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Taking Charge Of Your “Hot Buttons”

Have you ever reached out to someone in friendship and all of sudden something was said that changed the whole tone of the conversation and made one of you explode with anger or hurt? Were you able to explore and fix the situation, or did the incident end in leaving the scene with bitterness or bewilderment?

Did you or your friend later conclude that the problem was caused by one of you hitting a “hot button”?

This happened recently when I called a friend to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and she started pushing me to make immediate plans for a wedding four months off.  I told her I would not be able to make specific plans until the following month. Instead of accepting that, she kept pushing for the sake of another attendee’s schedule, and I mistakenly allowed the discussion to continue. When it came to which car to use, I said that I personally felt safer in a big car, and she (who has a small car) thought I was accusing her of not caring about car safety. Her hot button went off and she “let me have it” (airbags and all). I tried to explain to her that I meant no such thing, but that her idea of car safety was just not the same as my idea of car safety. Then my hot button went off and I told her that I could have interpreted her insistence on my making immediate plans as being controlling and “pushy” and that I didn’t like her “trying to “organize and schedule” me according to someone else’s agenda — but that I was doing my best to understand where she was coming from and to keep my hot button from going off. I was emotionally shaken by having hurt her in this unexpected way, and I finally signed off assuring her that I had called to celebrate her on Mother’s Day and that I certainly didn’t mean for our conversation to be painful.

Being At The Mercy Of Our Hot Buttons — And Other People

We are all sensitive in various areas of our lives and when someone hits a sensitive area, you can go into an automatic emotional outburst without thinking. We call these sensitivities “hot buttons.” Hot buttons can act like land mines…you don’t know when you’re about run into one. You don’t know how you will react to what the other person is going to say, and you don’t know how the other person will react to what you say. Sometimes you don’t even know you have a “hot button” until one goes off — and you don’t know the kinds of things that will make the other person’s hot button go off. The trouble is, when you allow other people put you out of control by pushing one of your hot buttons, or upset you because you’ve pushed one of their hot buttons, you are allowing yourself to be controlled by those other people.

Taking Charge Of Your Hot Buttons — And Yourself

None of us wants to let our hot buttons (or the other person’s hot buttons) send us into an emotional tailspin. You can take control by doing two things:

  1. Identify your own hot buttons
  2. Prepare yourself to handle another person’s hot buttons

Identify What Triggers Your Hot Buttons

It helps to figure out what is actually bothering you when someone pushes one of your hot buttons, so you can understand yourself and explain what happened to your friend when it “goes off.” Here are some of the situations that trigger my Hot Buttons:

  • When a friend or family member plays “mind games” with me.
  • When a friend or family member does not reply to my emails or letters.
  • When a friend or family member is unwilling to clear up misunderstandings.
  • When a friend or family member takes no initiative in our relationship.
  • When a friend or family member takes no interest in sharing their thoughts or their work.
  • When a friend or family member takes no interest in sharing my thoughts or my work.
  • When a friend or family member “speaks for” me or another friend or family member.
  • When a friend or family member tries to “organize” or control my choices or my schedule.
  • When a friend or family member takes me for granted.
  • When a friend or family member tries to force their agenda on me.
  • When a friend or family member does not look me in the eye during our conversation.
  • When a friend or family member ignores my arrival or doesn’t include me in the conversation.
  • When a friend or family member puts his or her idea of what “the group” should be doing above the values and goals of each individual member of the group.
  • When a friend or family member would rather talk about logistics than share thoughts about personal doings or important issues.
  • When a friend or family member wants to have it “both ways” and is unwilling to take a stand.
  • When a friend or family member tries to act as a “go-between” between me and another friend or family member.

You might have an entirely different list of hot buttons. Some people’s hot buttons get pushed when another person interrupts them. We all have our sensitivities, especially with those with whom we want to feel close. Though newscasters and politicians can also push my hot buttons, no stranger can push my hot buttons like like a friend or family member can.

Prepare Yourself To Handle Another Person’s Hot Buttons

When you know someone very well, you learn what their hot buttons are, and you generally steer clear of them. But you can’t expect to know the hot buttons of an acquaintance or a stranger, and even people you know well will surprise you. You can prepare yourself by:

  • Treating hot buttons as a normal thing and not allowing yourself to get flustered.
  • Promising yourself to keep perspective and give your friend the benefit of the doubt.

Then when a hot button is triggered, you can explain to your friend that your intention was to share something important to you, not to cause hurt — which is the result of a misunderstanding or poor communication. You can then invite your friend to join forces with you to get to the bottom of it together.

Sometimes a hot button is triggered because of a new understanding, rather than a misunderstanding, and then it helps to get to the bottom of that together, too.

The important thing is to explain to your friend what you actually intended to communicate so that your friend can recover from what he or she THOUGHT you were communicating.

Enjoy The Adventure of Exploring Inner Space

If two people respect and like one another, it is easy to keep your perspective and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Keeping perspective means:

  • Recognizing the fact that you cannot read each other’s minds so “accidents of misunderstanding” can happen.
  • Honoring the fact that you can get to the bottom of your misunderstanding by further communication and thinking things through together.
  • Celebrating the fact that you can get to know each other even better by exploring — rather than ignoring — your hot buttons.

A good relationship magnifies each other’s enjoyment of life and is worth the effort of doing “damage control.” Interacting with other people is a wonderful adventure into “inner space” — your friend’s inner space as well as your own. And it is every bit as exciting as “outer space.” So enjoy being a “detective” as you delve beneath your hot buttons to get to their root, and learn more about your fascinating friends and your wonderful self !

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