People talk about how easily their buttons can get pushed, particularly when they are feeling challenged or stressed. What this generally means is that they are aware that there are situations or people that can elicit a particular response within them. “He makes me feel like this”; “her behaviour made me lash out”. Our culture encourages a mindset that supports the belief that other people can ‘make you’ feel a certain way. We learn it early in childhood when our parents tell us that our behaviour makes them angry, or sad. We are told that if we behave nicely, we will make our parents feel happy.
The reality is that people do things; people say things or people behave in certain ways. Your response belongs to you. It is you who responds.
Some responses are the result of inescapable programming and that is as it should be, especially when we are responding to threats. What I am referring to in this article though, is the habitual pattern that can develop in relationships, often as a result of negative thinking; whether it is relationship with your partner, your work colleague or a neighbour. It could even be that you believe a situation or circumstance can ‘make you feel’ something.
Some people really bristle at the suggestion that they themselves are responsible for their own response to others. I can understand why, but I also understand that when a person is able to fully acknowledge that this is the case – even if they have not yet learned to change it, they are immediately stepping into the arena of feeling more in control.
Think about it – for as long as you are sub-consciously telling yourself that it is the other person who ‘pushes your buttons’ and ‘makes you feel like this’ you are giving away your power. You are saying ‘I am powerless’. Most people will put all their efforts into trying to change the other person, whether by coercion or persuasion. You don’t need me to tell you that you cannot change other people and the more you try, the more powerless you will feel.
Response is an ability and when you accept responsibility for your response, you will feel more in control and more empowered. When you become more conscious of the unhelpful patterns that are driving you and make a conscious effort to change them, you will feel as though it is an ability rather than a pattern.
How do you make this shift? For most people it will be a slow process of trying. This is the nature of patterns. Patterns are formed through repetition, so in order to form a new, more empowered pattern you have to keep repeating the desired behaviour. So, for a while it may feel like a labour.
- Accept responsibility for your response-ability.
- Understand why you want to change it – what’s in it for you?
- Get to know the unhelpful patterns and be clear about what will be different when you have successfully changed them.
- Find any positive aspect of the other person (or situation), no matter how small, and give it your full focus. If you really cannot find one single good thought, make one up!
- Take care of your basic needs. Relax regularly. Breathe regularly. Have fun. Eat well.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Don’t expect perfection, just expect the best.