By Linda Thurwanger
If you are like most of us, there are people and situations in your life that get under your skin. What do you do when others push your emotional buttons?
Do you let your anger take over and lose control of your words and actions?
Do you stuff your feelings by acting as if everything is okay, while quietly resenting the other person?
Do you say you’ll do something one way and then sneak around behind the other person’s back to do things the way you want to?
Do you resort to giving the silent treatment when you are upset with a family member or friend?
Personally, I’ve tried all of these tactics at one time or another. Some of them worked in the moment, to give me quick, yet temporary relief from the situation. Some of these strategies caused me to hold on to feelings of self-righteousness and kept me stuck in anger or victimhood. When I did what I wanted to by circumventing someone else, I did not feel any real satisfaction by going around that person. Most important of all, none of these options stopped the other person’s behavior, led to greater communication or better relationships with the people who push my buttons.
Some button pushers, like the rude clerk at a convenience store or the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning, don’t require you to put forth any effort to communicate more effectively. In those cases, you may never see that person again and hopefully, you are able to let go of those situations and not let them ruin your day.
The button pushers I am referring to are the ones you have contact with on a regular basis. People like, your spouse, your co-workers, your employees or employer, your children, your family and your friends.
Here’s what I’ve learned about button pushers. If someone behaves in a way that causes you to feel irritated, sad, frustrated, angry, victimized, or discounted, it is because you have given them the power to control your emotions. The same principle applies when someone says or does things that cause us to feel loved, happy, appreciated, excited or content. The reason those two ideas may not seem related is because generally speaking, we don’t mind if people say or do things that bring up emotions that feel good. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we have given control of our emotions to someone else.
How can you live with the button pushers, protect your peace of mind and maybe even improve your relationships all at the same time? It’s simpler than you might think and you don’t have to get the cooperation of the other person, but it is NOT easy.
Every emotional reaction you have comes about as the result of your thoughts or beliefs
Have you ever had an experience when you felt that someone was treating you badly by ignoring you? Only to find out later that they were going through some stressful personal issues and they were simply preoccupied? What happened to your emotions? Did they change? Were you angry or hurt when you thought you were being slighted? Were those feelings replaced by remarkably different emotions when you realized your friend was hurting or dealing with something stressful? Nothing changed about the other person’s behavior. Basically, the situation was still the same. The only thing that changed was the way you thought about or perceived the other person’s behavior. Yet, my guess is your emotions shifted almost immediately.
When we understand that every emotional reaction we have is a result of our thoughts, we can begin to learn how to manage those emotions in constructive ways and effectively disconnect our buttons.
To begin the process of disconnecting your buttons, make a deliberate decision to notice your emotions when they first start to stir. (Once your emotional reactions are in full swing, they become more difficult to manage, so catching them early is key.) When you first start to do this, you may not be able to do anything different than you have in the past, so be patient with yourself. The simple act of noticing when your emotions are triggered and how they feel is a giant step in the right direction.
Once you’ve identified an emotion that is beginning to surface, ask yourself what thought or thoughts you are having with regard to the situation. For example: Kim is feeling angry at and victimized by Jeanne. Just prior to the emotions coming up, these were her thoughts… “I think Jeanne is ignoring me. Why is she mad at me? I’ll bet she’s been talking about me behind my back! Now that I think about it, Heather has been ignoring me too! This is so unfair! I don’t deserve to be treated like this!” Kim’s first thought spawned other thoughts and with each new thought, Kim’s emotions escalated. We could delve into Kim’s psychological and emotional past and try to figure out where her feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem come from, but that would probably take months or years.
The short-cut is to go back to Kim’s first thought, “I think Jeanne is ignoring me.” At that point, Kim could remind herself that it is just a thought. As a thought, it has no power and it cannot harm her. The thought has no meaning unless she assigns a meaning to it. If Kim learns to observe her thoughts in an unattached way, she will be able to disconnect enough from them to realize that she does not have to react to every random thought that pops into her head. With practice, Kim will discover that although she cannot control which thoughts come into her mind, she can decide which thoughts deserve her attention and which thoughts to dismiss. In Kim’s situation, dismissing the thought “I think Jeanne is ignoring me.” would serve Kim much better than dwelling on that thought.
When you learn to just let negative thoughts flow through your mind without giving them much attention, you will find those thoughts are quickly replaced with new thoughts. You get to decide if the new thoughts are worth your attention or if you should let them flow past as well. When you get the hang of this practice, your buttons will no longer be push-able.