I hear from a lot of people who don’t understand why being around their family pushes their buttons. They figure that because they’re however-old, or they don’t have these feelings or conflicts in other areas of their life, or they have money, status, a great partner, a family of their own, a PhD, or they go to therapy or do yoga, meditate, journal or whatever, that they shouldn’t be unsettled by family. You know, they should be above all of this malarkey now, apparently.

One of my favourite bits of advice is from the author Liz Gilbert. She says “family know how to push your buttons because they’re the ones who installed them.” And do you know what? We push their buttons too, even if we consider ourselves to be good, kind, nice and the like. It’s not just with family, either. That’s why certain people get on our last nerves at work, set our teeth on edge, or bring out an uncharacteristic side.

It doesn’t even have to be about some ‘terrible’ thing we (or they) are doing. You can push someone’s buttons by being nice, or doing well at something. Some people’s buttons get pushed when you’re not as bothered by something as they’d like you to be. Whether you tread lightly, avoid a subject, ask nicely or bare your teeth, yep, buttons might get pushed. Basically, you can push someone’s buttons just by breathing.

Everyone has buttons, and all of us push other people’s buttons.

It’s easy, especially when you’re not around family all the time or you feel that you’ve done a lot of self-work, to believe that certain things shouldn’t bother you. But humans push each other’s buttons because we’re either playing a role, not playing the expected role, or old hurts, resentments and agendas are surfacing.

Someone pushing our buttons or us pushing theirs is a notification that emotional baggage is at work.

Keep in mind, also, that sometimes humans push buttons intentionally. Hell, sometimes we even deliberately antagonise ourselves. Even though we know that Uncle Terry always goes down the big debate route or that our sibling brings out our competitive or argumentative side or that our parent loves a good bitch and a moan only to disregard our advice anyway, or that our family don’t really do praise or talking about feelings, we still rock up expecting them to be different or ready to try to prove why they’re wrong to remain the same. So, for example, we visit our family and get up in our feelings when they don’t make enough of a fuss over a big achievement. Or, we try to make them discuss something even though we know they’re going to clam up.

What’s your button?

Part of changing the sensitivity or even deactivating a button is using incidences of being unsettled to notice what’s coming up for you (or them). What’s the baggage behind it? Who or what are you being reminded of? Even if they’re getting on your last nerve, what does their response tell you about their baggage?

Acknowledging the theme to the upsets helps you to recognise what the button is. Maybe it’s being ignored, comparison, lack of recognition, being dumped on, scapegoated, oneupmanship. Perhaps it’s being wrong, disagreed with, criticised, your sibling getting their way, feeling gaslighted again. It could be unfairness, like when your parents don’t do something for you but seem to do it for someone else. Maybe it’s being falsely accused or someone describing you incorrectly and proving how little they know you.

Remember, also, that there’s a theme to other people’s buttons. Acknowledging this stops you from being surprised by why they’re behaving as they are.

Notice whether you (and they) have fallen into roles and consciously go out of your way to step out of yours. Acknowledge where you regress and where you deviate from a sense of self that’s normally intact. Addressing which buttons get pushed is also about choosing to consciously respond even a little bit differently each time.

Something might push your button but you don’t have to make up a negative story about it or get sucked in.

You don’t have to play your usual role or prove that you’re right or keep expecting them to be different from who they are.

It’s also about not trying to control the uncontrollable. When you do, you get to grow out of the old patterns.

Most of all, accept that buttons will get pushed from time to time. Endeavour, however, to use incidences to become more mindful and boundaried. You’ll still have your buttons, but healthy boundaries will allow you to take care of yourself.

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