“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
Have you ever felt irritated with someone? I assume that I’m not the only person that has ever felt irritated or impatient. I also know that this feeling is really uncomfortable.
Perhaps, if you’re like me, you’ve noticed that your first response is to think to yourself, “If they change, or didn’t do this or that, then I wouldn’t feel irritated with them.” It can be tough to know what to do with these feelings. As a result, we most often try to stuff the uncomfortable feelings away. Unfortunately, when you hold on to the feelings, you are the one that suffers.
If you’re at that place and have decided that feeling irritated is robbing you of your peace, this is how you can transform these feelings.
The first step is to identify those qualities that tick you off. For example, I get irritated with people that are judgmental, controlling, self-absorbed and entitled. Whenever I’m around someone and I sense they are exhibiting these qualities I can feel myself get tight and constricted inside.
The next step is to finish this statement using the qualities we identified: “I don’t like myself when I’m ________.” From my example above, I would use judgmental, controlling, self-absorbed and entitled to finish the sentence.
This is a real eye-opener.
By doing this exercise, we realize that we often possess those very same qualities that irritate us in other people. Yikes! Does that mean I’m judgmental, controlling, self-absorbed and entitled? If I’m being honest, there are times when I’m all of those things. The saying, “if you spot it, you’ve got it” applies here.
If we continue to pay attention, we will likely notice that we can be hard on ourselves for possessing these irritating qualities.
The truth is the harder we are on ourselves for being human and for not being “perfect,” the harder we are on others. The realization that we get irritated by people who are judgmental, controlling, self-absorbed and entitled is more about the fact that we possess these same qualities and respond habitually by being really hard on ourselves as opposed to being self-compassionate. In short, we’re hard on ourselves AND we’re hard on others.
How do we deal with these irritations mindfully in order to shift things within ourselves and in our relationships?
First, we reflect on what the underlying needs are that aren’t being met that have triggered the irritation. For example, when we’re feeling judgmental it’s because at some level we’re feeling like we’re not good enough. When we’re feeling the need to control things, it’s because at some level we’re not feeling safe and are anxious about the future. When we’re self-absorbed it’s because we’re feeling disconnected. And when we’re feeling entitled, it may be because we feel there’s not enough to go around.
Then we reflect on the person that irritated us and wonder if they are experiencing some of these same feelings and needs. We begin to see how we all possess many of these same qualities as a result of being imperfect human beings.
Now that we realize this, how do we shift it?
How do we become kinder and more compassionate with ourselves, which will, in turn, increase our kindness and compassion with other people that irritate us?
We can spend 5 minutes personalizing a loving-kindness practice that comes from the Buddhist tradition in order to shift from irritation to compassion.
Here’s a summary of how to do it:
- Bring to your awareness the underlying needs and feelings that you’d like to cultivate in response to those qualities that triggered you. For example,
- May I love myself just as I am.
- May I feel safe.
- May I feel connected to the universe, others and myself.
- May I know I live in an abundant universe.
- Now close your eyes and take some long, slow, deep breaths as you allow yourself to relax your body. Now bring your awareness to your heart as let your breath return to its natural rhythm. Notice your chest rise and fall over your heart. Get a sense that you are breathing in and out of your heart
- Begin repeating the phrases of kindness that you have created based on your desire to be compassionate with yourself. Start with focusing this compassion and kindness towards yourself.
- Repeat these phrases as you breathe in and out through your heart. Allow whatever feelings arise be present without trying to push them away.
- After you’ve repeated these phrases several times, now turn your attention to the person that also possess these same qualities. Repeat these same phrases with that person in mind:
- May you love yourself just as you are.
- May you feel safe.
- May you feel connected to yourself, the universe and others.
- May you know that you live in an abundant universe.
- Repeat several times and notice how this feels in your body. Allow whatever feelings arise to be there without trying to push them away.
This practice will water the seeds of compassion for both yourself and others who irritate you. As you soften and open your heart to yourself and the ways in which you are an imperfect human being, you will also begin to open your heart to others.
Try this practice and let me know how it feels for you.