A good friend once told me in a casual conversation that our exterior world (world around us) is actually a mirror of our inner world. What that is saying is that the way we perceive the world around us is a reflection of the way we think, or the way we are, internally (our inner self). I have been reminded by this little morsel of truth not once but definitely more than twice. Reverend Jing Kung when he was explaining the meaning of the Surangama Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra has said it more than once in both of the recordings. Before some readers cry religious connotations here, let me reassure you it is not. Just think back about how you are feeling and look around you. I can give some example of my personal experiences. When I feel stressed, for example when mugging for the final exams, my room is a reflection of how I am feeling inside. I have stacks of papers, and textbooks, and reference books stacked hastily in all corners of my room. My desk is a mess, like a mini hurricane Katrina just visited. When I am enjoying my term breaks, my room is neat and tidy. When I feel depressed, the whole world is against me. When I feel betrayed, I prefer to sit in a darkened room (the world is dark), and I feel alone.
To expand this a little further, I cannot help but bring up the father of Psychoanalysis – Sigmund Freud. Freudian psychology talks a lot about the Id, Ego, and the Superego. The Id is our portion of the mind that operates on the “pleasure principle”. The Superego is the moralistic component of the psyche. And the Ego is the component that tries to balance the drives of the Id and the moralistic principals of the Superego. When the Ego is either overburdened, or threatened by its tasks, it employs defensive mechanisms such as Repression, Reaction Formation, Projection, Sublimation, Rationalisation, and Conversion. Below is an explanation of provided in the textbook for my psychology course (Buskist, William., Carlson, Neil R. & Martin G Neil. (2007) Psychology (3rd ed) Massachusetts, USA : Peason Education Limited)
Repression is responsible for actively keeping threatening or anxiety-provoking memories from our conscious awareness. For example, a person may have witnessed a brutal murder but cannot recall it later because of the uncomfortable emotions it would arouse.
Reaction Formation involves replacing an anxiety-provoking idea with its opposite. For example, a person who is aroused and fascinated by pornographic material becomes a crusader against pornography. The crusader will often study the salacious material to see just how vile it is so that they can better educate other about its harmful nature.
Projection involves denial of one’s own unacceptable desires and the discovery of evidence of these desires in the behavior of other people. For example, a man who is experiencing a great deal of hostility may perceive the world as being full of people who are hostile to him.
Sublimation is the diversion of psychic energy from an unacceptable drive to an acceptable one. For example, a person may feel strong sexual desire but find its outlet unacceptable because of internalized prohibitions. As a result, finds another outlet such as artistic or other creative activities.
Rationalization is the process of inventing an acceptable reason for a behavior that is really being performed for another, less acceptable reason. For example, a man who feels guilty about his real reason for purchasing a pornographic magazine may say, “I don’t buy the magazine for the pictures. I buy it to read the interesting and enlightening articles it contains.”
Conversion is the provision of an outlet for intrapsychic conflict in the form of a physical symptom. The conflict is transformed into blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness. For example, a person might develop blindness so that they will no longer be able to see a situation that arouses a strong, painful intrapsychic conflict. (This is also known as somatoform disorder)
When we see someone exhibiting a behavior that irks us, it is quite possibly a behavior that we ourselves have which we are trying to exorcise; or it could be also be a trigger for one of our denials.
A denial is something that causes us anxiety which we have not given ourselves enough time to deal with it (Repression in my opinion). For example, maybe your favorite aunt passed away 5 years ago which you did not get to see her at her death bed, you heard that she was asking for you before she left this world. You just could not get a flight out to her in time. One fine day, a friend brings you some delicious strawberry cheesecake for you and you start sobbing uncontrollably. Your favorite aunt makes the best strawberry cheesecake you have ever tasted. As a result, you might hate your friend for it, or love her to pieces for it, depending on the situation.
These are what Freud terms as transference. We transfer our negative/positive feelings about a behavior which we have, or might have, in ourselves onto someone else. Counter-transference happens when the person whom those feelings are transferred onto reacted to that feeling. So the next time you experience something like this, remember to thank that person for bringing that into light, so that you may now be able to set aside some time to reflect on it.