What do you do when someone pushes your buttons?
Do you sit there silently stewing? Getting increasingly angry at them – sure they did it just to piss you off?
Maybe you bite back? Come up with a stinging rebuttal, only to live with the regret of your words later or at the very least the consequences.
When someone pushes our buttons, it can come in a variety of ways, they make an inconsiderate comment, talk over us, ignore us, disagree with us or maybe take advantage of our kindness.
Like a lab rat, we react the way we’ve been trained. It doesn’t matter how much more harm we cause ourselves, or how painful it is, when X happens we do Y.
Whose Buttons Are They?
Our buttons don’t go away when other people stop pushing them, they go away when we understand why they are there in the first place and then change our habitual response.
Part of the reason I live in an RV is for the freedom it gives me to travel around on my own (it’s also a pretty cheap way to live too!).
But as a single woman it does have its challenges.
Often when I pull up to a new campground without fail there will be a man there that thinks, “she must want some company, let me go over there and help her out.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I so appreciate people saying hello and offering help – I do it myself – we are social creatures and helping out is a beautiful way to engage with each other.
I always make it a point to let people know that if they need any help please come and get me, but otherwise I’m here to be on my own.
But sometimes that’s not what they hear.
Because they keep coming by. Each time It doesn’t seem to matter what I say, it doesn’t seem to get through.
So my button gets pushed and I get defensive.
I know this button has been several years in the making. It’s taken me a long time just to get comfortable saying to someone I want to be alone without feeling bad about it later.
But when I have to keep saying repeatedly, it gets tiring and that button gets pushed.
So like the lab rat, I respond the same way – a story starts in my head. Why are they ruining my peace? Why won’t they leave me alone? This would never happen to a man! How can I prevent this from happening again? How can I say this differently so they hear me?
What I’ve realized is that behind this exaggerated story of how wronged I am, is this perception that somehow they’re actions are taking my freedom away. But they aren’t the ones doing it at all – I am.
Every time I start that story up, I’m the one that puts up the walls. In that moment I really believe they are the problem – not me. The result is I become a prisoner in my own head.
The more I focus my attention on them being the problem, the stronger that button becomes inside of me. I’m not the problem they are!
By trying to cope with an experience I don’t like, I ended up creating a strategy that caused me more harm. It didn’t free me from the situation if anything it bound me even more tightly because I couldn’t let go as long as I thought they were the problem. It was such a habitual response I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
Tearing Down Our Buttons
If we want people to stop pushing our buttons, then we need to take them down.
In the moment of being triggered, it’s almost too late to avoid the initial pain – our past reactions have already conditioned this moment.
The place where we break the cycle is after the moment of being triggered, and before we react.
I know how enticing it is to want to blame someone else at that moment, or distract ourselves from the discomfort. But the initial emotion you are experiencing will only last about 90 seconds, as long as you don’t do anything to keep it going (which would be your habitual response).
So the best thing we can do is sit with the pain and create a space for it to exist. There is information in there but we never find out what it is, because we’re too busy reacting to it to instead of looking at it.
We think we know where the pain is coming from, but when we stop and ask ourselves, “where is the pain coming from that I’m experiencing right now in this moment?” We might find we get a new answer.
Then we just keep asking questions along these lines:
Why am I reacting this way?
What do I fear?
Is my reaction alleviating that fear or magnifying it?
Am I telling myself the truth?
Is there another way to look at this? One that’s more truthful and doesn’t cause harm to myself and others?
We have to investigate to see what’s keeping our buttons in place.
This is how, over time, we break the cycle.
And just to be clear, we don’t destroy the button on the first analysis. Most of our buttons we’ve been building for years and the reactions are deeply ingrained.
But every time we’re mindful of what’s happening and instead of going with the old habitual response we use wisdom to investigate what’s really happening – eventually, the button will disappear.