Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. – Carl Jung
This idea, which has become fairly common, isn’t meant to let others off the hook when they harm us, but rather in exploring what creates that irritation we can create a greater mastery of our own lives, our thoughts and feelings.
At work I once had a superior who, with uncanny timing, would come into my office and start a discussion on some relatively unimportant project every time I was up against a deadline. It frustrated the hell out of me. Here I am at 4:30 trying to focus on some difficult problem I needed to solve before I went home for the night and he wanted to discuss something that could wait 4 or 5 days. He would sit there for half an hour no matter how impatient I looked or how often i turned back to my work. A couple times I even blew up at him. It troubled me and I would hold onto that frustration for days.
As I came to the kind of self-examination we find in the work and conversations we have with a coach, counselor, or even our closest friend, I realized something that was tremendously freeing. I could never change his behavior. I only had control over how I was, and who I was, in those situations. When I reacted I was allowing myself to be hijacked. The frustration that arose in me created more of a distraction from my work than simply putting my work aside for 30 minutes and having the conversation that was being forced on me. As I grew in that understanding we eventually developed a good relationship, rather than the adversarial one we had previously.
But the real gift was that I developed the self-respect to simply say to him when he came in, “Hey, I’m on a deadline. Is this something we can talk about tomorrow.”
And yeah, I was so caught up in my over emotional reaction to his imposition, that I hadn’t even considered my inner desire to be seen as a good worker who did what his employer wanted was preventing me from simply asking for a reprieve.
I learned a lot about myself in that situation. I was afraid to say no. I did not have confidence in myself or my position to say “hold on a minute, I’m busy.” I learned that I allow stress in my life to get in the way of creating meaningful relationships with the people I work with. And those opened pathways to countless other little awakenings in the years since that have freed me from other misconceptions.
Today find those moments for yourself – where charged reaction to someone else is over taking your ability to manage your stress and frustration.