Thank You, Annoying People


“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”
~Marshall Rosenberg

I met someone recently who pushes my buttons, and not the good ones. When I am around him, I feel irritated, there are judging thoughts running through my mind, I am trying to figure out how I can get away, I want him to be different than the way he is. I actually think I am justified in my feelings because I know other people feel the same way I do.

But where does this get me? I’m right…but so what?

Truth be told, feeling right doesn’t even feel that good. I feel the arrogance of being “holier than thou” in my body like a ten-pound weight in my chest. Being right certainly doesn’t put me any more at ease when I anticipate encountering this man again, and it doesn’t bring any more love into the world. In fact, I am trapped, a victim of my judgments and opinions. And I am contributing to disharmony and strife.

Please Change so I Feel Better

What I am experiencing is a ubiquitous phenomenon that is at the root of all interpersonal difficulties: we want other people to change so our uncomfortable feelings will diminish. I want my new acquaintance to not be overbearing so I won’t feel invaded. Mary wants her husband to not throw his clothes on the floor so she can find relief from her frustration. Joe wants his coworker to stop talking so much so he won’t feel bored and irritated.

We give up our inner comfort to something we cannot control – the behavior of other people. And, oh, the lengths to which we will go to try to control them anyway!

When we don’t own our emotional reactions, we run the risk of wreaking havoc on our lives. We leave relationships, gossip, criticize, fight, manipulate, and spend our precious time rationalizing our opinions to ourselves and everyone else around us.

Is this what we really want? Do we want to promote friction and divisiveness – or do we want to be free of undesirable habits and meet the world with an open heart?

True Healing by Turning Our Attention Inward

It is so easy to blame and accuse. But the beginning of a bold and courageous enterprise is to turn our attention away from the other and directly into all the distressing emotions we strive so hard to avoid. We stop seeing others through the veil of our own pain, and compassion naturally arises – for others as well as ourselves.

Rather than being an annoyance, our reactions to other people can be viewed as a golden invitation served to us on a silver platter. They are a mirror that reflects back to us areas of unexplored emotion and inner secret places where we wall ourselves off. Being triggered by others becomes a time of celebration: we get to see where we are stuck, we have the opportunity to free ourselves, and as one book title suggests, we can say, “Thank You for Being Such a Pain.”

The inner investigation of our triggered reactions toward others reveals so much tender information. If you lash out at your partner, you might realize you are actually afraid. If you judge and constrict your children, maybe you feel helpless as a parent. Take any relationship that causes you stress or displeasure, and like a trail of breadcrumbs, follow your reaction back into yourself to its source. I can guarantee you your discovery will be illuminating.

The Opportunity to Clean Up the Past

Often, the strong feelings that arise in our interactions echo an unresolved relationship from our past. If you were criticized by an overly demanding parent, it won’t take much for a boss correcting your work to seem like a tyrant in your eyes. If you were abandoned in your youth, a friend calling to cancel plans at the last minute may cause you to feel like you are five again. Any reaction that seems too intense for the situation at hand has undoubtedly triggered some old, undigested feelings.

What to do with these emotions that are revealed? Love them with all your heart. Surround them with affection. Let your heartfelt attention permeate them entirely. And once they have drunk their fill, notice that you now see others in a fresh light. Where before you saw an aggressor or a nuisance, the clouds part and you see a tender being who is scared, hurt, or needy. Now the relationship, you and the other, have the potential to be transformed.

Author and teacher Byron Katie says, “Things don’t happen to you, they happen for you.” The challenges in our relationships are an offering, a gentle tap on the shoulder asking us to deepen in our commitment to freedom. Can we take care of ourselves and free our interactions from being repositories of our pain and suffering? Can we look into another’s eyes and rest in the space of non-separation? Can we declare an unmitigated, “Yes!” to truth, to life, to this very moment?

This is a topic that hits home for all of us. I’d love to hear how you are meeting these relationship challenges in your own life.

For an exercise in unconditional acceptance, have a listen to: You Are Welcome as You Are.

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  1. says

    This is a powerful post. I have someone in my life who is a source of frustration. It has taken me a bit of time to step back and recognize that it stems from denial and fear and a need to control on his part… and for me, I react out of a frustration and a need to be heard – a desire for my voice to be recognized. I am learning that perhaps it isn’t about me in that whether or not my voice is heard – does it matter in the greater context? Does he control me or remove my power really? No, as I can give him control or power, but he can only have it if I give it away… and I am learning to take it back through detachment.

    Denial is such a strong force to work with – It is as if the other person lives in a world that doesn’t exist. Though I realize that the effort is not to hear me and to deny my voice – it is hard for me to throw up my hands and give up and yet that is what I have to do and am learning to do… let go.

