Have you ever wondered what to do when someone is pushing your buttons? Consider thanking them. This is because when someone is pushing our buttons, we are learning where those buttons are. Now we can begin to uninstall them. And in our romantic relationships, this can be a step toward repairing attachment wounds, which I wrote about last week.
Often my clients come into the office very upset because their significant other has said or done something that really angers them. I usually respond with a bright smile saying “wonderful news!” Of course they usually look a little puzzled by my enthusiasm. If it seems surprising to you as well, hear me out. I’ve been exploring this position for many years and find it a key to empowerment, healing, and peaceful relationships.
This is because we learn to shift our perspective to “if somebody’s pushing my buttons, it’s only because I have buttons to push.” The buttons belong to us, not them; they show us where we are vulnerable and need some TLC. When we take responsibility for doing our own work, instead of putting the responsibility on our partners, we ave something we can actually work with.
The crux of this perspective is that we are only reactive when we are triggered in areas of our own vulnerability. For example, when I was younger, I was vulnerable about my ability as a writer. I had often been told that I was a good writer, and so I had some ego and self-esteem issues that were tied up with my identity as a writer. If I ever got negative feedback on an article that I wrote, it was very threatening to my sense of self. It would upset me, and I sometimes got mad at the messenger. As I’ve gotten older, I’m less threatened about those abilities, so I’m less vulnerable. When I get negative feedback on an article, I’m interested in understanding and learning from the perspective of the person who is giving their feedback, and it doesn’t upset me. That’s progress!
The pattern evolves
A client of mine recently spoke about how he was upset because his wife was frustrated with him for double booking himself. This was, in fact, a pretty regular occurrence. With his ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) tendencies, he really needed to rely on a calendar system but had not developed the habit of doing it. This left him at risk for missing appointments, double booking himself, and running late. He felt really vulnerable about this. Over the years, he had internalized and honed a lot of negative self talk about the pattern. And so when his wife rolled her eyes and got frustrated because of the inconvenience that his lack of organization caused her, he was particularly offended.
The pattern evolved: She would comment or criticize. He would become extremely defensive. This left him feeling exceptionally criticized. He could not hear her, or have empathy with her position. As he became involved in his own story of negative self talk, low self-esteem in this area, and generally feeling bad about his organizational skills. Their conflict escalated, leaving them both feeling hurt, angry, and distant.
When he explained the situation to me, he was more focused on his wife’s affect, how critical she was, how short tempered she was, and how mean she was. And I asked him to take a step back and look beneath the surface anger. The old saying goes, when one finger is pointing out three more pointing back; I ask him to reflect on how her criticism met his own internal dialogue to create his vulnerability.
He thought about it for a moment. Then he began to reflect on how he felt about running late, missing things, and double booking himself. It turns out that his wife was not the first person to criticize him for that pattern. He didn’t like that quality in himself.
I worked with this client on shifting his own self concept around double booking and other time-management problems. We did some energy psychology practices to shift him out of a state of self-criticism into one of self-acceptance. Interestingly, from that place he was able to implement some changes that work to correct the behavior.
Of course, once he had lightened up on his self-criticism, he had more empathy for his wife. He was less hurt and angered by her criticism, and had more understanding and compassion for her frustration. This helped the couple to de-escalate their tension, and allowed them to interact with each other in a more compassionate, present, and a loving way.
What to do when someone is pushing your buttons
It is, in fact, the same in almost any situation. If someone is “making you mad“, it is only because you are vulnerable about the thing that they are pointing out to you. In this way, they are acting as your mirror. Your self-criticism is like fog on the mirror. It distorts the image that is being reflected back to you.
By the same token, when somebody is “pushing your buttons“, they are providing you with excellent information about yourself. You can shift your focus from the other person and what you perceive as their wrongdoing, and turn instead toward yourself. When you find yourself feeling upset, you can ask yourself “What is my vulnerability here? Why does this upset me? What pattern, set up in my past, is being activated now? What’s going on beneath the surface?”
So the next time that somebody is pushing our buttons, let’s try to remember to turn our attention within. Let’s remember to ask ourselves, “What is my vulnerability here?” And then from that place provide ourselves with self-love and self compassion, and thus create the ground for harmonious relationships.
Until that time, we can thank our partners for pushing our buttons. Because after all, they are simply letting us know that we have buttons to uninstall.