When people annoy us, upset us or generally get a strong negative reaction out of us, we’ve got two basic choices: stew on it, or get over it and let it go. Or so we think… maybe there’s a third choice. Whether we react hastily or manage to respond from a more centred place, the fact is that they hit a nerve; not unlike when someone gives us a massage and touches something that is sore that we didn’t know was even there. Maybe we can use whatever it was that ‘pushed our buttons’ to show us things that may need to be healed within ourselves.
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
– Carl Jung
This is a great quote from Jung, that conveys a truth to us, but it only really touches the surface. In order to find a deeper understanding it requires us to ask a deeper question: ‘What if the thing that is irritating me about another is something that exists within me, that I don’t like about myself’. This idea was also suggested by Jung when he said ‘Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens’; as well as RW Emerson’s famous quote: ‘when you point your finger at another, three of your fingers are pointing back at yourself.’ In fact many have echoed this sentiment throughout the years.
What is our reactiveness pointing us to?
Practically all of us have had experiences when, as children, adults berated us (or worse) for certain behaviours. When this happens to us as children it can lead to us mimicking the model shown to us by the adults around us and not accepting, but rejecting those aspects within ourselves. We learn that if the behaviour that was berated occurs we should also dislike it, as our role model did; in this way we learn to separate off parts of ourselves. There is now division within us: over here are all the things I like and over there are the things I don’t like about who I am. These kinds of judgment can come not only from our parents, but our community, the media and society.
By no means am I suggesting that we should blindly accept all of our discordant behaviour that causes problems for ourselves and others and not try to improve ourselves. There is certainly a place for learning how to modify our own behaviour, however it seems that problems arise when this leads us to the conclusion that certain parts of ourselves are unlovable. Unfortunately this means aspects of our selves can then be left unaccepted and unloved; the very opposite to what could well be the roots of all healing – self love and self acceptance.
Whatever you do, you do to yourself. To judge others only compounds your own faults.
If we’re wanting to live into our highest potential it involves making ourselves whole by paradoxically finding the things that we need to heal and at the same time accepting ourselves exactly as we are. Both at the same time even though they seem to contradict. Such paradox often makes us feel uncomfortable, however we only ever consider ideas that feel comfortable can we really be surprised when we end up repeating the same negative patterns over and over? We may need to look inwards and see our faults and despite it feeling counter counter-intuitive, heal those flaws – not by attacking them and trying to rip them out by the roots, but by loving and accepting those parts of ourselves we have been taught to reject.
Noticing a single shortcoming in ourselves is far more useful than seeing a thousand in someone else. When it is our own we can correct it.
– The Dalai Lama
How being triggered can lead us directly to our hidden wounds
A key for many may be found through learning to find all of these little micro-fragments of ourselves that we haven’t learned to accept and love, and shining the healing light of awareness-without-judgment on them. The problem is that these aspects can be buried, hard to find, hidden in the realm of our unconscious – in the realm of our shadow.
This is why noticing when we’ve become triggered by another can be an amazing gift. If, in that moment, we can learn to look inwards and see if there are any parts of ourselves that are similar to the behaviour we have an urge to attack or push away, we can allow the annoyance to lead us directly to parts of ourselves that need the healing of self love and self acceptance.
There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything [that] exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself. – Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
As we go through a process of looking inwards and being directly guided to these parts that are un-accepted, and we learn to simply sit with those parts of ourselves and become comfortable with them as being a part of us, we become more comfortable with who we are as a whole. Not only that, but we also release the root cause for our reaction to others and become more accepting of those around us.
It is neither necessary, nor possible to change others. But if you can change yourself you will find that no other change is needed. To change the picture you merely change the film, you do not attack the cinema screen!
– Sri Nisargadata Maharaj