I was given a thin well-used book when I was a little girl called, Tzedakah - a way of life. It was a collection of simple stories, dealing with the Jewish concept of justice or righteousness (Tzedakah). Each was only a few pages long and written in large font designed for young readers. The parables centered on how a poor person in the village, from the beggar to the local rabbi would make a significant sacrifice for another without any regard for personal benefit. It would be a kind deed of great human kindness, ‘right’ and ‘just’.
The characters were my superheros. I was impacted by the depth of their kindness and generosity, especially because they had so little. My family was firmly committed to the spirit of Tzedakah, so this too was inculcated in my home.
Except for parental love, most of us can’t quite match this level of righteousness, but might occasionally demonstrate selflessness with no expectation that our good deeds will be acknowledged, recognized or appreciated. From time to time, we all have helped someone without expecting anything in return. But prioritizing the well-being of others at any expense, financial or emotional is not always the cornerstone of everyday helpfulness.
Although not all people derive the same sense of purpose, happiness or meaning from helping others, I believe in varying degrees, most of us have this helpful trait. It is what allows us to have friends, family and get along at work. It is what makes us feel good.
There are exceptions of course. Psychopaths or full-blown narcissists do not have this trait to any extent.
As a helper-type myself and as a coach to other helper-types – including those who work in the helping professions, I am sensitive to how sometimes one may engage in inappropriate amounts of helping and caring. When one finds themselves saying: “my needs are always on the backburner”, “I’m tired of giving all the time”, “my self-respect is being compromised” or when a loving friend or family member brings attention to the lack of reciprocity in your relationships, it’s a good time to take stock of what is motivating and driving your helpfulness.
If you are chronically neglecting your own needs and have a feeling of being taken for granted or advantage of, or unappreciated, maybe you are overextending yourself in relationships – at home and at work. Or maybe you have a strong attachment to fix, influence or change someone. While taking responsibility for improving someone’s life may feel initially rewarding, empowering or fulfilling, it can result in resentments on both sides, particularly when you are over-invested in the outcomes of your suggestions. A telltale sign that self-coercion is at work is when being helpful feels onerous, like you have to do it or you are not a good person. You should feel free to give.
The presence of feeling resentful or frustrated in your relationships is not evidence that the ‘other’ is in fact guilty of taking advantage of your kindness. The giver might be exceeding normal expectations of giving. When you over-extend or over-invest, people sometimes recoil, feeling your desperation to be liked or acknowledged. There is an exaggerated expectation to match what is being given.
We can speculate that unhealthy giving or people-pleasing, also referred to as ‘codependency’ can be linked to family of origin issues or rescuer roles within the family, spiritual or religious beliefs, personality traits, emotional needs and boundary issues.
Motivations run the gamut:
I love kindness, generosity and taking an interest in others. I believe in Tzedakah as a way of life. Over-extending oneself in relationships and being out-of- balance may be part of the give and take of life. Maybe you are madly in love or maybe duty and obligation require it.
There is great freedom and joy in being invested in your own life and of creating an identity that manifests your values in many domains and not just in helpfulness and generosity.
If you feel a generalized lack of satisfaction or you are neglecting your own needs because of inappropriate amounts of helpfulness, maybe it’s time to find more balance in how you “do” relationships.
I believe that even the most intractable inner critic, the most raging of inner voices can be quieted, even domesticated.
As a life-work coach, the personal issues that I am contacted about usually relate to: challenges of procrastination & perfectionism, poor lifestyle habits, burnout, personal effectiveness and career concerns.
When I ask first-time clients, what was the pivotal moment when they decided to contact me, reasons might include:
The reasons vary of course, but at the heart of this decision is a desire to “FIX” the problem. When there is commitment and motivation and a willingness to make the effort, CHANGE is achieved. The FIX works.
Of all the barriers to making change, the one that seems to hijack people’s commitment and motivation, is not discipline, self-control or even their effort – it is the voice of the inner critic.
The inner critic is the enemy of the people. It is a negative powerhouse that generates feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and shame.
When I discover that the harsh critic is at work within my clients, sabotaging their efforts at a successful outcome, my task is clear. Teach them to dial back the volume of this voice:
The phrase getting your buttons pushed, “…originated in 1920s America, when domestic electricity was being installed on a massive scale. The ability to push a button to turn something on had a big impact on lifestyle, and the metaphor spilled over into other things which have an immediate effect — like being able to trigger a specific emotion". Google search
"I got my buttons pushed" or "he/she triggers me" are two comments that lead to really interesting coaching conversations. We all know that hair-trigger reaction: angry, hurt, offended, shamed etc.
How Mary got triggered and lost control
A colleague said something during a meeting that Mary took very personally. Her immediate internal reaction was that "was so unfair and uncalled for".
