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The One Question to Ask When Your Buttons Have Been Pushed

Whenever someone turns on you, there’s one thing you can do that, almost immediately, will emotionally protect you. If, that is, you can do it immediately. And this little recognized mode of self-defense should work whether your hair-trigger reaction is feeling hurt, guilty, devalued, distrusted, disrespected, rejected, offended, insulted—or whatever. But this remarkable defense—which, finally, isn’t really a “defense” at all—is extremely elusive. For when you get your buttons pushed, it’s doubtful that responding in the way I’ll be describing would ever occur to you. If you’re like most people, in the moment of psychological upset you’re far more likely to succumb to the urge either to directly defend yourself or to counterattack your “assailant.”

This post is about training yourself—in the very second you realize you’re beginning to lose your cool—to ask yourself a question: A question that almost no one even considers posing to themselves. And it’s not about yourself at all, but about the one who provoked you. Here it is:

“Before this person pushed my button, which one of their buttons might I have pushed?”

What makes this self-query so stunningly powerful is that it instantaneously enables you to detach from your internal distress and refocus your attention on what’s going on outside yourself. If you view, say, the criticism or cutting remark as primarily reflecting something about the other person, you don’t have to remain nervous, angry, or feel bad about yourself—in short, “take on” the negativity apparently aimed at you.

Shifting from the role of reactive “emotionalist” to that of scientist, you’re actually training your brain to stay with the more adult, rational, part of your self in order not to let the present situation get the better of you. By depersonalizing the “drama” of the moment, you maintain the authority to be the sole judge of your actions—rather than allowing the other person’s comments to add to any doubts you may still harbor about yourself. Obviously, if these doubts were non-existent, you’d be pretty much immune to their criticism’s sting, and so not experience their unfavorable evaluation as threatening.

As regards the other person, odds are that they turned on you in the first place because—however indirectly (and it might be far more circuitous than you could ever imagine!)—what you said or did felt threatening to them. So endeavoring to grasp where they might be coming from can help you begin to formulate new insights…

Read more:  Leon Seltzer, PhD, Psychology Today

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