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Ever had a day where it just felt like everything got on your nerves? Sometimes, it stems from deeper conflict, and other times from a build-up of small stressors.
Here are three ways to overcome irritability.
1. Love people for the God within them
One root cause of annoyance is interpersonal conflict. We are all imperfect, and naturally we pick up on each other’s flaws. Say, for example, that your friend is always running late. If your friend is late to a commitment you both made together, it is not unnatural to feel bothered that your friend is inconsistent. Most people have more than one noticeable flaw, so if we seek utter perfection from those in our lives, we wouldn’t have anyone left in our circle of friends.
It can be hard to figure out how to continue loving people patiently when they continuously make mistakes. But Abdu’l-Baha, the exemplar of the Baha’i Faith, shared a great method to help love prevail despite our failures:
Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93.
While not always easy, shifting our mindset to think about each person as a creation of God can re-center the way we learn to love each other. Additionally, this can help us navigate impatience and anger. A lot of the time, we externalize the anger we feel towards ourselves, and walk on edge, snappy towards the people in our lives and frustrated with the small comings and goings of our day because we are actually unsettled within. Seeing the good in people, including ourselves, allows us to release some of the tension that can frustrate us and darken our mood.
2. Find ways to forgive yourself and others
Here’s another piece of advice on interpersonal relations from the Baha’i teachings:
Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. – Ibid., p. 453.
Obviously, this kind of forgiveness doesn’t always come easily. It takes a certain level of confidence to move through life taking little offense—to live a life rooted in a deeper purpose, rather than the shallow things we tend to be oddly sensitive about, like our looks, how much money we make, or our reputation. One way to strengthen this kind of confidence: to consistently act in ways that nurture your soul, rather than bolstering up confidence based on less important things. Instead of saying to ourselves “I am so much better than that other person,” we can try saying: “I am capable of love, happiness, and generosity.”
Another path to gaining higher levels of confidence is by checking the tone we use with ourselves. When we listen to our inner voice, does it seem condescending, overly harsh or unforgiving? To practice forgiveness with others, it might be wise to also learn to practice it with ourselves.
3. Fight irritability with compassion
We’ve probably all had this experience—a family member or friend angers us about something, and suddenly we find ourselves listing all the things we don’t like about them.
In order to stop my mind from honing in on the negative, I’ve found it useful to flip to the polar opposite—practicing empathy and reminding myself that there are many ways the world can mess us up. Once I’ve reminded myself that I cannot judge because I don’t know a person, and that one action a person makes does not represent them in their completeness, I can hold back judgment.
By recognizing that my own perception has limits, I can humble my own attachment to whatever perception I have developed about someone:
Now must the lovers of God arise to carry out these instructions of His: let them be kindly fathers to the children of the human race, and compassionate brothers to the youth, and self-denying offspring to those bent with years. The meaning of this is that ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies, and welcome them all with unalloyed friendship, good cheer, and loving kindness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 21.