It doesn’t matter how evolved, patient, or emotionally mature you may be.
People are going to push your buttons.
Some people in your life are master button-pushers. They know exactly what to say or do to transform you from a calm and happy person into a seething, mouth-frothing maniac.
Quite often the best button-pushers are the people closest to you — your spouse, romantic partner, children, and close friends. But other people can push your buttons too — often without event knowing what they are doing. Until you bite their little heads off. Then they totally get it.
What are those damned buttons anyway, and why are they so sensitive to pressure? These buttons are emotionally volatile, reactive places within us that cause us to have negative feelings of frustration or anger — often out of proportion to the offense.
I probably don’t have to explain this to you. You’ve felt it many times before.
- Someone makes an off-hand remark, and it causes you to bristle or feel wounded.
- A friend forgets to call you or include you in something, and you immediately want to give her a piece of your mind.
- Your spouse suggests you didn’t follow through on a promise or intimates you didn’t do something the way he or she would have done it, and you are ready to threaten divorce.
- Your mother remarks on how you are disciplining your children or maintaining your home, and you want to scream at her about your miserable childhood.
Whether or not the offending party made an intentional jab to get a rise out of you or it was a remark made in complete innocence, the sting is painful and your urge to retaliate is overwhelming.
Immediately your mind starts forming zingers to launch over to the other side. “How dare they suggest that? Who do they think they are? I’ll set them straight and make them feel like a dog’s breakfast while I’m at it. They certainly deserve it.”
Of course this reaction can create a full-blown counter-attack, often devolving into name-calling, below-the-belt barbs, stand-offs, pouting, shouting, hurt feelings, mistrust, and longstanding misunderstandings. Or sometimes we say nothing in our wounded state, but wait for the opportunity to retaliate with passive-aggressive behaviors. “I’ll get you my pretty. And your little dog too!”
None of us are immune from this — not psychologists, coaches, mentors, self-help gurus, monks, rabbis, nor ministers. I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve sat in my car or lingered in the shower, plotting my evil little plans to set someone straight. It isn’t a pretty quality.
By the very nature of being human, we have wounded places — buttons that hurt when pushed. And it takes a lot of restraint and self-awareness to deal with button-pushing in a healthy, positive way.
The benefits of allowing a button to be pushed without anger or retribution far outweigh the momentary pleasure of lettin’ em have it.
If you can just wait a minute or two before you say anything or before you text back or shoot off a nasty email, you will be so, so thankful you did.
Because once the dust settles, no one (who is generally peaceable and mature) likes the fallout of conflict. It takes far more effort to clean up the mess than it does to prevent it.
So when you are in the moment, when that button has been pushed and steam is hissing from your ears, what can you do to prevent yourself from responding poorly?
Here are 4 things to do when people push your buttons:
1. Just breathe.
When the words have been spoken, or typed, or texted — breathe. Count to 100. Walk away. Excuse yourself from the room. Do whatever you can to create time and space between the comment and your immediate feelings.
Your feelings will calm down, and you need time to insert a filter between your brain and your mouth (or fingers). This is the most crucial strategy to implement. If you can’t do this, the damage is done, and it will be much harder to set things straight.
2. Look within.
You’re not going to like this. I know I don’t. But those little buttons are really all about you, even if the pusher intentionally and with forethought pushed the heck out of them. They are places where something is going on inside of you — some place of insecurity, fear, low self-esteem, or unmet needs.
You need to take a good hard look at those buttons and ask yourself why they are so sensitive. What is the root cause of your hair-trigger feelings and what can you do to heal them? Talk to a counselor or friend or someone who can see you from an unemotional perspective. As you build your self-esteem and confidence in these areas, they won’t be nearly as painful.
3. Practice peace.
Before you encounter your next button-pushing episode, make a conscious decision about the person you want to be. You have the power to be a peacemaker in this world by seeking to rise above your emotional reactions.
Practice detaching from ego-based thoughts and strive to connect to a vision of your higher self. I’m not saying this is easy, but if you plant the seed in your psyche now, before anyone pushes your buttons, it will help you stand firm when you want to overreact.
4. Establish boundaries.
Sometimes there are people in our lives who take perverse pleasure in watching us squirm or lose control. It makes them feel better to make us feel bad. These are usually people to let go of in your life if you can. They drain you of energy and joy.
Some people will bottle up an issue and, knowing our vulnerabilities, will go for the jugular in order to make a point or stir the pot. If this happens with people you love and want to keep in your life, then you need to kindly but firmly establish your boundaries and nip the behavior in the bud.
If you have entrusted them with your vulnerabilities, it is a betrayal to use those against you, even in a so-called joking manner. But don’t launch back with a barb. Ask for their support and love to help you heal instead. Let them know you expect open communication, not jabs and back-handed remarks.
When a button is pushed for you, try to view it as an opportunity for self-awareness, healing, honesty, and growth. Our closest relationships allow us great opportunities for learning more about ourselves and who we want to become. Conflict and hurt are inevitable, but you can teach yourself how you wish to behave the next time someone pushes your buttons.
Have people pushed your buttons in the past? How have you handled it? Please share your thoughts and strategies in the comments.