What You Can Learn About Yourself… From People You Detest

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

As I was watching Saturday Night Live on youtube last week (I had given myself permission during my lunch break), and saw Miley Cyrus perform one of her new songs, it struck me that I was, somehow, no longer bothered by this performance.
In previous years, Miley Cyrus’ style, with lots of big gestures and flashy outfits, had triggered me. Whenever I saw it, I had a list of not-so-nice adjectives that popped up in my head. She seemed showy, arrogant, vulgar, etc. It bothered me.

Now, there was none of that. I noticed she was doing her thing. It wasn’t my thing, per sé, but it didn’t have to be. She was enjoying herself, other people were enjoying it too, and that was perfectly fine.

So what changed? Why did it bother me before but not anymore? Are there other examples like this? And why does one person annoy me but not my partner or friends?

To figure this out, I use the Core Quality Quadrants-scheme by Daniel Ofman which I came across in my training as a coach (and in my relationship with a coach and trainer 😉 ).
This diagram usually starts from a core quality you possess, something you’re good at. It then shows you the pitfall that comes with this quality, the challenge you face and the allergy you have against people who embody the quality you still need to work on.
Sounds a bit technical, I know, but the diagram itself is pretty straightforward:

As you can see above, someone who is modest risks making themselves look invisible. What they could work on is presenting themselves and what really triggers them is someone who they would label as ‘arrogant’.

So, what triggers you in others is, according to this model, the (perceived) exaggerated expression of the quality you need to work on.

So what triggered me in Miley Cyrus before? What I had labeled as ‘vulgar’ you might also describe as ‘sensual, vibrant, open’. My sexuality and sensuality, expressing myself as a woman, are things I have been working on for the past few years as I’ve started to deal with trauma in that area. That would explain why it used to trigger me (a challenge I still had) but now triggers me less (I’m already working on it.)

Now, I do want to nuance the model a little bit, because we don’t really live in these extremes, do we? A few years back, when Miley did still trigger me, it’s not as if I never showed my sexuality or expressed myself in this way. The problem was that I used it for protection, for gaining control, as a shield. I used it for reasons that had nothing to do with freedom, love or strength (I blogged about this here).
So for me, there’s another way in which those who trigger you can teach you. They either have too much of your challenge, or they reflect a part or yourself back to you that you push away. They remind you of your worst self, and who wants that?

To illustrate: I have a temper-problem at times. For several decades, I supressed my anger and since my divorce it has started to find its way out in not so gentle ways (before that I used to pride myself in the fact that I never got angry. Hah! Little did I know!)
Of course, yelling at my children or snapping at my partner is not something I enjoy about myself, on the contrary. So when I see it in other people, I naturally find it equally repulsive.

In summary, there are two ways to look at why you detest or judge people:
1. They possess a lot of the quality that you need to work on.
2. They possess a lot of a part of yourself have difficulty accepting.

Now, does this mean every time you judge someone it’s a bad thing? No, on the contrary. It’s an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Even if you don’t want to dive into these qualities, your judgements show you what you find important, what you care deeply about. And that in itself is a tremendous gift!

So I don’t wish to just have wonderful, amazing people around, but also people who challenge me to look at my own judgements, my allergies and my biases. They are, perhaps, my greatest teachers. I hope you can see them as such as well.

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