    And I am thankful for the opportunities to learn these lessons. (And I have told him so!)

    • Gail Brenner says

      A warm welcome to you, Exception!

      What a heartfelt comment! I clearly hear your wise voice finding itself, and you are allowing the space for it to be heard. It takes some time to walk ourselves through these interpersonal matters, and it sounds like you are giving yourself that time, taking it step by step.

      You are engaging in a powerful practice of inquiry. When we begin to not take our thoughts, feeling, and actions for granted and we begin to inquire into them, a major shift has taken place. We are willing to say about these assumptions: Are they true? Are they serving? What is actually behind them? As we are open to the answers, letting ourselves be surprised and humbled, there is even more space for wisdom to show itself.

      We have the ultimate power – no one can take it from us – because the ultimate power is in how we relate to the things going on around us. We can, in any moment, choose suffering or freedom in our minds. One of the strongest urges that comes through for most of us is the need to be right. In one sense, we love it! But in another, where does it get us? When we can let go of the need to be right, giving up may be just the right thing to do – especially for our own inner harmony. And once we realize that is possible, nothing else matters nearly as much.

      You are walking a beautiful, profound journey. May it flourish inside of you in every way possible.

  2. Deb says

    I was just discussing this with a friend today! Sometimes it seems wrong to not feel anger, resentment, frustration with the way another person acts; it feels like I am letting them get away with something or walk all over me if I don’t get angry. But getting angry, etc does nothing but hurt me. I have given up my inner comfort, just to prove, I’m not sure what. Stepping back and looking at my reaction to a situation is the best possible action.
    And the post from Exception – it made so much sense to me, concerning a person I interact with. I was thinking – ok, what is it in him that I am really reacting to? Exception said it, “I react out of a frustration and a need to be heard – a desire for my voice to be recognized.” Now I will interact with him in a compassionate way – and surround my frustration with love and kindness.
    Thanks again for a wonderful piece.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Deb,

      Your comment warms my heart. So beautiful.

      In a way, you are asking, “Who is it that wants to get angry so the other doesn’t get away with something?” And you are discovering it is a part of you that is asking for your love and kindness. When those feelings get what they really need, your whole way of being in the interaction shifts. When you say you will interact with him in a compassionate way, this is not coming from a rule or “should;” rather compassion naturally arises for the other when we bring it to ourselves.

      I didn’t go into this in the post, but once we do embrace our own emotions and painful places, and the interaction shifts, we become clearer about how to proceed. So one might realize that it is time to walk away from the relationship, or approach it in a different way, or let the trouble go entirely. This is all done in the spirit of love and sanity and not from our more childlike emotions. The drama is over, and we are at peace.

      I love hearing about your process. Your commitment is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing it with all of us…

  3. says

    Hi Gail,
    This is a great post. I love your own self-awareness when you say, “I feel the arrogance of being “holier than thou” in my body like a ten-pound weight in my chest.”

    Like you I’ve found it so powerful to realize that everything is a mirror. I have made it a habitual question when faced with challenging (annoying) people to ask myself, “what is this mirror reflecting back to me?” I will also now add: “Thank you for being such a pain”… and mean it!
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..The lesson of New Orleans =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Rob,

      I don’t know about you, but a truth like realizing everything is a mirror didn’t come naturally to me. Once I got the lesson, I started seeing how much more at ease I was when I was willing to do the hard work and look inside. It no longer feels hard – more like an opportunity and blessing.

      I checked out your blog and so enjoyed reading your personal story. Very inspiring, and you are so beautifully giving back.

  4. Jean says

    Spot on Gail!

    After what felt like one of the most devastating of all the abandonments I’ve experienced, a moment of grace encouraged me to observe what this recent blow could teach me. I choose to put aside what I believed was “deserving” to me and sit in the silence with it. Gradually, my mind volleyed all sorts of scenarios, reaching exhaustion.

    What I am left with is a treasure, a genuine gift. It may not appear as this at all to others. External rules and opinions may view this as an injustice, and express profound confusion by the peace that I now feel. Agreed, this wreckage did not happen TO me, but FOR me.

    This “loss” has brought me closer to experience what I’ve came into this life to do. . . I am deeply grateful, and the story continues.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Wow, Jean! Thank you so much for sharing this experience.

      It’s that moment of grace. Somehow, in the midst of the pain and drama, there is a break in the fog enough for wisdom to shine through. In that moment, a choice becomes apparent, and you made the radical choice to sit in silence with your devastation and justifications.

      Your response may look crazy to others, but only you can know the peace you feel inside. And you see that the “loss” is not a loss at all, but a teaching with a treasure.

      May your light continue to shine so brightly….

