The Shocking Reason Why People Irritate You

"The world is a great mirror. It reflects back to you what you are." - Thomas Dreier   Have you ever wanted to have a crucial conversation with someone who pissed you off in almost every social interaction?  Were you dying to tell them how they were wrong, and that they needed to change?   Why did I have such an issue with this person and how could they so easily "press my buttons"?   The answer to this question can be traced back 13 years ago.   In 2003, I accepted a temporary lecturing position at the University of Alberta. I was told that it may lead to other opportunities depending on how I fared.  


  How well the students liked me via the course evaluations.  I was undaunted; I had recently earned my Masters Degree and wanted challenging work.   At the end of the semester, I read the scathing, verbally-abusive course evaluations. Apparently, I did not fare well.  My career in academia evaporated before it began and I was crushed.  I wanted to learn how to become a better lecturer, but, the sting from reading those nasty course evaluations left me emotionally crippled and deeply ashamed.   Almost a year passed and scarcely a day would pass without me ruminating about my painful lecturing experience. What could I learn from this experience and how could I move on?   One night while reading the local newspaper, I noticed an ad for a Toastmaster meeting.  The following week, I attended my first Toastmaster meeting, a meeting that changed my life forever.   Over the next six months, I dove into Toastmasters.  I delivered my first 10 speeches, took on an executive role, and assisted my club with public relations.  Both my communication skills and my leadership abilities improved, but sadly, I still had the self-awareness of a turnip.   How did I know this?   One of the benefits of Toastmasters is learning the importance of non-verbal communication in conveying what a person is really thinking or feeling.  You learn that people's mouths can say one thing, while their body language says quite another. I began to seriously notice and develop the ability to interpret what people were thinking and feeling by observing their gestures, facial expressions, and posture.  This opened up a whole new understanding for me; it was something I really needed to learn.   Over that first year in Toastmasters, I developed my own "course evaluation" forms based on the non-verbal cues I noticed during my many social interactions.   Judging by people's reactions, I still possessed a personal manner that was arrogant (I pointed out other people's mistakes), elitist (scoffing at those who lacked an advanced degree) and unfriendly (smiling was not something that came naturally to me).   It was a painful, but, a necessary realization.  

Fast-forward to the present day

  I find myself financially and spiritually broke, the by-product of proceeding through a painful divorce.  My serenity coach calls it "a spiritual awakening" or "going through the dark night of the soul".  It doesn't matter what you call it; it's painful, it's difficult and it's been a very lonely journey.   I find myself financially and spiritually broke, the by-product of proceeding through a painful divorce.  My serenity coach calls it "a spiritual awakening" or "going through the dark night of the soul".  It doesn't matter what you call it; it's painful, it's difficult and it's been a very lonely journey.   The barren landscape that constituted my emotional life was made colder by the additional realization that most of my relationships were completely one-sided.  I attracted selfish people into my life and I wanted and needed to stop this unhealthy pattern.  I took out my "evaluation forms" and analyzed them once again.  Yep, I attracted selfishness because I was looking outside of myself for love and approval -- just the right bait for takers.   I had been progressing through this spiritual awakening for about six months and discovered one immutable truth: We are mirrors of each other.  When I meet and interact with others whom I really like, it's because later I realize that they remind me of the "nice parts" about myself.  Conversely, when I meet and interact with someone whom I strongly dislike, they have negative traits which I too possess.   Such was the case recently wherein a series of interactions gone-wrong with a fellow Toastmaster caused me extreme frustration and anger.  He was an insecure, micro-managing, socially-awkward, control-freak of a person who utterly lacked self-awareness!  He consistently prioritized procedure over politeness, nitpicked every minor detail, and pointed out every mistake an individual made in front of others.  Could I see parts of myself in this person and was this the reason why I became so defensive during every interaction?   My frustration festered into a fever pitch and I unloaded my woes unto three colleagues, hoping to elicit their sympathy.  One of these individuals gently pointed out the flawed logic of my warped thinking: The manner in which I view him is my opinion only, and, I might also be describing myself.  My serenity coach whole-heartedly agreed with his assessment; this individual was showing me pieces of who I was.  Instead of anger she suggested, I might want to demonstrate compassion and gratitude.   I pondered this for many weeks, reading my "evaluation forms", re-reading emails I have sent to people and critiquing recent social interactions.   Was I insecure? Yes, I was. Did I micro-manage others?  Yes, sometimes I still did. Was I socially-awkward?  Admittedly, I still was.   As the comparison went on, a theme emerged: This person was a mirror who reflected back to me what I was.  The problem: I did not like that reflection. And again I was faced with another painful realization; what would I do?  

I decided

  • to continue on my journey of acquiring self-knowledge and work with my serenity coach;
  • to make a concerted effort to stop myself from judging others and accept them unconditionally;
  • to exercise compassion and understanding - not only to myself, but also with others;
  • to channel that anger into gratitude and say to those individuals who hold themselves up to me as a mirror: "Thank-you, for showing me pieces of what I am."
Kirsten Ireland

Kirsten's Bio:

A free-thinking, creatively-passionate-hippy-type person who walked away from a stable job, a big house and an unfulfilling marriage to take a journey of self-discovery.   She currently operates a little sewing studio,  Sew Fine Fashions Stony Plain in a small Alberta town and loves the quaintness of its people.  In her spare time, she attends Toastmasters and loves to mentor newcomers and walk beside them on their public-speaking journey.

  Photo by: Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez
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Categories: Blog and Personal Growth.

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