An essay on losing it: why yelling and screaming is (thankfully) so rare.
April 3, 2014
A stranger yelled at my wife the other day in the park. She’d taken our terriers off leash and a pedestrian took offense. Apparently, this other woman didn’t just get mad, she was irate, letting loose a torrent of expletives. My poor wife said she was too dumbfounded to respond, she just stared at this strange adult who was screaming at her.
Of course I felt bad for my spouse. On the other hand I’m pretty sure there’s a law against dogs being off their leashes. Even cute little buggers like ours. Regardless, that’s not what I want to discuss. What stood out for me about my wife’s tale: how rare situations like hers actually are. As mad as we might be personally, professionally, societally, we don’t yell at each other that much. Remarkable when you think about it. So let’s.
When was the last time someone not related to you yelled at you? For me, I can’t even remember. Maybe someone gave me the bird a few weeks ago from his car. But that’s about it. I’m guessing the road is where most verbal outbursts occur, yet people are generally moving and not in each other’s grill so to speak. I’m talking about screaming in your face. Like what happened to my wife. It’s pretty rare.
Turning the tables when was the last time you yelled at someone not related to you? Even more rare, isn’t it? Civilized people like us just don’t go off on each other.
Expressing anger, even righteous anger, is fairly uncommon. We may get or be pissed off on a daily basis but we seldom, if ever, express ourselves that way. It’s just not in our nature. Or it has been mightily repressed. Either way, when someone does go nuclear we not only notice we are also genuinely shocked by it. It’s ghoulishly fascinating. Which is why Reality TV is so full of drama queens and douche bags: folks wouldn’t watch otherwise. It’s also why these shows are so un-real in the first place. The characters are coached into tantrums. Really real adults seldom yell at one another, let alone five times a day.
Unless of course they’re mentally unhinged, intoxicated or, as I implied earlier, related. Sad but true. If you add your children or spouse or a parent into the mix suddenly the outbursts aren’t so infrequent, are they? Admit it. I am. In some ways I think our inability to lose it with strangers fuels are propensity for grousing with our kin. There’s definitely wisdom to that lyric, “you always hurt the one you love.”
My wife’s experience prompted me to think about yelling and screaming… again. Many years ago I learned that I couldn’t handle anger very well. I seethed. My IQ dropped. Upon outburst I was an incoherent buffoon. Kind of like Homer Simpson strangling his boy. As Doctor Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) put it, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
I still get angry, yes. But I try very hard not to lose it. What’s the point? I’ve discovered that even when I “win” an argument I still feel like crap. Probably why I drank too much. And I had to stop that, too. For me “emotional sobriety” is damn near as precious.
Anger is a gateway emotion to hell. When one opens his or her trap in response to it, we get a glimpse into that hell. Thank God, then, it’s infrequently we do.