Without any self-awareness or self-control, Mary feels a surge of tremendous anger and verbally counter attacks. Her heart rate and blood pressure are high. Her body language shows just how upset she is. She is immediately embarrassed and is wondering if her reaction was out of proportion to the comment. The meeting continues but Mary is replaying what was said. Her mind is racing with negative thoughts. She goes back to her office after the meeting is over and isn’t able to concentrate. She doesn’t sleep well at all. The next day, there is tension between Mary and her colleague. Her boss schedules a meeting to discuss what happened.
We are emotional creatures and it is pretty much impossible to control our feelings. What and who triggers us and the intensity of our emotions varies hugely between people. What might irk me, wouldn’t bother you and vice versa. Factors such as personality and temperament, how intensely you feel about particular issues, the amount of un-managed stress , fatigue levels, your childhood history and how secure you are in your views and beliefs all play a role in how you FEEL emotions.
Sometimes we are totally justified to be angry or offended. There are offensive people out there who are prone to personal attacks, who shift blame on to others, and who say and do things that are hurtful. They are natural button pushers, and any counter attack with this kind of person will only serve to escalate the situation.
Even though we can't always control who we interact with, or how we feel about what they say and do, we do want to avoid acting out of control or being dominated by strong negative feelings to the detriment of our health or our relationships.
In order to control your reactions and responses however, you need emotional intelligence; self-awareness and self-management skills.
When we have a big reaction and irrationally explode inside without knowing why, this is a clue that whatever the trigger is; old insecurities, unresolved hurts or childhood wounds, it is probably well below the surface of our awareness. Becoming aware of what makes you flip out and activates the big emotions is really worthy of examination. Why? Because it is good for you!
Self-awareness is being able to perceive your own emotions in the moment and make sense of them. It offers clarity and insight into what triggers and gets a rise out of you, and allows you to tolerate a certain degree of negativity without imploding. It allows you to handle the discomfort that being triggered makes you feel. It also means you have control over your reactions so that you don’t say inappropriate things, escalate the conflict and damage relationships.
While self-awareness affords you the opportunity to understand yourself and feel self-compassion and, compassion for others when you feel triggered, self-management allows you to control your behavior and generate more positive interactions.
The next time a button-pusher hits your button, try to identify why you are angry or offended. Often, the work to figure it out and make peace with ‘it’, falls to you and you alone. Other times, without blaming or attacking, communicate what you feel or need to the button-pusher.
I should note that in spite of your best efforts to communicate and discuss, there are people who lack skill for dealing with conflict, don’t share responsibility for solving problems and are not interested in you and what you feel. Do not engage with them.
There are many books to read on how to develop self-awareness so that you can more effectively manage how to respond to being triggered. You can also work with me!
Don't be trigger-happy
Other Getting Your Buttons Pushed blogs:
When your professional and personal lives are in transition or at an impasse, Coach Minda provides the support, direction and feedback you need to make changes for the better. Minda helps procrastinators, perfectionists, self-doubters and decision-dodgers experience quick wins, work through roadblocks and stay motivated.
A year ago today, (January 12, 2018), I had back surgery at The Montreal Neurological Institute. Six weeks post-surgery, in hopes to getting back to 'normal', I began physiotherapy and was committed to a daily exercise regimen. Without much warning, eight weeks into my recovery, I badly tore my meniscus and hamstring. These injuries set me back and 'normal' seemed unreachable.
While in the thick of a personal or professional crisis, a major upheaval or any disruptive life event, most of us temporarily lose our sense of normalcy and the feeling that our life has order, predictability and is under our control. It can be wickedly stressful to lose what you had or what was normal to you.
I don't want to minimize the challenges posed by any crisis, but there are a few shortcuts to regaining your bearings. First of all, reestablish or modify routines and habits that served you well in the past. Let go of the struggle to recover what was lost and focus on creating something new. Revisit and readjust your priorities. Set new goals. Ask how others have triumphed over adversity and dealt with hard knocks. Pay attention to how you think about things and the attitudes and beliefs you carry. How can a change in your thinking change your attitude and bring more peace and acceptance? Finding your normal requires persistence, focus, a whole lot of love and support, and good fortune to move from coping to thriving.
If you want to make changes to your normal, you don't need a crisis or life altering event to renew yourself.
Interestingly, no adverse life event interferes with my morning coffee routine. Some things never change.
p.s An earlier blog, Cultivation of hope is the back story to my surgery. I wrote it to support those suffering from pain and to offer insight to those who see loved ones in some form of decline and suffering.
My family, relationships, movement, nature, flexibility of mind, exploration of alternative perspectives & openness are central to my life.