Does anyone make you see red?

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Carl Jung, psychiatrist (1875 – 1961)

If you lead people, you need a robust emotional intelligence (EI). Without EI, you don’t have a clue about how others might be feeling or your effect on them and their attitudes and behaviour. And without a solid EI, you don’t understand your own feelings and emotions and find it hard to control them. As a result, your ability to communicate suffers and so do your relationships with the people you live and work with.

Let’s drill into that third aspect of EI, understanding your own emotions, and in particular, understanding what makes you ‘see red’, and why.

We’ll start with a given: Naturally, you don’t want to be lazy, rude, selfish and so on. Yet, as a human being, you have the capacity to behave in any of these ways–we all do. Even though we know we shouldn’t.

And so, rather than admit that you have one of these all-too-human faults, you attach that fault to others. He’s lazy. She’s rude. They’re selfish. But unless others agree, it could mean you’re attaching your own behaviour to someone else. As William Thackeray, the English novelist said:

The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.

Psychologists call this projection. You do it whenever you attach a characteristic to another person that you possess. These are often negative qualities you don’t want to own up to: rather than admit you have a loathsome fault, whatever it may be, it’s easier on the ego to point the finger at someone else (which leaves three fingers pointing back at you–try it!).

The next time you find yourself really, really, really annoyed by someone when no one else is, that annoying person may be, almost certainly unwittingly, highlighting a characteristic about yourself that you’d really, reallyreally rather ignore. And that means you should check it out!

Discussion questions

What do other people do that regularly and deeply annoys you? What characteristics and behaviours do you strongly dislike in others? The answers offer a powerful hint that you need to look in the mirror. Chances are, you’ve spotted something you dislike about yourself. Intense irritation gives us all some important information about ourselves.