Mortal Enemy

“Our faults irritate us the most when we see them in others.”

My teenage boys used to talk about certain people who consistently annoyed and frustrated them. While I usually encouraged them to try and see the good, some positive, in those people, I also let them know I understood the struggle.

My oldest son termed such a person his “mortal enemy.” Some people just bring out something in us we’d rather not see. Yet, it’s ultimately quite important that we not only see it but understand what that something is if we are to grow as individuals.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)

I now realize the humbling truth of this statement. I also realize how blind to it I was as a teenager and through most of my life. Now, though, I look for it almost automatically when I’m irritated and frustrated with someone and doing so almost always not only brings some revelation for my own growth but also helps me be more loving toward that person.

Projection and Amplification

A college professor of mine talked about this idea as “projection and amplification.” He said that not only do we project something about ourselves — a weakness, bad habit, etc. — onto another, but we amplify it in them too. Doing so, we think, allows that same fault within us to not appear as prominent if others even see it at all in light of how big it is in another person.


Here’s the hard truth of what both my professor and Jung were saying and what took me years to learn:

“Your perception of me is a reflection of you.”

“We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

When we look at others, how we view them — our opinions of them — and ultimately how we treat them reveals more about who we are than it does about who they are. If we flip that, we realize that how others react to and treat us is often more a reflection of them than it is of us.

For me, I try to understand what it is in someone who annoys and/or frustrates me that might be simply revealing a flaw or weakness in me. I attempt to let go of hurts others inflict because I realize there’s likely more going on beneath their surface than I could possibly know. I’ve simply learned that a struggle with another person can reveal much I need to learn about myself if I’m willing to see and admit the truth.