What to Do when You’re feeling Irritated with People and Life

Other people don’t cause our upset – we totally do it to ourselves. A person could have done the most annoying thing in the world but how you respond is a choice. That is the very essence of the responsibility teaching, which I wrote about here.

But unless you’ve achieved Dalai Lama style enlightenment, you’re still going get bent out of shape from time to time.

This post is contains some personal information about what I do when I feel irritated with people and life.

I’m not exactly sure how it’ll benefit you, other than to perhaps give you some comfort if you happen to be on the hot-headed side like me.

Justified anger

Firstly, the situation where another person or life has objectively done something pretty fucking annoying.

Someone stepped on my foot the other day. It was during a commute into London, and it was in the second rush hour of the day. I was wearing flip flops and him these huge heavy work shoes. He stepped on my foot as he overtook me, even though I wasn’t being slow or taking up unnecessary amounts of space. And he didn’t apologize.

The surprise and rage was immediate and I did not suppress it. But I did slowly coax my thoughts down from the very impolite thing I wanted to shout after him. Not for him, but for me.

It’s a really hot day and everyone is short tempered. He might not have even felt my foot. And anyway, I am fine. 

This is the sort of thing that Cognitive Behavioral Therapists would have you do. I think the technical name is ‘challenging the thoughts’. It works if you’re not too flooded by your thoughts and emotions. (I think that generally, such incidents are reserved for fights with family members and partners, in which case I’d recommend going somewhere to calm down before doing anything else.)

If you get pissed off at strangers, challenge the thoughts and diffuse your anger Click To Tweet

Initial fury is like fire but the way you think can either fan the flames or put the fire out. So put the fire out. Here’s what I see as the benefits of this approach:

  • We don’t wind up committing a crime.
  • We avoid ageing prematurely from stress.
  • Raging generally isn’t attractive.

Practicing mindfulness makes this easier to do by the way.

Irritated by the irrational

Okay, so that’s reasonable irritations dealt with. But not all of them are. Sometimes I feel the creep of intolerance when I have no good reason. Nobody said being human was always pretty.

When this happens, I do a little self-inquiry. Often, it’s because I’m feeling physically tired. Or because I’m overheated. Some people feel irritated when they’re hungry. Others are sensitive to noise or to the sounds of eating. There are scientific names for both conditions, but I can’t find them right now.

I get irritated when people yawn obnoxiously nosily during my yoga class. Yawning in general tests me. Unless you’re my really close friend, I don’t want to socialize with you if you’re ultra tired and on a yawn-athon. I also get irritated when people are walking behind me so closely. No idea what that’s about. 

It feels a little shameful to admit these things. They are quite petty and that doesn’t exactly fit in with my self image. But then I remember that we aren’t defined by the quality of the thoughts we have, but the thoughts we choose to feed.

Given how common these issues are, my options: shut myself away, or practice acceptance. I choose acceptance!

Having an aggressive stance

Some personality types have an aggressive stance on life. That is they are people on a mission. In the Enneagram, those are types three, seven (my type) and eight. I wrote more about how to use the Enneagram for self-awareness here

The aggressive stance is characterized by this: ‘why can’t you just do what I want?’ When I realized that I did in fact think this a lot of the time, I didn’t like it. But I deal with it now. It is okay.

I think those of us with aggressive stances suffer more than those with withdrawing or dependent stances, when it comes to other people’s behaviour. We struggle more with wanting people to behave, and meet our own standards.

The sooner we learn to surrender than fight, the easier life gets. 

Projection

We can’t talk about irritation and not talk about projection. That would be crazy. 

If you haven’t heard of psychological projection, please reconsider how you’re spending the time. It is the most well known psychological defense mechanism. And everyone does it. 

This is not the Oxford Dictionary definition, but psychological projection is where we get pissed off by others for demonstrating the traits we find it too uncomfortable to acknowledge in ourselves.

If you're consistently irritated by something, you might be projecting Click To Tweet

Everyone projects different aspects of themselves. You project less once you start recognizing that we are all capable of all the traits that we see in others. That happens as you practice acceptance. 

I can get frustrated by: laziness, stupidity, inefficiency, herd mentality, people showing off…um the list is endless. The point is I don’t get swept up in any of it anymore, because I know that I’m projecting. It isn’t them, it’s me.

Sometimes, you get irritated when you see a person giving themselves a break or doing something you want to do. You see a person relaxing, or being focused and productive, and it irritates you because they remind you of the psychological cage you have yet to break free from. It’s unsettling.

Psychological projection is a solid way to empower yourself in the face of life’s petty grievances.

When irritation and anger are more common than not

If irritation is more often apparent than not, then you probably need to change your life. 

We shouldn’t feel venomous at the mildest of provocations. It should all be vaguely controllable. And it is, when you’re pretty content. If rage is daily, then you probably need to take more drastic action than reading articles like this. 

Summary

Here are the key takeaways of this post:

  • Talk yourself around if you can – take control of your perspective.
  • Practice acceptance.
  • Be aware of when you’re projecting.
  • Figure out if you’re a type three, seven or eight in the Enneagram and know that you’re biased towards being a bit forceful sometimes.
  • If you’re angry all the time, change your life.