It’s obvious, but other people do not cause us to feel angry, irritated, upset. We do it to ourselves. A person could have done the most annoying thing in the world and, although our primary instinct might be hostility, as soon as the impulse is observed, we have a choice whether to stay there.
Yes, it takes self-control, but so do many of the things that are worth having. And peace of mind is no exception.
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. 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. I didn’t suppress it exactly; I know better that to do that. Instead, I slowly coaxed 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 already too far gone (in those cases, and if you’re anything like me, you need to go someplace you can’t do or say anything harmful until you are no longer flooded by thoughts and emotions).
Initial fury is like fire – we have to fan the flames with our thoughts in order that it spreads. Equally, we can just starve it of oxygen. We have that ability so why not use it?
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, a gentle inquiry. What’s really up here Rez? What’s going on?
Often, it’s because I’m feeling physically tired. Or because I’m overheated. Some people feel irritated when they’re hungry. Not me, I tend to get hyper when I’m hungry.
Some of us are sensitive to noise. Others are sensitive 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. I think to myself ‘just go home then’. 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. Some kind of throwback from a past life maybe?
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 think, it’s not my fault I have the thoughts. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. I know I’m not. 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 learn to love acceptance. Currently, I am choosing the second option.
Some personality types have an aggressive stance and I am one of them, I’m afraid. Underneath any upsets that happen, my real attitude is ‘why can’t you just do what I want?’ When I learned (or rather realized) this about myself, 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.
We can’t talk about irritation and not talk about projection. That would be overlooking something very essential.
If you haven’t heard of psychological projection, I’m not sure what to tell you. Please reconsider how you’re spending the time?
This is not the Oxford Dictionary definition, but psychological projection is where we get pissed off by others for demonstrating the traits we disowned.
I am 100% guaranteed to get frustrated by other people’s inconsiderate and unaware behaviour when it affects me (yep. Selfish). So I guess I disowned the traits of being inconsiderate and unaware. These things are so far removed from my vision of myself, that I am hyper-sensitive to it in you.
This realization doesn’t stop me from getting annoyed. It merely gives me a productive line of thought when I do feel annoyed. Which is useful when your thoughts are all swearwords. Usually, I can restore the connection between myself and the victim of my irritation this way.
Herd mentality also annoys the life out of me. Why don’t people think and choose for themselves? Where’s their autonomy? When I was younger and we got lost out driving, which happened a lot, my mum would often decide to just follow the driver in front ‘because they look like where they’re going’. I would be dumbfounded. Even though I frequently use services such as Trip Adviser and IMDb. Hypocrisy is common with projection.
Sometimes, it’s something you’re not giving yourself. 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.
knowing about projection is empowering
Psychological projection is the only reliable way to empower yourself in the face of life’s petty grievances. It’s all I can do to be aware of it sometimes.
I thought that as I got more accepting of myself, and practiced embracing my shadow aspects, that the intolerant thoughts would disappear. It feels like they’re more prolific. But I believe that is because I notice everything now. I am a lot more vigilant.
And anyway, it’s what we do with it that counts. I have the thoughts, but they don’t disturb my peace of mind like before.
sensations of irritation
Another good trick for calming the F down is focusing on the physical sensations of irritation.
Irritation feels prickly on my skin. A grimace on my lips. It sometimes feels like tension in my face and my neck. Focusing on the sensations can take my focus off my thoughts.
when irritation and anger are more common than not
If irritation is more often apparent than not, then Houston we have a problem.
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 it is time for a little word with yourself. What’s causing all this rage? What’s not working in life? What can we do to fix that?
Of course we are going to feel irritated by people and life. But yes, it’s not them; it’s us.
Sometimes, I am a real hot head. The fact that there is no evidence of it is because I can control my attention better, not because of any genuine improvement to the quality of my thoughts. I’m still a cranky fucker sometimes.
Until we achieve the Dalai level of enlightenment, then we must all use the simple tools of awareness, psychological projection, diverting attention, inquiry, and breath.