  5. says

    This is interesting. For a long time I actually denied my own feelings of frustration. I felt I had to be super kind and love everybody even if they irritated me. So instead of sitting with the irritation I made myself wrong for feeling that way and did my mother Theresa act. But of course that kind of denying did not do me any good either. It is good to hear that it is okay to sit with the frustration, allow it to come up and then work with it constructively.
    No good denying our less perfect side and sweeping it under the carpet, is there?
    Love Wilma
    .-= Wilma Ham´s last blog ..Listening beyond what your ego wants to hear. =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Wilma,

      Very provocative comment. Thanks so much.

      It’s funny how we somehow develop these ideas about how we are supposed to be, then we engage in all kinds of twists and turns to make reality fit them. The concept you describe – feeling you had to be super kind and love everybody – I know it happens to men, too, but I know it as a woman’s issue. As women, we are taught to not make waves, to serve others selflessly and make them happy. So if this is the case, what do we do when we are frustrated? We stuff it and build up resentment and fury. Or we express it at the risk of being labeled a troublemaker.

      What a relief to know that we have the permission to feel our feelings. And when we do, we are in so much of a better place to respond with true love, not fake love based on how we think we should be. Not only do we not deny our less perfect side, we can make the room for it to be illuminated in all its glory, which diminishes its power over us.

      We always have the choice: trapped or free?

  6. says

    Hi Gail.

    That introductory quote is a real punchline to any argument that tries to defend violence.

    I only like to push good buttons so I can see that the person sure did cause frustration.

    The line that says “we want other people to change so our uncomfortable feelings will diminish” sure is accurate. We want this or that to occur, when either one might not occur from the person in 10 years of waiting. We have to get out of that type of thinking. It is like hoping for a rock at the beach to jump up and flip over.

    That makes sense about following any displeasing interactions with others back to our own root issues. I have not had a displeasing interpersonal reaction that didn’t trace back to me.

    The challenges in our relationships sure are like a tap on our shoulders. Now, when I see a problem, I think about what in me is offset. For a long time, I have not blamed others for any issues I see, and this article would confirm why.
    .-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Your Comfort Zone Is Your Unproductive Zone =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Armen,
      So beautiful to hear about your commitment to a lifestyle of truth and consciousness. You walk your talk, which makes you an inspiration to everyone.

      You are willing to trace anything offset or displeasing back to yourself, and you are willing to unearth whatever is stuck so it doesn’t continue to fester in you. Since you haven’t blamed others for issues in a long time, I imagine that ultimately brings a great deal of peace and clarity to your life.

      Thank you for so clearly exemplifying the possibilities in life…. I’m happy to call you a friend.

  7. says

    Such an insightful post! Thank you!
    This post is exactly what I was thinking yesterday. There is a person in my life who irritates me, whom everyone else respects and reveres. I began to question why, why does this person irritate me? So I turned it inward and realized it’s me– this person is mirroring back to me a huge wounded area that is most fresh and needs healing.
    I choose to focus on the good in my life, so it is my choice not to spend huge amounts of time with this person. It is also my choice to be thankful for the lesson I’m learning, and the wound I am now able to begin to heal. This person is not the “cause”, but is the mirror for that which I needed in the moment. Which I was unable to see otherwise. And which will continue to move me forward in good energy down this amazing path:)
    .-= Joy´s last blog ..Wisdom Wednesday: Manifesting a Masterpiece =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Such wisdom here, Joy! The key is that you have been able to see the wounded area being mirrored back to you. You are seeing that blaming this person would be a diversion from what was triggered in you, and that your attention belongs on learning the lessons which are being offered to you. This is the kind of clarity that brings sanity to relationships and peace to our souls.

      I so appreciate hearing about your experience. Thank you.

  8. says

    First, let me tell you how I found you (this is a home made google analytic report). I was perusing ProBlogger Member Forums trying to find how in the *** to get a Follow me on Twitter & Facebook button on my blog- when I noticed your question on Feedburner- Whoa- I have questions, too! Read through & of course learned, as always- thanks

    I then decided to zip over to your blog- so appreciate your post. I will never forget the
    lightbulb moment when I realized that arguing or even having a heated discussion is such a waste of energy. I mean, how many times have I changed my mind based on some profound statement of another?

    Not many.

    So what happens if a controversial topic comes up- I pretty much listen, ask questions… amazingly the talker moves on. I still feel the way I do, he feels the way he does.


    Again, thanks for putting it on paper.

    .-= ridgely johnson´s last blog ..Speedbags? Glade or Hefty? =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Ridgely,

      Welcome to you! I love hearing the story of how you found this site. There are no accidents…

      You offer some concrete strategies that are very useful in the heat of the moment to diffuse tension – listening, asking questions. We have access to these strategies once we realize the arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere. It takes two to tango, and if one has given up the dance, it just can’t continue. If what the other is saying doesn’t land, if we aren’t triggered, then we can be calm, open, and curious.

