain.
This is a situation that has happened to most people – if not professionally, then personally. I can still remember a time that it happened to me, not from a boss or co-worker, but from a teacher I had about 18 years ago. She didn’t yell exactly, but she verbally attacked me and made me feel that I had done something terribly wrong – which in fact I hadn’t. Afterwards I felt sick to my stomach and the pain of that interaction stayed with me for months.
There is another way to deal with situations like this. It’s a much more effective way that has long-term results. It doesn’t require confrontation. It just requires a change in thinking.
The first step is to recognize that when someone yells at you or makes you feel bad, it’s because their own insecurities are coming up. They are feeling pressured, angry and frustrated and they are projecting those feelings onto you. It actually has nothing to do with you. You may (or may not) be the trigger for their reaction, or you may simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the truth is, what they are feeling is their own fear and insecurity and it’s not about you.
This doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t excuse the behavior. However, once you recognize this you realize that you don’t have to take it personally. I understand that it can be difficult not to take it personally when it’s aimed right at you, but if you can tell yourself that they are simply projecting their frustrations onto you and that it has nothing to do with you, it can really help.
It’s actually your choice whether or not to take on what they are projecting. If you do, and you take it personally, then it becomes yours. They will feel better for having vented their frustrations, and you will feel worse because you’ve taken on their frustrations and made them your own.
Knowing this can help you stay calm in the face of such a verbal attack. If you choose not to take it personally, you can simply let them say what they have to say, and then walk away. You can certainly let them know, if you want to (when they’ve finished venting) that you don’t appreciate the way they have spoken to you, but this must come not from an emotional state (you being upset), but from a place of calm (because you know that this is not about you).
If you find that it’s too hard not to take it personally and you become upset, anxious, fearful or angry, then you’ll want to proceed to the next step – and this is particularly important if this type of situation happens frequently for you.
The second step is to ask yourself some questions:
- What it is that you need to learn about yourself from this situation?
- Why have you attracted this particular situation into your life?
- How is this person making you feel?
- What insecurities and fears has this person triggered in you?
When you are willing to learn something about yourself from the situation and when you’re willing to see what’s really happening (that fears and insecurities have been triggered in the other person and possibly in you) you’ll transform yourself and the situation. You will find that the more you take this approach, the less this type of situation will arise for you – because you don’t need it any more.
I invite you to try this approach because it really does work. I used to have very low self-esteem and took everything personally, so whenever this type of thing happened it would make me feel ill and worthless. I’ve come a long way since then.
The last time this happened to me (just a few months ago) I was on a conference call with someone who questioned and/or disagreed with just about everything I said. Because I didn’t let her manipulate me, she became verbally abusive. I was able to listen to what she said and not take it personally. I told her I recognized that what she was feeling had nothing to do with me and that she was trying to project what she was feeling onto me (I felt she should understand this because she is a professional coach). I left the call feeling good because I had spoken my truth and not taken on her stuff. I didn’t feel responsible for making her feel better or the need to justify anything. I’ve come a long way – and if I can do it, you can too.