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Be curious about the things you hate in others.

Be curious about the things you hate in others.

There is a common wisdom among therapists and coaches that is hard to grasp at first, but probably the very best place to start growing self-awareness and becoming your best self. If we notice the behaviors that we hate most in others, they usually provide clues to some very important behaviors we may have shut down in ourselves. This is called projection.

The problem is that when we shut down a whole set of behavioral patterns that are actually there to serve our survival, we shut down or suppress not only the bad aspects of these patterns but also the good aspects. The good parts that are intended to help us.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you grow up in a family where a person who was kind and compliant was taken advantage of by someone more powerful. The story you might take away from that experience is that being a kind person, in general, leads to being bullied. After witnessing this dynamic for years, it’s no surprise that you’d decided to suppress being cooperative, humble, generous and a lot of other patterns that you might need to engage in healthier relationships later down the road. But here’s the deal. You shut down the whole set of patterns! Losing not just the ones that legitimately caused problems, but also your capacity to choose them in better times.

Another example might be that your parents taught you that being optimistic or a dreamer is a waste of time and it’s best to be pragmatic. So you shut down large parts of your imagination. Or perhaps you were taught that being angry is wrong and you should not have these feelings. Unfortunately, you need that anger to alert you to times when someone might be interested in taking advantage of you.

By now, you’re seeing the paradox. All of the collections of human behaviors we possess are there for a reason and we need access to all of them for a variety of situations, relationships and contexts. And here’s the rub. If we suppress emotions they will eventually pop out anyway, and do so in an unattractive way. Because we don’t have much practice with them, all of a sudden they burst forth and we act with such raw and extreme emotions that we even surprise ourselves!

So, the best rule of thumb is to know that when you’re judging someone else for their behavior, that may be the first clue that there is a set of behaviors you may be suppressing in yourself.

And if you tune into it and look for the good under the surface, you just might find a gold mine for yourself. And being curious is the first step to healing.