You have to learn to get rid of the buttons instead of the button pushers. ~ Yogi Amrit Desai
Our parents, our children, our spouses, and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves, yet. They will point us to our freedom every time. ~ Byron Katie
I often talk to clients about getting rid of their hot buttons, rather than getting rid of the people who push those buttons. Imagine life without buttons, where nothing triggers your stress and you’re able to stay conscious and in your “thinking” brain rather than your “emotional” or “survival” brain. To some, this might seem unimaginable, boring, or unromantic. Whenever I am able to do this, however, I find it quite exhilarating and freeing. Try it on for size and see what you experience.
How does this work, exactly? How do I get rid of my buttons? How do I avoid letting others “make” me stressed? By the time you’ve finished reading this, I hope you will have taken at least a small step toward answering these questions.
First, let’s look at how hot buttons develop. To do this, we have to go back in time in your life and assume that “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother,” or something like that. As you grew up, my guess is that you were not 100% perfect all the time, according to your parents or those who played that role in your life. You may have been the type who tried to do this, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. In any case, let’s assume that you made a “mistake” once in a while. I put that word in quotes, because who’s to say anything is a “mistake?” Actually, this is where the “magic” begins, because it’s only a mistake to someone who believes it is.
Most people, unless they are enlightened masters (and even then I’m not so sure), have beliefs about how it should be or how they want it to be in this life. They go around living their life as if their beliefs are “the truth.” (Certainly yours are, but we can never be so sure about theirs!) For example, they might believe that it’s absolutely true that you should not lie to someone else. Unless, … and here they can provide a laundry list of exceptions. Anyway, I don’t want to get sidetracked by that philosophical discussion, or any other for that matter.
Let’s just go with this idea for a few minutes. Let’s assume your parents were no exception. They had ideas about how children should behave and about their status relative to a child’s. No doubt, you ran afoul (today’s new vocabulary word) of one or more of these ideas and did not quite measure up. After all, you may have had your own ideas, or may not have really thought about this because you were too busy playing and having fun. In any case, let’s imagine that your parent let you know just how far afoul (using it whenever appropriate to solidify it in my brain) you went and did so in a frightening or otherwise unpleasant manner. After all, you were just a little kid and got frightened easily back then.
Rightfully so, your body reacted with a fight or flight response to this presentation from your parent. Something called a “body memory” then formed that remembered how your body felt in that moment. This might have included muscle tension, an elevated heart rate, a knot in your stomach, and so on. This body memory formed in a part of your brain that lives “outside of time.” In other words, information stored in a body memory has no time stamp, so when it’s activated, it’s as if the event being remembered is still going on.
Further, body memories often get stored with no link to the actual event being remembered. This happens because the “autobiographical” part of your brain gets turned off or turned down when the “fight or flight” part of your brain gets activated. Therefore, that part of your brain is not consciously aware of what your body is doing at the time. So, you have a body memory without a story to go along with it. By the way, this all happens by design as part of the survival mechanism your brain controls.
Now, let’s fast forward to today. Let’s say that someone, anyone really, says or does something that activates your body memory. Maybe their tone of voice, choice of words, or look on their face (it could be anything) causes a connection within your brain to a body memory of the event described above. Your “conscious” mind remains unaware of this connection, and yet your body memory of the event gets activated. Suddenly, out of the blue, your muscles become tense, your heart rate elevates, and you get a knot in your stomach. All this happens coincident with the other person doing whatever they did.
To make sense of your bodily experience, your very creative conscious mind makes up a story about why your body feels the way it does, since it has no real idea at this point. Your mind might have a ready supply by now of “go-to” stories, such as “I’m going crazy,” “Nobody likes me,” “I can’t do anything right,” or “I’m not good enough.” In this case, you may blame yourself for how your body feels, even though in reality none of these stories are necessarily true or even relevant to the situation.
Or, your mind may have developed the “go-to” story of “You make me feel …” (fill in the blank with angry, sad, disgusted, disappointed, bad, humiliated, etc., as appropriate). So, your mind erroneously convinces you that what you just experienced from the other person is “personal” to you. Hence, a button is born.
Body memory + explanatory story (most often not true) = hot button.
What’s really happening instead involves the other person’s body memories being activated such that their mind makes up a story to explain their physical sensations, just like yours did. In other words, their button was pushed first (which probably had absolutely nothing to do with you), then they reacted by doing something that (accidentally?) pushes one of your buttons. Grave misunderstandings ensue.
So, did anyone make you feel bad?
No. Your button, based on an erroneous story your mind made up to explain the body memory from your ancient history, got pushed. Say that 10 times real fast and then read on.
Who’s to blame, then?
Nobody. It’s all a big misunderstanding that would never have happened if one or both of you did not have the button or buttons involved.
Now, the final questions: How do you get rid of a button and can you do this by yourself?
It seems possible to do a button-ectomy yourself, if you really understand what’s going on and how to address it. More likely, a good therapist can help you the first time through to trace back the root of the body memory, link it up with an accurate autobiographical story, and put a time stamp on it. Voila! No more button! (Well, it’s not quite that easy, but almost.) Then, once you understand the process, you can continue on your own.
So, the next time you sense that someone is pushing your buttons, recognize it as such and view it as an opportunity to locate and remove another button from your vast repertoire. Then, instead of reacting negatively, you can smile and say to yourself, “Uh-oh! There’s another one of my buttons! Let me respond in a way that probably won’t activate another one of their buttons, then see what I can do to remove my button.”
Then, before you know it, I’ll be collecting unemployment.
Copyright 2016 Daniel J. Metevier