That man walking slowly, making you irrationally mad? You take that pace too, while you’re walking through the grocery store, scanning an aisle for an ingredient you can’t find.
That person so clearly invested in someone who will not commit to them, exhausting you with their unwillingness to see reality for what it is? That was you, 7 years ago, trying to piece together signs and empty words to save your own sinking ship.
That acquaintance trying to force a career in something that they aren’t naturally good at, the one whose halfhearted attempts always make you cringe? That was you, though you may have forgotten the time in your life before you knew what you wanted to do.
That friend vying for attention online, trying to show others how popular and attractive they are? You do that too, though you may not be as forthcoming about it.
That family member who constantly plays the victim, the one whose problems are unfairly impacting you? Well, you’re imagining being victimized by them as much as they are imagining being victimized by the world.
When other people mirror our unconscious behaviors, they show us a part of ourselves we are sometimes not ready to see.
The traits that make you irrationally, obsessively angry — especially when they are innocuous— are often disassociated aspects of your own psyche.
There are so many things to be enraged about in life. So many truly devastating facts about the world. There are foreign affairs and climate change, prejudices and wealth gaps, trafficking and mass school shootings happening at an unprecedented frequency. If you want to truly be angry at something, there’s a lot to choose from.
But how often do these very real and legitimate threats take up your mind space, or elicit an intense emotional reaction in the same way that you allow the behaviors of people closest to you affect you?
If you’re like most people, it’s not even a comparison, and there’s a reason for this.
You most aggressively dislike people who are most like you.
When you see someone doing something that you do not realize that you do, it is very often because you are suppressing your awareness of the behavior.
When other people act on our own unconscious impulses, we recognize them. We identify the motive immediately. Our instinct is to in some way shut down their course of action in the same way that we have shut down our own. You assume other people are following your own logic, prioritizing their own interests over other people’s wellbeing.
Except you don’t know that.
The frustration you feel is simply a reflection of your own maligned behaviors and intents.
You don’t know that the person walking slowly is physically incapable of moving faster, or that the person in a trying relationship won’t end up with their partner eventually, or that your acquaintance’s new career path is really right for them. All you know is what was right for you, and you’re projecting it onto situations around you that seem similar.
Within this is a great opportunity for growth.
Instead of raging at other people for not being perfect, we can correct ourselves instead.
Now that you’re a little more self-aware, maybe next time you’ll move to the side of the grocery aisle so others can pass. Now that you know the temporary pain of rejection and loss is nothing compared to sustaining delusional hope, maybe you can be the friend to calmly and kindly wait while others find that out, too. Maybe in the same way that it took you some time to figure out your career path, you can have compassion for others on their path of self-discovery. Maybe you can offer up a compliment to someone looking for validation, because you know what it’s like to need it.
The point isn’t that we’re so much like the people who frustrate us, it should take a hit to our self-esteem.
It should, instead, bolster our self-awareness, and encourage us to look more clearly on how we interact with the world, given how we prefer the world interacts with us.