Practice of the Week
When People Annoy, Ask Yourself Two Questions
Category: Slogans to live by. Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.
Sometimes people are irritating! They’re incompetent, or liars, or loud mouths, or bullies – maybe all of the above. If you regularly interact with people, these judgments about some of them are likely to arise. Maybe you even have annoying people in your own family or house.
People may be annoying, irritating, or hurtful for various reasons. Maybe they have very low self-esteem due to having experienced a traumatic upbringing. Because they didn’t receive the love they needed as a child, they use destructive and desperate measures to gain recognition as an adult. Moreover, they are usually unaware of the effect of their behavior on other people. After all, what they really want is love, and their way of behaving certainly doesn’t lead to that result.
People are usually pretty good at detecting when you are annoyed with them – even if they didn’t foresee how their behavior would trigger your annoyance. Your annoyance, then, may cause them to feel more threatened, which may make them still more annoying. If, however, they sense that you accept and understand them, they may calm down and be easier to deal with. The problem is: accepting and understanding can be extremely difficult when you’re annoyed!
How do you put up with people who push your buttons (even though you’re the one who keeps those buttons active)? By learning how to view “difficult” people with compassion, you’ll feel better – and may even help the annoying person.
There are two questions that can almost instantly transform irritation into forgiveness, and judgment into understanding.
Question #1: Ask yourself, “What pain must this person have experienced in the past in order to act so desperately now?”
After asking yourself this question, try to imagine the answer. It’s unlikely you would have enough information to know, but that doesn’t matter. Jut imagining a possible answer does the trick. Was the person you find annoying unloved as a baby? Was he mistreated by parents or teachers? Perhaps she was criticized and rejected by everyone, and what you’re seeing is the result of her pain. By imagining people as helpless, hurt little infants, you will likely feel some compassion for them. When you open your heart and let compassion in, your annoyance ends. You can’t feel compassion and understanding at the same time as annoyance and irritation. Imagining the other person’s pain will also help him feel less feel less threatened by you.
Question #2: Ask yourself, “How is that person’s behavior like something that I do?"
Often we feel the most irritation at people who have an annoying behavior similar to one of our own – one that we try to hide from ourselves. Seeing how their behavior is like something that you do creates instant forgiveness and compassion.
Example: I used to get livid at a housemate who made a lot of noise in the kitchen. I thought he was incredibly inconsiderate of others. One day I confronted him about the clashing of pans and cupboards that he created. He shot back, “Well look who’s talking. If your stereo isn’t blaring, you’re wailing on your guitar or singling off key.” Indeed, he was right. Because I didn’t want to think of myself as inconsiderate of others, I projected all my stuff onto to him.
Awareness of how you do something similar to the person with whom you’re annoyed gives you the space to understand and forgive. The more specifically you can pinpoint a behavior you do that is like the one that bothers you, the more understanding you are likely to be.
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” asks Jesus (Matt 7:3, Luke 6:41). Looking at the “log in your own eye” will make you sympathetic to the plight of the person you had previously judged.
Will being understanding and compassionate to difficult people allow them to walk all over you? No. It just gives you a clearly and larger perspective on their behavior. The two questions help you better comprehend the situation. With a clear mind and an open heart, it is easier to see the appropriate action to take. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, these two questions help healing begin.
Ultimately, we are all very much alike. We’ve all experienced being in a nasty mood, and most of us have even treated other people like dirt on occasion. When we’re in such a state of mind, it is only through understanding and caring that we are pulled out. These two Compassion Questions are powerful and can instantly transform your judgments into forgiveness and acceptance.
Precisely because they are so effective, you may notice yourself resisting use of the Compassion Questions. After all, compassion means no longer enjoying the gratifications of judgmentalism and self-righteousness. Thus, it may help to ease yourself into this practice. Don’t try it, at first, with people that make you absolutely livid. Start with people who just mildly annoy you. Once you see it can work with people you slightly judge, progress at your own pace to use the Compassion Questions with people who really push your buttons. As you get good at turning annoyance into compassion, you will be helping to heal your own heart as well as others’.
Use your journal this week to practice working with the two Compassion Questions. Recall a past encounter with an annoying person. In your journal, write a description of what might be the annoying person's pain. Then describe how the annoying behavior is similar to something you do.
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index