“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
In recent Notable articles (here and here) we have delved into the topic of self-reflection, and its importance for the success and happiness of young professionals. While thus far we have focused on turning inward, to see what we can learn about ourselves as people, partners, and professionals, today we look outward, toward those people who irk and annoy us, anger and disgust us, who we just don’t like, and sometimes just don’t know why. As young professionals, we are expected to be polite and professional in our dealings with colleagues and acquaintances. We aren’t, however, expected to like everyone. While it’s perfectly OK to prefer certain people to others, looking deeper at those we dislike can aid in gaining a greater understanding of ourselves. By taking a good, honest look at the types of people who always tend to bug us, we may just be surprised what can be revealed and learned about us:
A mirror of our own issues
Upon initial thought, you may believe that you dislike that colleague or acquaintance because they’re simply a cocky know-it-all, an annoying drama queen, a stuck-up prude, or manipulative jerk… and that’s all there is to it. Upon further consideration, however, you may come to find that such thoughts stem from somewhere deeper within, and might not have anything to do with that person at all. In other words, sometimes we dislike people because they reflect back something that we don’t like about ourselves, such as insecurities about our own personalities or lifestyles. Perhaps we dislike the cocky know-it-all because we are actually envious of their confidence and knowledge. Maybe we dislike the annoying drama queen because we fear we may actually be much like them. Perhaps the stuck-up prude causes us to question our own morals and lifestyle. And the manipulative jerk may just remind us of someone who treated us poorly, and of our fears of being treated that way again. It’s hard to imagine that the loudmouth payroll chick or sketchy IT guy could do so much for us, but learning to see how others are able reflect aspects of ourselves is a very handy tool in the game of personal and professional development. By taking the time to really stop and think about it (for example, via writing, meditation, self talk, talking with a professional), looking to others as a means of self-reflection can offer us a profoundly rich opportunity for understanding our truest selves.
Use it to improve
Very often, people don’t want to admit or focus on the things that they don’t like about themselves. For young professionals in particular, living in a period of our lives where building confidence and self-trust are so crucial in order to succeed, oftentimes the negatives in our lives are fearfully pushed away and ignored rather than indulged and utilized. But by taking an honest look at those types of people we tend to normally dislike, we can open up a door to a corner of our psyche where much can be positively learned and gained. It’s not a bad thing to see the areas of ourselves that could use some improvement. The trick is to keep it practical and productive. Don’t dive into the depths of self judgment and criticism, but instead see yourself as a savvy work in progress, forever looking to both yourself and to the world around you for lessons and understanding of your most prized possession: You.