06/13/2014 06:04 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

Who Is Chafing Your Chaps?

"Projection always hides a feeling you don't want to look at. If you examine any negative trait you insist is present in another person, you will find that same trait hiding in yourself. The more you deny this trait, the more strongly you will have to project it." -- Dr. Deepak Chopra

Having one's "chaps be chafed" is an old cowboy term for
an irritation caused  by too much friction between one's derrière
and the saddle. While this is a colorful metaphor, it clearly describes
how we allow certain people we perceive to be a  pain in the butt
to "get under our skin." The question is why?

Recently, in a radio interview a call-in listener asked how to deal with certain irritating, objectionable people at the workplace. I responded by saying one doesn't even have to go as far as the workplace to find objectionable people--they are all around! We'll find them at the grocery store, on the freeway, on the street corner, over the backyard fence, on the television, and even in our own family--and they are there for a reason. It is the Universe offering us an endless supply of people necessary to help us see some aspect of our own character we may not necessarily see or like. Now, let us be clear, I am not talking about terrorists, despots, embezzlers, career criminals, or people who do horrendous and unspeakable things to others. I am referring to those common, garden variety, everyday folks we all know who just "rub us" the wrong way; such as someone who constantly complains, talks incessantly, gossips, tells white lies, is selfish, controlling, passive, opinionated, a braggart, abrasive, unkempt, perfectionistic, unreliable, perpetually late, irresponsible, or ____________ (fill in the blank).

The irony is--if Chopra is right--we can run but we can't hide from ourselves. By means of the law of attraction these people will continue to show up in our lives until we learn the lesson. The sad part is many people will go to their grave having never learned the lesson because they are not willing to be honest with themselves by exploring their own inner emotional landscape. It takes courage and compassion to be willing to see a reflection of ourselves in those who we don't like and mindfully respond rather than react to them. I am reminded of what one of my early spiritual mentors would say whenever I became chafed and overreacted to what he was saying: "While I may push your buttons, I didn't install them--you did." The good news is, with mindfulness, one can skillfully uninstall those buttons. But, the first step is to become aware they are there. 

How will we know when we are projecting? The practice is to be present enough in the moment to witness the emotional response that bolts through our physical body when that "certain" person says or does something that pushes our buttons. What I have noticed personally is that when I come across such an individual, my first reaction is to want to withdraw--if not physically, emotionally. With mindfulness the awareness that arises in that moment is that this individual may be offering me a gift by serving as my mirror. It helps to remember that the more a person chafes us, the deeper the trigger point (trait) lies within ourselves. If this were not so, that person's presence and actions would have no effect on us. There must be some point within us that resonates with that trait in order for us to see it in another. The good news is the same principle holds true for the positive and lovely things we see in another--it too is a projection of what lies within ourselves.

When another person "pushes our buttons" perhaps the gift they offer us is an invitation to practice tolerance, non-judgement or patience with ourselves. Have you ever felt intolerant of your own capabilities in some area of your life? I certainly have. Do you ever feel impatient with yourself? Oy...that is a hot "button" for me. When was the last time you looked in the mirror and judged yourself for being less than the perfect physical specimen you want to be? LOL! I won't even comment on that one. Suffice it to say, the egoic self doesn't like to attack itself so it will project our perceived shortcomings on others and use them as moving targets.

So, in response to the person who called in to the radio program asking how to deal with certain irritating, garden variety, objectionable people, the answer is quite simple. While we may have to coexist with them at the workplace or even in our own home, we can mindfully choose to cease allowing them to push our buttons. How so? From a spiritual perspective, while we can't change other people we certainly can change our perception of them. If you find that others are pushing your buttons too often, rather than reacting to them, consider silently thanking them for the reminder to pause and look within. For it is there, and only there, that you'll find the owners manual for instructions on how to uninstall those buttons. In other words, inquire within and push "reset" by affirming "Everywhere I look I see the face of the Infinite One." In the process you'll be amazed at how it changes how you see yourself and, therefore, all of those beautiful souls who, up until now, have so effectively chafed your chaps.

Happy trails, indeed.

Check out Dennis' new book "Your (Re)Defining Moments - Becoming Who You Were Born to Be"