When your buttons are being pushed

Many people can relate to having their emotional buttons pushed by others. Some people are especially sensitive to criticism or feeling controlled. Others respond strongly when others do not want to talk or spend time with them. Some hate feeling disrespected or devalued in some way. Our emotional hot buttons tend to develop from our life experiences as well as the needs that are especially important to us.
 
Although most of us having sensitivities of one sort or another, they produce three main problems. The first is that we are more likely to misperceive the actions of others as hurtful even when they were not intended that way. The second is that we tend to respond very strongly when our sore spots are touched. We either treat others the same way we perceive we are being treated - by hurting them back in some way - or we withdraw into ourselves feeling deeply hurt. The third problem is that such responses tend to only add to hurts or misunderstandings with some getting caught in an unfortunate cycle of retaliatory button-pushing.
 
So what can we do if our buttons are being pushed either on purpose or by accident? The first thing is simply being aware of our own sensitivities and double-checking the way we are reading others' behaviour. You could do so directly in a respectful way. You could ask, for example, "When you don't talk to me, it comes across to me as trying to hurt me. Is that what you were intending?" You could also ask yourself or a trusted friend if there is another way of seeing the situation apart from how you initially saw it. Is your partner really being critical or are they simply trying to let you know how they are feeling or what they are needing? By being more self-aware and willing to double-check our perceptions, we will tend to have more self-control.
 
It is also worth recalling times when your buttons were being pushed and you managed to give a reasonable response. Was it thinking about the consequences of reacting strongly? Was it reminding yourself how much you love that person? Was it giving yourself some space from that person and time to settle? Was it thinking about whether what you were getting upset about is really that important? I would recommend that you notice what has worked for your before and plan to do more of it. Counselling is also a good option for people to work on becoming less sensitive to certain situations as well as to gain greater control over their own responses.
 
I think teenagers, especially, are expert in knowing how to push their parents' hot buttons. They know the eye-rolls, sighs, disrespectful attitude, or certain actions are bound to get their parents to lose it. By doing so, they are either able to win by upsetting their parents or distract them from talking constructively about the issue at hand. If you have a teenager, I recommend that you try not to get into a button-pushing fight with them. You will lose as they are much better at this than you will ever be. Where possible, I suggest you exit and wait until you are in a better frame of mind to talk assertively, but respectfully, to them. By doing so, you are putting yourself out of arms' reach of their button pushing. Some parents even use a secret signal between them, as a reminder to exit and wait, when they see their child stirring up an emotional response from the other parent.
 
The trouble many people have with using such time-out strategies is that they use them to self-control or interrupt an argument, but never find a time to talk properly about the issue. They fear starting up the argument again. However, most people find that if they give themselves enough time to cool down and develop a plan for coping with any button pushing, they are better able to negotiate understandings for the future.


Subscribe to our FREE newsletter

and we will send you 3 bonus e-books on building stronger teams and a happier workplace