Breaking Free from Button-Pushers

“If you are easily provoked, you are easily controlled.” - The Stoic Emperor

Have you ever found yourself interacting with a friend or loved one and experience a build-up of tension? Maybe the subject of conversation is a sensitive one, or one you don’t agree on, or one that contains trigger points for you. Or maybe this certain person just knows how to push your buttons. Or maybe you’ve had this experience when you turn on the news or open your social media feeds, the tension building and growing the more you watch, the more you scroll. Eventually, whether instigated by a conversation or by a Facebook post, the tension shifts and morphs into full on anger or rage.

This process of heightened emotions surfacing based on interactions we have - with friends, family, and loved ones, as well as the ingesting of the current media - is nothing other than being provoked. Everywhere we look, we’re met with opinions and points of view, stories of personal experiences, tv segments, advertisements, social media posts, radio and podcast interviews, and more, all of which get an emotional reaction from many, or most, of us. 

Being provoked is natural and happens to everyone. But let’s talk about the depth of what we’re giving of ourselves when we allow ourselves to be provoked in this way.

Not only are we giving our peace of mind, our soundness, our balance, but we’re also giving control of ourselves. When you’re easily provoked, you’re allowing something outside of you to control your emotions, your reactions, your inner peace. This leads to this thing or person that provoked you having control over you, control over how you feel. The very act of allowing ourselves to be provoked is the act of allowing ourselves to be controlled. 

Our interpersonal relationships often come with areas of disagreement and conflicting points of view. This is natural and something we all experience in our everyday lives and our growing connections with others; close, intimate connections, as well as acquaintances. When we run into these disagreements and conflicts, it’s how we handle them and allow them into our lives that determines how provoked by them we are and how much weight we will allow them to hold for us. 

When we make the decision to take in another’s provoking point of view or opinion in a way that allows us to honor them without taking ownership of them and allowing them to rattle us, we learn the art of holding onto our balance. Of “keeping our zen.” Of protecting our buttons from being pushed, and in turn, protecting ourselves from the anger and tension that occurs when we allow ourselves to become enmeshed with these points of view and opinions that provoke us.

This article from Medical Daily suggests using a more detached point of view when feeling provocation coming on, encouraging yourself to take a more objective standpoint. When we take the standpoint of “a fly on the wall,” we’re able to remove ourselves from the provoking comments or conversation and observe it as if we’re outside of it, rather than connected with it and being emotionally affected by it. 

Another way to move through a provoking situation is with reassurance, supported by this Psychology Today article on Disarming Your Buttons: How Not to Get Provoked. Self-talk can go a long way in preparing us to deal with a difficult situation without getting invested or overwhelmed, allowing ourselves to be controlled by the provocation or stress. Trying self-talk such as, “I know I can get through this,” and “I have the tools to get to the other side of this,” can be helpful as you talk yourself through the situation while supporting yourself in remaining calm and unprovoked.

Letting ourselves be easily provoked means we’re giving up much more of our personal power than we realize by handing control of ourselves over to the source of the provocation. Learning ways to manage being provoked and the emotions that come with it gives us back that personal power and enables us to maintain control over ourselves and our state of mind. Once we learn to “disarm our buttons,” we’re no longer offering that reactivity to others who want or try to push them. This is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and one more tool in your toolbox and way of ensuring you move through your life in as balanced a state as possible. 

The next time you feel yourself being provoked, or you know you are entering into a situation or conversation that may be provoking, try one of the following:

  • Detaching - remind yourself of the “fly on the wall” scenario, and work on detaching and finding an objective, less emotionally-charged standpoint. The less emotionally invested you are in the conversation and the more you can view it from a factual, objective standpoint, the less you’ll experience being taken out of a rational state of mind and into an emotional state of mind, where we begin to lose control of our reactivity.

  • Reassurance - be aware of your self-talk and tailor it to reassure yourself that you have the ability to get through this situation calmly and rationally. Feelings follow thoughts: when you think negative thoughts, you feel badly, when you think positive thoughts, you feel better. By that reasoning, if we’re able to keep control of our thoughts, controlled, balanced feelings will follow and we’ll have a better chance of staying in a neutral position throughout the interaction.

  • Relaxation techniques - also recommended by this Psychology Today article, if you know you’re going into a situation that may provoke you or push your buttons, do your best beforehand to practice some relaxation techniques. This can be repeating affirmations in your mind, looking at imagery of the ocean or another scene that is soothing to you, or deep breathing. When we go into a situation tense, we’re more likely to become even more emotionally heightened. When we go into a situation relaxed, we have a longer way to go on the scale of emotions to reach that heightened state.

The more control we have over our reactions when our buttons are pushed, the less power others have over us. The less control we hand over to them. The more we remain in the driver’s seat of our own emotions and lives. This is powerful. You can learn to manage your reactions, even if you’re someone who has always been easily provoked, this is a skill that can be learned and implemented into our lives to enhance our relationships and our communication. Remember: easily provoked equals easily controlled, neither of which we want to be.

Amanda Gist
Amanda Gist