Recently, I had the opportunity to get a taste of my own medicine. Now I say it was an opportunity because I see any and all occasions where one experiences insight, learning, and then subsequent growth as valuable.
In my work as a counsellor my clients and I often talk about what’s not working for them and then do some exploration around that. This often brings them to some meaningful self-understanding and insight. From there we go on to identify the parts that are working, what has worked in the past, or what might work – since we’ve had time to establish what doesn’t. I encourage my clients to actively explore the issue from a different angle and work to figure out an alternate approach seeing as it’s been well established that the status quo is not going so well.
It’s amazing to me how it can seem like such an apparent and viable course of action when looking onto another, but then at times having the blinders on when it comes to my own life.
Not too long ago I was working with a client who was feeling quite stuck, and having a hard time getting unstuck. I could understand and empathise with her felt stuckness and we spent a few sessions exploring this together. It wasn’t until I spent some time reflecting on and processing our work together that I realized the work we were doing was not as helpful to her as it could have been. It was then that the voice of a long line of psychology gurus came billowing into my ear: “if it’s not working, stop doing it!” huh. As simple as that. Stop. Regroup. Reflect. Refocus. And come up with an alternate approach. It makes sense and seems so easy… once I remembered to take the time to step back and explicitly look at the situation and see what I was (or wasn’t) doing.
It’s funny because in the session that brought all of this on the client and I had been talking about the significance of working smarter rather than just trying to work harder. Touché.
The moral of the story: If something’s not working, or not working as well as you had planned, hoped, or expected, take some intentional time to reflect, reboot, and then come up with an alternate course of action.
And this time, it’s true – At least according to Carl Jung (one of the grandfathers of modern psychotherapy). His theory suggests that we project the disowned (read: unappealing) aspects of ourselves onto others. Jung referred to this as our shadow archetype… don’t worry I’m not going to go all psycho babble on you now. Basically, though, what he said is that the unfavourable qualities we react negatively to in others are really just our own issues that we do not identify with or recognize, but possess nonetheless.
In other words: The things that bother, irritate, get under our skin, and drive us crazy about other people are more often than not, our own disowned, unacknowledged, or rejected issues. This is a tough one to swallow and might even sound a little hooey.
Before you reject his theory of trait rejection all together, have you ever wondered why something will drive you absolutely nuts about someone, but your friends may not even notice it, let alone be even mildly irritated by it? Why are we irritated or put off by some things other people do or say, and not others? And why isn’t everyone put off by the same things? Something to think about…
I’m not sure if this theory applies to every situation and I was pretty sceptical when I learned about this concept, but once I started paying attention to it in myself, good goodness, it was true more often than I am comfortable admitting.
The up side in all of this though, is that we can use our reactions toward other people to indirectly (or maybe quite directly) show us what we might be struggling with and need to address and work through.
Free insight? I’ll take that.
There’s an idea out there in the psychology world that we create, to a large extent, how people treat us, and recently I’ve been finding myself thinking and philosophizing about this idea more than usual. Now obviously if we are rude and mean to someone most likely they will respond to us with anger or resentment… nothing profound there. And, sometimes friends, loved ones, and even complete strangers will be overtly rude to us for no apparent reason… I’m not saying we necessarily caused them to treat us in this way… sometimes people are just having bad days and they decide to take it out on the next innocent person who unknowingly crosses their path.
I’m talking here about something a little more subtle and below the surface where there is always so much more going on. I’m talking about things like being talked down to by our partners; like feeling as though we’re always the one taking responsibility for coming up with ‘the plan’ when with friends; like we don’t get included in social get togethers very often; Like our parents don’t trust us to make good decisions… I could go on but I think you get the point. It’s kind of a hard and painful concept to really look at and reflect on. Could it really be true that I’m largely responsible for setting up how others treat me? Perhaps, and often most likely unintentionally, but the truth is that we play a pretty major role in shaping how others approach us… especially those with whom we have closer relationships.
Think about this: Are there certain friends who you would never cancel plans on, but would on others? Are there certain people who you would call the day of to make plans and others you only plan with a week or two in advance? Are there some family members who you feel you can be straightforward and honest with and others you often skirt around or avoid the issue with? Are there some friends you trust with your most personal secrets and others you would never go to in confidence? What have they done to influence how you approach them?
This idea can be really challenging, or even upsetting for some – especially if we often find ourselves being treated poorly in our relationships and instead of the blaming others for their wrong doings and pointing the finger 100% outwards. We might have to take some pretty major responsibility and look inward, or at least partly inward and share some of that responsibility. The good, if not GREAT news is that we are NOT helpless victims. If we have the ability to play a major role in how others treat us for worse, then we can recast those roles and create opportunities for others to treat us how we actually want to be treated!
I’m not saying it’s easy, or that we will always be successful, but it’s a start: An empowering start.