Michele O'Mara

The Irritant in the Mirror

Filed By Michele O'Mara | December 04, 2007 11:11 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: irritating coworker, personal growth, projection

I have a coworker who is driving me insane. She talks loud, and a lot, and always about herself. I have given her every social cue I know - not looking at her, continuing to work while she talks, walking away from her in mid-sentence (and she follows me!), and her incessant chatter, combined with her apparent neediness makes coming to work more and more unbearable.

~ A little peace, please!

Dear Peace Seeker,

One of the greatest gifts we are offered to understand ourselves is found in our judgment of others. When we have a strong negative emotional reaction to another, as it seems you do with your coworker, it is an indication that something within ourselves is being mirrored back to us in the behavior of another.

This is called "projection." When we feel something about another that we are too afraid to see in our self, we are projecting our feelings onto someone else. Much like a projector found in a movie theater, we continually have various stories (tapes) playing inside of us (like the movie reel on a projector) that look for a screen to play out our stories and beliefs. The people, places and things in our own world become our personal movie screen. What we see is a reflection of what's inside of us.

We must be willing to find out that we "are" what we least want to be. When we become curious and ask ourselves, "how am I like that?" instead of declaring, "I am not like that" we open the door to ourselves. When we do not "own" (which is simply saying, "I am that") what we are unable to accept about ourselves, everyone and everything around us mirrors this quality back to us.

So the way to make peace with your chatty coworker is to ask yourself this question: "In what ways am I like her?" Resist going there, and continue being irritated, or unwrap the gift that is so cleverly disguised as another's annoying behavior.

Michele O'Mara, LCSW

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I don't know Michele... All of Peace's soul searching isn't going to make chatty Cathy shut the hell up. Some people just talk too damn much. :)

Hmmmm... I'm thinking that no matter how much someone's fine with themselves, an annoying person's an annoying person. I can see your point, Michelle, but I'm just thinking that if I went up to one of my coworkers and started doing the "not touching you!" thing, I'd annoy them no matter what they thought about themselves.

Then again, I've never tried that....

Okay guys, thanks for the nudge to clarify here. The point is, given the millions of things in this world that we could be irritated by, often the irritations that affect us most intensely are those that align most closely with something within ourselves with which we have not yet made peace.

Think about the one thing in your life that you are most frustrated with about others, or one person in particular. Got it? Now ask yourself this: "How am I like that?"

For example, for years I was very irritated by angry people. I found the expression of anger to be immature, irresponsible, and disrespectful. It irritated me when the person in front of me in the check-out line got angry with the slow employee. It irritated me when people would express road rage while driving - yelling exploitives at the innocent 73 year old man who changed lanes without signaling. It irritated me when my then partner would be so easily angered by things that seemed to me to be petty.

How was I like that? I was so busy being irritated (but not expressing it, of course) by people getting irritated that I didn't notice my own anger. I was so busy denying myself the right to feel angry that I zeroed in, with a laser-like focus on those around me who expressed anger, and were in touch with their anger. I was so detached from my own anger, that everywhere I looked, in others I saw anger.

So the more comfortable I became with my own right to be angry, the less of an anger-magnet I became. Instead of attracting others into my life to show me anger, I began to allow myself to feel angry, and to express anger.

Though I am still not quick to anger and I don't express road rage or anger toward innocent strangers as those in my example do, I am no longer bothered by it when others do. And much to the chagrin of my partner, I am also much more comfortable expressing my own discontent when I am not happy about something! I have also come to respect anger, and the responsible expression of it, as an important part of our voice.

So, no, my message isn't that the chatty cathy's of the world aren't irritating, perhaps they always will be - but my message is, what are you going to do about it? Since you can't change her, you might as well learn from her.

While Cathy's chat it up at the office, is it not true that you two could be said to chat it up online? :) Don't misread me - I, for one, am glad you do, it's just that there are mirrors everywhere. Even the silliest of things that get to us carry messages from which we can learn - that is, if we remain open.

Thanks for the clarification Michele.

I'm trying to think of things that irritate me, but I'm not really irritated much. (OK, waiting too long for the elevator can get to me. Not waiting in line at the store, or waiting for the bus, or waiting for anything, just the elevator. So I banned myself from using it, and now I'm hoofin' it on the stairs all the time. Good exercise.)

Although this does help to explain Michael Savage type folks....