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On Feeling Annoyed by Others

In every life, we are constantly confronted with situations where a stranger will do something acutely irritating or discomforting: perhaps they’ll turn up their music too loudly on the train, or they’ll be wiggling their leg maddeningly next to us on the plane. Maybe they’ll assign us a room in a hotel that has a strange musty smell or where a high pitched whine will be coming out of the air conditioning. In a restaurant, we may be given the worst table by the toilets, the bread may be stale and, proverbially, a fly may be found floating in the soup.

For many of us, our upbringing and cultural traditions will prepare us to say nothing at all in relation to these frustrations, and to forgive and overlook our agony instead. We may have emerged from childhood with a deep sense that we must – whatever happens – stay quiet and not cause a fuss for other people. At the same time, we may inwardly twitch and boil. At points, we might even explode into sudden unpredictable rage. Though normally shy, we might surprise ourselves with the unbounded fury we let loose at the car rental resk, the hotel reception and with the hooded teenager in the train. But neither the silence nor the rage seem, on reflection, to be quite the way forward. What we’re ideally searching for is a way to be at once polite and honest, or civil and forthright.

To achieve this, we should – first and foremost – build up a good relationship with our own needs. This involves accepting that not everything that makes us happy will please others or be honoured as especially convenient – but that it can be important to explore and hold on to what we want nevertheless. The desire to be unfussy is one of the loveliest things in the world, but in order to have a genuinely good life, we may sometimes need to be (by the standards of the good child we once were) fruitfully and bravely a bit tricky.

At the same time, in order not to shout, we must hold on, even in very challenging situations, to a distinction between what someone does – and what they meant to do. Our idea of motives is crucial. Unfortunately, we’re seldom very good at perceiving what motives really happen to be involved in the incidents that drive us mad. We are easily and wildly mistaken. We see intention where there was none and escalate and confront when no strenuous or agitated response is warranted.

Part of the reason why we jump so readily to dark conclusions and therefore shout more than we should, is a rather poignant psychological phenomenon: self-hatred. The less we like ourselves, the more we appear in our own eyes as really rather plausible targets for mockery and harm. Why would a drill have started up outside, just as we were settling down to work? Why is the room service breakfast not arriving, even though we will have to be in a meeting very soon? Why would the phone operator be taking so long to find our details? Because there is – logically enough – a plot against us. Because we are appropriate targets for these kinds of things, because we are the sort of people against whom disruptive drilling is legitimately likely to be directed: because it’s what we deserve. When we carry an excess of self-disgust around with us, operating just below the radar of conscious awareness, we’ll constantly seek confirmation from the wider world that we really are the worthless people we take ourselves to be.

The ideal complaint emerges from an unparanoid assumption: they aren’t deliberately setting out to irritate us; they haven’t got a plan to make us unhappy, they really just haven’t thought about us very much at all. We’re able to imagine that they could be quite a nice and reasonable person who nevertheless – without thinking about it – has upset us profoundly.

Why You Hate In Others What You Hate About Yourself

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.."

- Carl Jung

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part yourself. What isn’t part ourselves doesn’t disturb us. – Hermann Hesse

We always require an outside point to stand on, in order to apply the lever of criticism. If someone says or does something that appears selfish or rude – that makes us angry and frustrated – Hesse and Jung say that there is something about this experience that can teach us more about ourselves. This is not to say that other people don’t behave immorally and that our judgement about such behaviour is completely unfounded. What Hesse and Jung are getting at is that our emotional reaction – be it irritation or hatred – to perceived weaknesses in others reflects something going on inside of us.

Psychological projection is a well-known self-defence mechanism. It involves projecting our own insecurities, flaws and weaknesses onto others. When we strongly judge someone else to be rude, selfish or stupid, we may, in fact, be doing so in order to avoid confronting these characteristics in ourselves that we have rejected. In Jung’s work The Phenomenology of the Self he talks about the ‘shadow’ – the unknown, dark side of the personality. It is dark because it is instinctive, irrational and primitive – consisting of impulses such as lust, power, greed, envy, anger and rage.

But it is also a hidden source of creativity and insight. Recognising and integrating the shadow aspect is essential for psychological health – a process called individuation.The shadow is also dark because it is obscured: the light of consciousness does not touch it. According to Jung, we repress these dark aspects of the unconscious mind, which makes them prone to projection. It is not the person or the behaviour which bothers us, but our reaction to it. We can use this reaction as a tool for self-reflection, to find out why this hatred and irritation exists. From a slightly different perspective, there are circumstances outside of our control – such as where we’re born, how we’re raised, traumatic events, and so on – that can set two people on two very different life trajectories.

Psychological Common Reasons We Get Annoyed

To annoy means “to rouse to impatience or anger.” Think of it as a highway rumble strip on the edge of full-blown anger. It could be a clue that you’ve gotten off course and need to steer back to your own lane. Sometimes we’re tempted to deal with our feelings of annoyance by discounting them: “Oh, I shouldn’t feel so annoyed at such a little thing.” Sometimes a little perspective does hold annoyance and anger at bay. But your feelings of annoyance might be trying to tell you something important, such as one of these five things:

1. You need to set a limit. Someone is asking you a question that feels much too personal and you feel irritated. The irksome tingle of annoyance lets you know that someone may be about to violate your boundaries. Gear up for a protective response before things go too far, such as saying, “I really don’t want to talk about it," or a classic "thanks, but no thanks."

2. You need to protect your time. Is someone asking you to help out at another event? Again?! Your annoyance may be telling you that you are already overloaded and that you need to do something about that, starting by saying, “I’ve got a lot on my plate already. I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

3. You need to find a better way to do something. Annoyed at all the morning tasks you need to juggle just to get to work on time? Annoyance can be a spur to creative problem-solving. What could you do to make your situation better? Could you wake up 15 minutes earlier, do some tasks the night before?

4. You're feeling resentful or angry. Maybe you think you’re doing more than your share of work or even household chores. Instead of stewing about it or letting the situation escalate into an argument, acknowledge your annoyance, turn your complaint into a request, and see what happens. You could say, “I’d appreciate it if you could...”

5. You are suffering from perfectionism. You may become irritated when you don’t live up to your own standards, when someone else doesn’t live up to your standards, or when this cruel world betrays your ideals of how things ought to be. In that case:

• If you are annoyed at yourself for falling short of the mark, you could choose to make a creative change, re-evaluate your high standards, or just send yourself some compassion: “You have a right to be less than perfect. You are human!”

• When someone else doesn’t live up to your standards, you could either speak up clearly about what you expect, try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view, or decide you need to let it go.

• And when the world is cruel, unjust, or just plain disorganised, you can become an activist and make at least your corner of the world a bit better.

We all get annoyed by different things, so it's important to recognise that a person is not necessarily inflicting psychological warfare on you through thoughtless actions. When your neighbor has been using his beloved leaf-blower for 45 minutes, it's irritating but not something to take personally. Just buy earplugs or decide it's the right time to head out for a cup of coffee. The next time you feel irritated at something, see if you can “sit with it" for a few moments. As you explore your feelings, you may discover a variety of "instant messages."

• Recognise the annoyance

• Label/ Name it

• Investigate it

• Let it be or take action to change the situation

Soon you may find that the presence of annoyance can be like a visit from an old friend from whom you can always learn something new.

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