Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lesson #14: You Only Dislike Things In Others That You Dislike In Yourself

One of the most liberating lessons I have ever learned is recognizing that I can only dislike characteristics in others that I do not like in myself.  Their personality traits are not the "problem," it is my personality traits are the problem.

This became obvious to me in my early 30s.  By that point I had had about a half dozen internships/job placements, and yet found myself getting annoyed with the same type of people in every job.  The slacker, the worrier, the pessimist, the obsessive-compulsive overachiever, the whiner, I kept meeting these people over and over in every position.  I had to face facts and admit I was going to be irritated with certain traits regardless of where I worked.  I had to realize, "No matter where you go there you are. You move towns, you move jobs, yet you keep running into the same annoying reflections of yourself everywhere.  Maybe the problem is YOU."

The only way that was ever going to stop was to take a different stance.  Instead of judging and condemning my reflection in others, I decided to work on accepting them.  For instance, I worked with a therapist in California who left early every Friday to go play golf, and expected the secretaries to file his notes from the week.  It was easy for me to dismiss him as lazy and burnt out.  But I had to be brutally honest and admit that I too had had jobs where I did the minimal amount of work expected, cut corners,  and made other people pick up the slack. At that same clinic I had a colleague who ran around seeing conflict in every situation, and always predicted the worst case scenario.  I took a long hard look at myself and remembered that I had spent a great deal of my life being a drama queen, predicting catastrophic outcomes left and right.  I still don't love these aspect of my personality, but I must be truthful about them if I wish to stop getting annoyed by others who do the same thing.

Today I see the same dynamic with the epidemic of bullying, especially when it comes to verbal and emotional violence against gay youth.  There is simply no way someone can be threatened by a gay person unless they are gay themselves.  Someone who is truly heterosexual has no cause to be scared, nervous, or unsettled by the existence of someone who is homosexual (or perceived as homosexual).  This point was beautifully illustrated on an episode of Glee last year, when a bully who terrorized an openly gay student turned and desperately kissed him.  It showed that those who express hate toward gays only do so because of the fear of their own homosexuality. 

This lesson has completely set me free as I grow older.  It has taught me to understand that when someone doesn't like me, it is not because of me, but the part of themselves they recognize in me.  I am fully aware that I am completely annoying to co-workers who choose to be depressed.  I am that unrelenting half-full cup guy, and that has irked many who want to see themselves as victims in a such a "cruel harsh world."  This does not mean I have to change or alter who I am, and neither do they! They are simply pointing fingers at the uncomfortable reflections of themselves, it is no more personal than when I was judging the slacker golf player

We can all be the change we want to see by taking a little more responsibility.  If you say you want live in a world without bullying then stop condemning others.  If you say you want to live in a world without war, then stop practicing attack with your coworkers.  Challenge yourself to stand up and face the parts of yourself that you see reflected in others.  If everyone did this the world truly would change.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at Shouldless@gmail.com

**If you are in the New York City area, please come to Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410**

1 comment:

bluelittlegirl said...

I really like your perspective here, Damon. There is an exception to this, though. We can also recognize behaviors that we lack when we trace the impact of the hurt others experience to the individual creating the issue. It is when we use our empathy to feel and understand what hurts someone else that we can recognize a fault that we might not share.