The People Who Push Our Buttons
Have you ever met someone and within a few moments they said or did something that just rubbed you the wrong way?
Have you ever had a co-worker that gets under your skin, so much so that you can't stand to be around them after a while?
Or maybe you have a family member who constantly says things that drive you crazy, and every time there's a family gathering you feel a knot in your stomach when you see them?
The fact is, no matter how enlightened, together, or serene we like to think we are, there are always people who can really get our goat.
These are the kind of people who seem to know just what to say, or how to act to get us riled up, and ready to rumble.
And try as we might to truly work on all of these things to be better at finding the good in everyone, we have moments when all of our hard work, therapy, meditation, prayer and the like fail us and it all just unravels.
Pema Chodron once wrote:
... sooner or later someone walks through that door and pushes all our buttons. We find ourselves hating those people or scared of them or feeling like we just can't handle them..."For most of us, that's where we leave it. We encounter the person who ticks us off, we don't like how it makes us feel, we probably aren't fond of how we react, and so we tend to focus all of our ire on them.
But Chodron then goes on to say:
Sooner or later, all our own unresolved issues will come up; we'll be confronted with ourselves.
Ouch. I know, that one landed on me, too.
None of us likes to admit that when someone is pushing our buttons the reason we are getting so ratcheted up is that we are confronting things we worry might be true about ourselves.
Or we find ourselves triggered by someone's words or actions because what they said or did brings up memories, feelings, or memories of trauma, grief, betrayal, etc.
It's far easier just to assume that it's the other person's fault that we are feeling so upset, and paint ourselves as sympathetic characters in the story of our life.
The Roman emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius once wrote:
It is not men's acts which disturb us--but our reaction to them. Take these away, and anger goes. No wrong act of another can bring shame on you.
As true as that statement is, it's a difficult one to internalize because most of us have lived our lives projecting all of our fears, dread, issues, and the like onto other people because it's easier than dealing with our own shadows.
This is why Jesus told his followers that they needed to worry less about the speck of dust in their neighbor's eye and tend to the huge piece of wood sticking out of their own first.
The simplest way to approach the good work of self-awareness is to adopt an ethos of curiosity that extends to even those difficult moments with difficult people.
When we are willing to ask ourselves why we are feeling a certain way when we encounter someone who grinds our gears, we can chase that curiosity until we get to the bottom of what's really going on inside of us.
Our anger at someone who pushes all our buttons could then become a way to deal with our own demons or the beginning of a way forward to new life and growth.
May your moments with difficult people become moments of life-giving truth. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.