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Pushing Buttons

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I recently took a trip and stayed in a hotel with many floors. Of course, many floors mean an elevator with many buttons! During one of my visits to the elevator stood a 4-year-old child and his mother, inside the door, discussing the “buttons,” and where they went. I entered and smiled at this toddler’s curiosity as two other individuals entered. As the door closed, the boy began pushing all of the buttons! I looked to see the responses of the other passengers: one man shrugged, while the other gave earnest looks of annoyance. The mother clearly was embarrassed, and she quickly moved the child  away from the buttons.

I couldn’t help but think about how this can be a metaphor of how people “push buttons” in relationships. “Pushing buttons” means to intentionally bring up topics that will leave an emotional sting and often brings about negative emotions of the receiver. This response happens almost instantly, and the intention may be the most irritating part.

I’m sure we can all think of moments that we have experienced where someone has “pushed our buttons.” What were the feelings you felt in that instant? Anger? Embarrassment? Disgust? Perhaps you had wished the floor had opened so you could jump in? It often takes a person who knows us well to be able to push our buttons with such preciseness. There’s no one that can do it quite like family; parents, siblings, children, and spouses are the best button-pushers!

In her book “Daring Greatly,” social researcher Brené Brown suggests that the reason these close relationships pack so much power is because of the attachments we have to one another. We know each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities. This dynamic of close relationships can get buttons pushed in ways that less intimate relationships can do.

The question that is often asked in therapy is: How do I avoid it? While there are people who are button pushers, there are ways to avoid having these annoyances grow and become destructive. There will always be someone standing nearby willing to embarrass, annoy, assume power over, or just be a mean tease. The antidote is perspective (which can be hard to do when someone has just taken a concerted stance against you!). Here are 10 tools to help you gain perspective and soothe your emotions in the moment:

  • Chew on a piece of ice
  • Take a time out
  • Talk to your Higher Power
  • Imagine a place of peace
  • Use powerful coping thoughts: “It’s OK to feel this way.” “So what?” “This sucks, but it will pass.”
  • Squeeze the handles of arm of the chair 5 times.
  • Count backwards from 100 by 7’s.
  • Write your name in cursive with your toe, while you’re seated with legs crossed. (Don’t laugh, it works!)
  • Count your breathes
  • Use your 5 senses: Notice what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell.

For the mother in the elevator. . . good job taking 50 deep breathes, as the elevator stopped at each and every floor!

To schedule an appointment with Andrea, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555

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