Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just Whose Button IS It?

We come into each new relationship with our entire history forming and shaping our perceptions of who we are, what the world is like, and how we fit in it

Old wounds, shame, embarrassment, losses, and disappointments leave emotional scars. Whatever we (usually unconsciously) made the incidences "mean" about us and the world colors our view, skews our perception and creates sensitive "buttons." 

We've all heard the term "s/he pushes my buttons." But what does that really look like? What is the phenomenon and how do we respond (as opposed to react) to "getting our buttons pushed" in the most healthy way possible? Naturally, each of us will have different buttons, and we'll respond to them in our own unique ways.

Say your partner has a habit... a simple action that most people barely notice -- or perhaps see and find either charming or innocuous -- but that makes you completely bonkers. How to handle this? 

Since most of us live in our own worlds and believe our view is "right," "normal," and generally held by the majority of people, we see that "annoying habit" as "wrong," a flaw, something that needs to be fixed. 

The reality is, our response to the habit/annoyance is in US! Our partner's action or habit probably feels completely normal to him or her, just as ours do to us, and when we react with annoyance, it often triggers an emotional response in return. (Your reaction to your button being pushed pushes his/her button, and the cycle escalates. Wheeee!)

Here's a simple example, one which might be familiar:

He:    Leaves the toilet seat up.
She:   Asks a number of times for him to lower it after use.
Forgets. Leaving the seat up is a habit, not a big deal to him, and -- as we know -- habits are hard to break.
She:   Makes his habit Mean Something... perhaps that he is lazy, a slob, perhaps that he doesn't listen/care about her, any number of things (whatever her buttons are labeled.) Eventually -- if there is not clear discussion -- she walks into the bathroom, perhaps in the middle of the night, sits down on the cold porcelain, dunks her bum into cold water, and explodes.
He:    Gets attacked by a livid partner who's buttons have been pushed and who is likely to call him a lazy slob who never listens and doesn't care about her.
He:    Knowing he is NOT lazy OR a slob who cares very much about her, gets HIS buttons pushed, defends his nature, and an ugly fight ensues.
        And nobody wins.

I have a mental picture of an actual "Button", a bit like a doorbell or buzzer that sits somewhere in/on my body -- sometimes in the pit of my stomach, sometimes over my heart -- which when pushed, triggers an emotional reaction in me that is extreme... Usually my reactions have very little to do with the current incident, but almost everything to do with what the incident means about me, people in general or my place in the world.

So I've been asking myself, how do we disconnect the wires that keep the buttons "Live" and reacting? Some of my thoughts....

Whenever an extreme reaction comes up, Notice it! And ask yourself

  • does this incident warrant such intense defensiveness, anger, sadness, etc?
  • Or is there a familiar theme here? Have I felt this before?
  • What am I making it mean about me? Or about my partner?
  • Breathe. Pause. Breathe some more. Take a time-out to calm down.
  • Admit to your partner that your button got pushed.
  • Discuss the buttons and their underlying meanings with loved ones.
  • Commit to disconnecting the wires, and ask for the support you need.

Remind yourself:

  • These are MY reactions.
  • Take responsibility for your feelings.
  • Avoid blame.
  • Take some time and think.
  • Choose to Respond rather than React.
  • Visualize disconnecting the wires behind the buttons.
  • Perhaps find help healing the old pain and resulting beliefs through counseling, wise friends and/or meditation or spiritual practice.
  • Respect the fact that we all have buttons, and care enough to sidestep those that live in your loved ones.

Anybody else? I'd love to hear your solutions to handling our emotional triggers and any other insights you would like to share. To a more healthy, peaceful and harmonious existence!

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