I was walking to the grocery store. I had my headphones on and I listened to good music. I was in a good mood. Just enjoying the music and the upcoming food haul. I love food shopping!
The next thing I know, two people are approaching me. A man and a woman, and they started talking to me. I am usually quite open to chat with other people, but this time, I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like stopping and I just passed the couple and continued my walk. I smiled and tried to show them the basic “not now, thank you” -gesture (the one useful with face-to-face fundraisers, heh…).
It was a bit weird situation. I sensed some tension from them when I just walked by. I think I was too deep in my world to react quickly enough for them, and since the situation was kinda over after my gesture, I just thought that the best thing to do was to continue walking away.
I still had my headphones on and I kept on walking when I started to hear shouting. I did think that maybe it’s them, shouting, but I didn’t really react.
The shouting continued and I took my headphones off and turned around. There was the woman. She had gotten pretty close to me and she was yelling at me. On the street, full on yelling at me. I was surprised of that aggression but managed to ask her “What is it?”. She yelled back at me some kind of a question.
I told her that “I don’t speak Swedish, I am sorry”. She looked at me sarcastically, and said, “Du ÄR svenskt” (a.k.a. you are swedish). With some sort of pride of apparently looking like a Swede I told her again that “I don’t understand what you are saying”. She continued to yell at me: “Var ligger —-“, (“where is—“), so, she was asking for directions. (I understand Swedish to some degree, but I’m still quite shy with it..:D.)
I told her once again, “I don’t speak Swedish, I am not from here, sorry” and she started to quit. I put my headphones back on and she went away.
The reason I am writing about this is, because, well, it was an interesting situation, and to the contrary of my previous experiences, I felt amazing after this encounter. I’ll explain why.
Five years ago when I had just moved to Helsinki, I had another yelling incident. I was traveling in a tram and I had unconsciously sat on a seat which was for handicaps, elderly, and pregnant women. An older woman started to yell at me because I was sitting in a wrong seat. I got so embarrassed and I told her “I am sorry, my mistake, I am so sorry…”. I felt like the worst person on earth. (Dramatic, not at all.)
When I got home, that incident was still very strongly alive in me and I cried. I felt like I was bad to the bones. For making that kind of a “major” mistake! “You should be ashamed!” It was very difficult for me to experience doing something “wrong”. I took her words as the truth, and even further, to the point where I thought my whole identity was purely just BAD. I felt so shameful.
For me, the reaction from any confrontation has always been an intense feeling of shame. Even with things I haven’t had anything to do with. Because, maybe I did do something…? I have always admired people who are able to defend themselves in an intense situation. People with “thick skin”. Who can just understand that they don’t have to take any sh*it from others because they have boundaries for themselves.
Why I felt so good after this yelling encounter was because I realized that the unnecessary weight of shame or fear of not doing everything like a good girl is now welcome to exit from my life. I am allowed to have my boundaries.
What I also realized from this latest yelling incident was that it was not about me. She had all the rights to be upset with me but she didn’t have the right to yell at me. My part was to realize this and not lower myself to be the one to blame, because I wasn’t the one acting mean. I didn’t have to take that. In this yelling incident, contrary to the others, I could see more clearly. I could see that, hold on. I am not responsible for the other person’s anger. Of course, in this situation I could have been more sharp and stop and help them out, but I didn’t. Does that make me a bad person? Am I obligated to always help? Am I alive to be there for everyone, always? Someone could argue and say, well, yes you are.
But when a person is choosing not to engage with others, are they deserving to be yelled at? Of course not! I realized that we are all responsible for our own emotions. She was angry at me, but was that a reason or a justification to yell at me? No.
We make different kinds of decisions all the time. Maybe they are not always the best ones, or maybe they are! One way or another, we can always learn from them! But while learning, it is not necessary to be yelled at, or to be the person who gets others’ emotions projected onto them.
When that happens, it is our right to understand that you are not responsible for others’ reactions to emotions. You are responsible for doing your best and choosing when to be there for others and when not to. You are not obligated to fulfill random obligations from others. You can, and to some degree, that’s even admirable. But you are not a bad person if you don’t always feel like doing so.
The world keeps giving us situations to practice our boundaries. And I saw this incident as a true life lesson.
So, random person projecting your emotions on me: thank you for teaching me an important insight.
I am not a bad person if I am not always the most helpful person on earth. And it is not a reason to be yelled at, or a reason to feel bad about myself.
Ps. Photos are from Stockholm, Hammarbyhamnen.