Don't Push My Buttons!

If ever there was a time when our buttons get pushed, it is during divorce.
06/08/2012 12:02 pm ET Updated Aug 08, 2012

If ever there was a time when our buttons get pushed, it is during divorce. At the top of the list is the soon-to-be-ex (STBX) who knows oh-so-well how to push our buttons. Then there is usually the critic in your life, perhaps your mom or a sibling or another close loved one who "shoulds" all over you, pushing your buttons. As if life isn't difficult enough, you find yourself reacting as these people poke at the tender underbelly of your ego, sending you into a fury of anger and defensiveness.

The question you want to ask yourself is, "Do I want to be reactive or responsive?" The most important difference between reacting and responding is the control you have over your emotions. When we react, it is an emotional knee-jerk snap. We can go from 0 to 100 in seconds. It is as if we are being taken over by another force and we feel the uncontrollable need to immediately and vehemently attack or defend. Is there any other way?

No matter how wrong the person is, you do not have to react with an emotional explosion. You can choose to respond in a firm but calm manner. Responding this way can only come after giving yourself time and space after the comment or situation that upset you. When you are in the heat of the moment with your soon to be ex, it is impossible to shift your initial gut reaction into a healthier response. But after the smoke has cleared, there is an opportunity to look at your highly sensitive "button" and take control of the situation.

You can use your upset emotion as an opportunity to look at your triggers. For example, if your STBX sets you off by telling you that you are too fat, work too much, dress too provocatively, spend too much money etc, it is an opportunity to look at why that statement upsets you so much. Perhaps your parent used to do the same thing? Or maybe deep down you believe that statement about yourself.

First ask, 'What button is he or she pushing?' Was I aware of the button? How long have I had that button?" in order to learn something about yourself. You can take a negative situation and made a positive out of it.

What is the benefit of responding vs. reacting?

As I began to assess my buttons and understand why I was getting so upset about certain things, I felt like I was taking my power back. It was an opportunity to heal, and I also saw how often I believed what was being said; It was like I was saying it to myself. So when he would say I wasn't a good mother because I worked so many hours, I would become furious. Once I addressed my own guilt about my work day and made adjustments that benefited me, his words no longer held any power over me.

The benefit is two-fold. First, by letting his/her comment go, you are in fact taking back control. They are not able to incite you. Second, you are learning about yourself and healing something that is not serving you -- desensitizing the button. No one can control your reaction in this area again and you can get rid of the upset altogether.

Another part of button pushing is that we try to communicate while reacting. Basically, we dump our emotional load on our spouse. Why is this bad? Even if we have something important or wise to say, because it is mired in our angst, our spouse only hears the anger, resentment, pain or frustration -- not the thoughts and wishes buried within our reactive statements.

When we respond from a place of calm, we can say what we think and how we feel without dumping our emotional load and having our message get lost in it. It gives us an opportunity to be clear and concise, to state our needs or desires separate from our upset. It also gives us an opportunity to learn a lesson in each situation.

This is not to say that the other person did not do something wrong when they pushed your buttons, but simply that every upset we go through is a lesson for us about ourselves. If we choose to look only at the other person's wrongdoing, we are missing a great opportunity to grow!

So how does this work?
  1. Don't Shoot the messenger (do not react to the person causing the upset).
  2. Get the message (realize your trigger, the thing you learn about yourself).
  3. Release the messenger. Don't react in the moment, but rather spend some time figuring out your triggers and considering the way you respond to such triggers.
  4. Finally, respond from a place of calm and clarity.

There is so much conflict during this time of your life. Choosing to respond instead of react is also a choice to move into a more positive energetic place. During this time, you want to take every opportunity to attract positive responses. Anger and conflict are destructive energy and leave you feeling sad, hopeless, frustrated, angry and upset. When this is how you feel, it is also what you attract in others.

Change the dance with your STBX and they too will change the way they react. You will have a positive impact on your interactions and as you begin to live your life from this better place, you attract those with a similar healthy energy.