Welcome back. Today is Day 2 of my series, “30 Days of Jung” wherein I take a famous quote of Carl G. Jung‘s and try to make sense or refute or disavow or disembowel it or where I turn into a heaping pile of mush because of it in 1,000 words or less.
Today’s quote is to me, his most famous and MOST vexing of all:
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.― C.G. Jung
Doesn’t that quote just steam your shorts? It’s so smug.
I hate that quote.
I also love it.
That quote has taught me SO much about myself and why I hate it.
It has shown me that when I am irritated by say (hypothetically of course), that my son ate all the Cap’n Crunch and didn’t save me any that I’m mad because he was so selfish. I mean, how could he eat all the cereal?!
Not so fast.
He didn’t sit with a big salad-bowl, pour the entire box and use a massive spoon and all the milk to eat it.
But maybe he did. He just happened to have been the final person to eat the last available all-
natural, organic, delicious and healthy morsel.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is how I react to his action. If I see him as selfish, I paint him with a broad brush. I have disconnected from him. I begin to feel excluded, angry, and invisible, selfish. He’s the jerk and I get to be the victim. So I am just as selfish for being so mad at him. Suddenly (as in most moments of emotional reactivity), this isn’t about the Cap’n Crunch (as impossible to believe as that may be, especially around here). It’s about something much deeper, what my family friend used to term, “you’re not mad at what you’re mad at.” Your reaction is a projection of how you feel about yourself: invisible, excluded…selfish.
What about people who exhibit arrogance or elitism or another form of threatening behavior: flamboyance, eccentricity, self-promotion, exhibitionism, shyness, reclusiveness, great athletic, artistic prowess or intellectual skills? If we are bothered by it, what are we manifesting in ourselves? Be honest with yourself: that’s where the pay dirt is.
As devastating as it would be for me to lose all those Crunch Berries, it was a benign example of an effrontery. What about much deeper and more harmful offenses? When is it OK for a survivor of an offense (a legitimately upsetting act) to be irritated? I still think the opportunity for a better understanding of self still applies, but on a more sensitive level. We see evidence in the news on a hourly basis that some people have just checked out; they simply don’t possess the bandwidth to care about anyone else. And they’re out there in the millions. I guess, for us to navigate all this in a healthy way for ourselves is to do what we can to alleviate our suffering and that’s likely achievable by looking at our reactions and if we’ve allowed ourselves to identify with those reactions then we’ve allowed those reactions to become part of us.
Don’t go calling me weird and saying I’m overly sensitive. What about Newtown? Virginia Tech? What about when you’ve been hurt or offended? We all have felt hurt.
Maybe you just haven’t admitted it to yourself and the suggestion of your vulnerability proves Jung right. If you deny your hurt, you’re harboring it and letting it become part of you; you can’t process and move on from the denial of a reaction to something. Are you willing to be led to an understanding of yourself? Are you willing to stay mindful about your reactions and feelings toward others in order to gain a better understanding of yourself? It takes a lot of brain power and humility. (That’s why I can’t do it all the time. I’d never get anything done around here. Not that I ever get anything done around here…)
The whole “everything that irritates us about others” thing is all about our release of control and releasing our judgmentalism (which sometimes is really a judgment against ourselves).
Another point: what about the identification with (not of) everything that irritates (a feeling, a sensation, not rational or intellectual at all) us about someone else? The feelings.
Eeew… she said feelings.
To me, this goes back to the “It takes one to know one” rebuke of Lisa Loopner’s (Gilda Radner) when Todd DiLamuca (Bill Murray) would tease Lisa or call her a nerd and she’d say, “It takes one to know one, Taaaaaadddd…” and she would be totally right.
We can’t know (identify with) the selfishness, nerdiness, coldness, arrogance in others unless we possess it ourselves.
Blech. Enough with the psychobabble. I have a headache.
Let’s turn Jung upside down. Let’s replace “irritates” with “enamors.” If he’s suggesting that examining “everything that irritates” can lead to an understanding of ourselves, the same thing can be said of the inverse. The best way to paint something, my mother always said, was to try it upside down. She also said that from a visual standpoint, the way people see us physically is as a reflection of a reflection (like a 3-way mirror). I thought our eyes see things reversed and upside-down but it’s our brain that turns them “right-side” up and in “proper” order. Are we all really upside-down and inverse?
Pass the coffee… or the pillow and blanket.
What about the blasé amongst us? Those who have no opinion? The indifferent who are neither irritated by or enamored with everything about others? Can it be that they are totally enlightened? Mmmmmokay. I would likely propose they just have decided to not bother with it. Am I jealous of them? Hell yes.
Per this inversion, I propose that what we can admire in others can also lead us to a better ability to admire ourselves, and to appreciate ourselves because as Lisa said, “it takes one to know one, Taaaaaadd.”
If you can be kinder to yourself, you can be kinder to others and eventually, just maybe, what “irritates us about others” might not be so much. We will have gotten that much closer to equanimity.
This one was tough.