      I’ve had lightbulb moments myself. In one split second, our whole perspective can change. In the meantime, our willingness to see the truth and to investigate within are wonderful ways of living in peace and harmony.

      Your comment is a beautiful contribution here. Wishing you well…

  9. says

    That’s the big myth we all fall for from time to time, isn’t it — that “if everyone did what I wanted, everything would be okay.” If the world complies with our every whim, we can’t grow, I think, just as a muscle can’t grow without training that involves resistance. My inner critical part says that’s an overly macho metaphor but I am just threatening to beat it up. :)

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Chris,
      We are set up to grow because the world doesn’t comply with our every whim – at least I’ve never heard of that happening! When we want what actually happens, there is no resistance, and we are one with the flow of life.

      So, yes, resistance helps us grow, if we see it that way, in muscles and in life.

  10. says

    Gail, good morning to you from Japan. Thank you for another compassionate post sharing your insightful wisdom. I felt especially encouraged by your sections on True Healing By Turning Our Attention Inward and The Opportunity to Clean Up the Past. Your words are such inspiration and resonate with deep truths, especially, “Any reaction that seems too intense for the situation at hand has undoubtedly triggered some old, undigested feelings.” Discomfiting as it might be, these feelings are exactly what need to be examined – and what a relief to discover that they can be transformed.

    From the foot of Mount Fuji, thank you so much. Thank you, too, for dropping by my blog to comment on my insights about samurai horseback archery! Much love to you – Catrien Ross.
    .-= Catrien Ross´s last blog ..Catrien Ross on Hitting Your Target at Full Gallop – Personal Growth Inspiration from Samurai Horse Archers at Mount Fuji =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      The feelings that come up are exactly what need to be examined. These are the gift that invites deeper exploration for deeper freedom. A teacher of mine once said, “Feelings are just feelings.” We make them a big deal in our minds, but when we actually bring our attention right into them, the experience may be intense, but it’s usually not nearly as unpleasant as we imagine it will be.

      Your words ring so true and transmit such clarity and freshness.

      Sending love…

  11. says

    Hi Gail
    I know what you mean, some people just know how to wind you up.
    I must admit that I stop short of violence but I do lose my temper big time!

    Never thought that we spend time trying to change people instead of changing our own reaction to them – that is a great insight into how we react.

    I can see that an over the top reaction is because of some unresolved situation from the past and that the way to deal with it is to react differently.
    That’s the difficult bit – reacting differently.
    .-= Keith Davis´s last blog ..Flying in formation =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Welcome to you, Keith! So glad you stopped by. Great to hear from you.

      It sounds like you have a great deal of self-awareness and that you are really interested in figuring out how to react differently. It is the difficult bit, but far from impossible. When we can drill down to see what feeling is at the source of our reactions, we can tend to that feeling when it arises, rather than acting on it. When you lose your temper you feel angry, yes, but maybe underneath that you feel scared or helpless. If you bring infinite kindness to that feeling, the anger is going to drop away.

      There is no magic shortcut, and no bandaid strategies really work (I think you say “sticking plaster?”). All we can change is our own reactions by knowing them fully. I don’t have ESP or anything, but I have a feeling you are on the cusp of some wonderful, freeing changes within yourself.

      I wish you well….

  12. says

    Unless we become aware that we are being manipulated by our own emotions, we will never see the true person within us. Experience has conditioned our responses to certain things and events. Without being aware that we are bringing up an automatic response we could never really use our reason to decipher the true nature of things. :-)
    .-= Walter´s last blog ..Things I Wish Everybody Knew About Life =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      So true, Walter. All of the possibility for freedom stems from being aware of our emotions and automatic responses. And these unconscious patterns are sneaky and subtle. It requires a great willingness to be precisely aware from moment to moment – challenging at the beginning, but eventually it becomes a joy.

      I always love hearing from you!

  13. J. K. R. says

    Thanks for this Gail – I’ve pretty much learned to not be angry or try to get back and “teach her a lesson.” But, today I spent hours being annoyed that I had to listen to non-stop commenting about mundane things on a trip. Now I wonder why I wanted to miss part of the beauty of a spring day in MN just to be irritated – you inspire me to make a different choice next time.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi JKR,

      Great to hear from you!

      “Falling off the wagon” calls for so much compassion for ourselves and others. How deep can our forgiveness go? Sounds like the irritation you experienced has served you. When we develop enough sensitivity, it hurts to depart from the path that we really want for ourselves. And what we get is the opportunity to return home once again.

      Wishing you the bounty and beauty of spring every day….Much love…


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