Thursday, September 23, 2010
The Irritation Path to Enlightenment
-- Carl Jung
It has always irritated me that what other people do that irritates me has anything to do with me at all. I much prefer thinking it's just them being out of kilter with the way things should be. The grumpy waitress at the Grizzly or the friend who can't seem to be on time surely doesn't have anything to do with me. Or does it? After reading Jung's quote, I decided to re-explore one of my hot-button irritations.
I hate being watched ... it is, in fact, positively irritating. My mom used to come to the bathroom door and watch as I put on makeup. I never wore a lot but they thought I wore too much. I could always feel my anxiety mount as she watched and I would resist the impulse to tell her to go away. I always felt like I was on the edge of doing something wrong. My dad, in a kidding-truthful teasing way, always said I never made the same mistake twice but I sure found a lot to make the first time. It felt like he was just waiting for me to make the next mistake so he could tell me how it should have been. And, a recent relationship showed the same pattern. There wasn't much open criticism ... just that continual watching for lights not being turned off, cabinet doors left ajar, irregular noises. Little by little I felt like I was living in an irritation soup.
The slightest sense of being watched can trigger irritation. A few years ago it almost ruined a very good friendship. I traveled to Mexico with a friend who has very definite ideas about how things should be and we disagree on many of them. Mainly, there are things, small daily living kinds of things, that are important to her that just don't mean that much to me. I started to feel "watched" ... i.e. insecure, afraid of being "wrong", feeling childish and weak. Irritation grew until I was prickly, snappy and just plain bitchy.
We made it through the trip but then didn't see each other for quite awhile. I didn't really want to see her but I missed her and eventually we decided to do something together. My friend isn't the type of person to let an issue go unresolved, so as we walked through the woods, she wanted to know what had been going on in Mexico. I had to try to unravel the threads of what caused that irritation. I peeled back the layers enough for us to understand what had happened. But, now, I see a few more links ... when someone "watches" me, they may see an imperfection ... something that I don't do perfectly. If I am imperfect, I am not valuable or valued. If I am not perfect, I am not worthy of being loved. Being watched triggers the irritation of knowing I'm not perfect (true) which triggers feelings of being unlovable (untrue). I don't expect my friends and loved ones to be perfect, why should I think they expect me to be?
My friend and I worked it out and our friendship is strong again ... and I know a little more about myself from looking at that irritation. (Isn't it irritating when the great masters (in this case, Jung) are always right?) It makes me wonder if all irritations, if traced back far enough, have the same well as their source: feelings of being unlovable. The slow service of a waitress or the friend who's not on time may just trigger a "if I were truly important (lovable) this behavior wouldn't happen" type of irritation.
Maybe there could be a whole school of personal or spiritual development based on examining irritations.
So what irritates you?
About this image: I found some wonderfully playful glasses at a thrift store and as we were getting ready to use them for the first time, I noticed the colorful shadows and spent a wonderful few minutes playing.