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Don't push my buttons!

Don't push my buttons! This famous statement, or perhaps also an infamous one, crossed my mind when I thought about couples who come for relationship therapy. One partner says or does something that inflames the other and then their conversation turns into a bickering. This is very frustrating for them and is often the reason to ask for help. It often helps them if I explain how this dynamic arises and what it takes to get out of it.

Don't push my buttons can therefore relate to an argument with your partner, but it can also be about an unpleasant conversation with your child, a local resident, your mother-in-law or an awkward conversation with a employee of an agency. My curiosity was aroused about the origin of this statement and I thought it would be a good idea to write something about what exactly happens when someone pushes your (or mine) 'buttons'. There is a lot to be said about these 'buttons' of ours.

The statement don't push my buttons seems to have originated in the 1920s. Many machines were made at that time, all of which performed actions when you only had to press a button. Completely automatic. Derived from this, there is a view that the statement applies to situations where one person knows exactly what to do or say, causing the other to become angry or irritated, or to behave in a certain way. Manipulation, in other words, by simply pressing someone's 'button'.

The statement is now often used by people who do not want to get upset or angry and then say to the other person: 'Don't push my buttons.'

But how is it possible that there is such a connection between what someone says and that it makes you feel, think and behave differently? As if it is automatic behavior over which you seem to have no influence. It's quite strange, perhaps even scary, that you can be influenced like that. And do you have control over this or not?

I see such a button as a mental bruise that we have suffered somewhere that just won't go away. It still hurts. It could be something that triggers you because of something that happened a long time ago or perhaps because of a recent experience. For example, someone has wronged you, there was dishonesty, you were always passed over, not seen or it is a specific look that someone gives you that you absolutely cannot stand.

For many people it is unpleasant to experience this and for some it is difficult to deal with.

If something like this is a mental bruise, the reaction can be intense. The emotional charge of the old situation where you suffered that pain piles on top of that of the new situation. An indicator for recognizing this is to consider, does my reaction or that of the other person, fit the current event? Is the emotion that you or the other person has, in proportion to this situation? Estimating the other person's reaction is probably easier for many people than your own. The reaction of your conversation partner at that moment or what friends say to you afterwards, will help you answer that question for yourself. Reflecting on yourself and calmly analyzing your own behavior afterwards can give you the necessary answers about what a certain emotional state represents and what you want to do with it.

Most people have a mental bruise somewhere, a sensitivity or 'button' that you can solve yourself throughout life. Although you can grow old with this, it can cause serious problems. So they refer to an unfinished situation, something you can learn from, no matter how painful. If you are able to do this, your reaction to the other person's behavior does not have to be an automatic behavior that you may regret later on. A mental bruise may still hurt, but you can choose your own response again. However, if this continues to be a problem for you, Brainspotting or Gestalt therapy can help you get a grip on this. You can click here if you want to make an appointment.

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