We’ve all been with partners who have irritated the living sh*t out of us. Sometimes these irritations are enough to end the relationship. But then, lo and behold, the next person we’re with starts irritating you too... what’s a sane person to do?
The answer is: take a look in the mirror, psychologically speaking. When someone does something that irritates you intensely, it is a sign that you’re reacting to a trait or behavior that you find undesirable. Makes sense, right? Here’s the trick: that trait or behavior exists inside you. Stop for a moment and notice your reaction to that sentence. Was it strongly negative? Did you think, “There’s no way I act like that”?
We all receive messages from the time we’re very young, from parents and other caregivers, that tell us which behaviors are acceptable and which are undesirable. These messages teach children how to behave in society, but some of them vary widely between households. There are gender related messages: boys don’t cry, nice girls don’t get angry; and there are unique messages related to money, sex, love, and just about anything you can think of when it comes to human interaction. Some messages help us relate well to others, but many of them stunt the emotional growth of the child who hears them. Why, for example, should boys not cry? Why can’t girls get angry?
Regardless of the message, these messages prevent children from fully expressing the scope of their personalities, and continue to stunt emotional growth in adults. When a child acts in a way that their caregivers deem inappropriate, the child gets the message. The behavior doesn’t disappear, but it gets put into a part of the subconscious called the Shadow.
The Shadow is where all of the disowned parts of the personality live. The more someone denies their Shadow, the more it wreaks havoc in their lives. How can you identify a shadow aspect of your personality? Someone you love shows it to you by displaying it themselves, and you react in a negative way.
Let me give an example. In relationships there is usually a caregiver and a taker. I’ll explain in slightly exaggerated terms, but know there can and are degrees of subtlety in this dynamic. The caregiver takes care of the taker. It’s usually the woman who’s the caregiver, thanks to many cultural messages given to young girls, so I’ll use the feminine pronoun for the caregiver. She makes sure his lunch is packed for work, she cooks, cleans, and does his laundry, even if she has a job or career outside the home. He provides financial stability, takes out the trash and takes care of the yard. Because he’s used to being taken care of (first mom, now wife), he often forgets to put the toothpaste cap on, leaves the toilet seat up, and leaves his dirty socks lying around. I know I’m making him sound like a chauvinist pig, but bear with me.