When your buttons are pushed

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons you just have to abandon your adult sensibilities and join forces with your  inner child.          Shannyn Steel

Every now and then someone comes along and pushes all your buttons.  Those great big red buttons, best used in case of emergencies. The ones best avoided due to the inevitable ugliness that can arise. Sometimes those very same people push those very same buttons on a seemingly regular occurrence.  The worst button pushers, in my book, are the stealthy ones.  The ones who won’t actually confront you, who actively avoid direct contact with you but make a raft of comments to others, provide input when you are not present and actively and subtly undermine you.  They just seem to make those comments, dismiss and devalue you and your work in a calm, off-handed yet deeply cutting way.  Their many small jibes, combined, are as strong and powerful as an upfront all out attack. Those buttons, once pushed, can send you reeling, into an internal rage or plummeting into an abyss of self-doubt and torture.

Of course, psychologists, and those whose buttons haven’t been pushed in the moment, will tell us the other person cannot make us feel a particular way, it’s our choice how we react to the momentum they use to push our buttons. They are, after all, our buttons.  I agree and good advice suggests we attend to our buttons.

My first question in situations like this is always – where am I at fault?  Is there some justification for the way this person is behaving (not that I condone bullying but behaviour happens in a context). It’s hard to stay calm and so terribly easy to dissolve into a trade of unpleasantness, behind the person’s back. But it’s wise not to go there, apparently (but by golly it does feel good to let it all out with a trusted friend). Sage advice also suggests we avoid confrontation.  I’m onboard with that, though taking a direct and civil approach has yielded good outcomes for me in the past.

When calm reason fails, peacemaking doesn’t work and the professional advice just don’t cut it, I abandon my adult sensibilities and join forces with my inner child.

I actively avoid my inner child as a rule but she comes out to play, in ways never intended by the gurus, coaches and psychologists, when flummoxed by a button pusher and when I’ve failed to deal with my own buttons. At times like these, thank goodness they don’t happen often, I feel my demeanour slip and I slide dizzyingly into a place where biting, kicking, stamping and yelling feel like the best course of action.  Of course, this isn’t entirely appropriate in many settings (mind you, I haven’t actually succumbed and staged this drama for real) but no one else sees the montage playing in my head, right!  The physical and mental relief that would flow from a good old tantrum might just have a much-needed transformative effect.  That got me thinking about healthy ways adults could unleash the inner beast of frustration in socially acceptable ways.

Running is good.  People tell me drinking helps them but that doesn’t meet the healthy criteria (and this was all about avoiding self punishment), getting out in nature and sitting on the grass under a tree rates highly, walking too. Writing your frustrations is suggested by many (hey, I’m a genius and didn’t know it).  Talking to a friend and a myriad of other great tips exist to relieve the frustration and stress of a situation.

Exercise and physical movement get high marks by a lot of sources.  I guess we all knew that, though in a light bulb moment the realisation dawned that if our emotions, our stress, our anxiety can trigger chemical reactions which effect our physical health causing inflammation, a weakened immune system and more, then reversing the equation could have a similarly positive effect. Combined with the instinctual need to throw a tantrum I hit upon the single best outlet for dealing with the aftermath of your buttons being pushed.

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons. When you can’t seem to move on and things are weighing you down and you just have to punch the shit out of something;  go a round with a boxing bag. You can hit and kick and yell and grunt and flay about until you have nothing left to give. It’s acceptable adult behaviour, and it’s a damned good salve for a raging mind, a wounded heart and a dinted ego. Plus, there are a whole raft of physical benefits from the release of endorphins. A good old round with a boxing bag can not only reduce the stress that’s mounted but stave off anxiety, boost self-esteem and improve sleep too.

Have you stumbled on any unique and successful ways to cope with an awkward situation and regain your equilibrium?

On a serious note: if you are experiencing workplace bullying or are in a difficult situation, don’t ignore it.  It won’t go away on its own.  Seek the assistance of the workplace advisor, a health care professional or a skilled and trusted colleague. 




Harnessing the power of your emotions

… let’s harness the power of emotion to get things done, to lead fulfilling lives of integrity and adventure.  ― Shannyn Steel

“Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.”

― Helen Keller

I have completed a number of small projects around the house already this year and I feel a great sense of achievement. To actually get in and tick them off my ‘want to do’ list has made me feel, well, good.  I thought the emotion might be pride. I don’t  like the connotations connected to pride. On closer inspection I realise it’s joy I feel.  If the power of joy can help get things done and keep me motivated, I’m choosing joy as my motivator this year.

There is some research behind engaging with your emotions to create change in your life. Dr Tara Brach says we can use the eight main emotions to help us reach our goals.  As rational beings we require the power of emotional engagement to propel us and keep us motivated. For instance, someone might think the local creek needs to be cleaned up (rational thinking) but it may not be until their disgust (emotion) becomes the powerful motivator that they join the ‘clean up Australia day’, or similar, activity to restore it. Another’s anger may be the spark that leads them to campaign for equality. Love is powerful emotion that drives people to do incredible things for others.  Instead of shying away from or hiding our emotions, let’s harness the power of emotion to get things done, to lead fulfilling lives of integrity and adventure.

How might you engage with fear, anger, disgust, shame, sadness, love, joy and surprise to move you to take positive and purposeful action this year?



Deciphering emotions—improving relationships

Frayed and frazzled by data overload

“The ways of men and women are such a puzzle. And I could barely decipher my own feelings, let along anyone else’s.” ― Megan Shepherd, The Madman’s Daughter

If I asked you to list all the emotions you could name, how many would you come up with? I can produce a list that requires more fingers and toes to count them on than I have. Several people I asked also listed off a decent bundle. Interestingly though, depending on what source you read, there are only a handful of basic human emotions. Some researches suggest four, which include anger, fear, happiness and sadness while others include the addition of disgust and surprise. All other emotions are versions, subsets if you will, of those basic few. Does that surprise you? It did me.

Consider too that the human face has forty-two muscles, which express emotions, and is capable of creating up to 7000 different expressions. Add to that titbit of information that each face due to gender, structure and development is slightly different and may express those emotions in different ways. There are those among us who betray nothing on their face and yet their emotions volley at us, unannounced, through words and actions. Deciphering emotions can be tricky.

Dealing with emotions is complicated. They are, according to Daniel Shapiro: unavoidable, numerous, fluid, multilayered, varied in impact and triggered by multiple possible causes. Is it any wonder we find it hard to negotiate the emotional terrain in our relationships? A better way to prepare to deal effectively with emotions is to recognise and learn how to respond to the core concerns behind the emotion.

Fisher and Shapiro (2005), experienced in high stakes negotiations, developed a framework to deal effectively with emotions by focusing on five core concerns that are important to most of us. They are appreciation, autonomy, affiliation, status, and role.

Shapiro suggests we can use these five core concerns as both a lens and a lever to simplify our approach to emotions; whether we notice them displayed across the face or more overtly through verbalisation or behaviours. As a lens the core concerns can provide us with a way to understand the cause of emotion and as a lever, to offer a way to respond to emotions to improve the situation.

It’s worth investing some time observing and appreciating each of the core concerns. It is a skill that will assist you whether in workplace or personal interactions. It is a skill that will assist you in building rapport, more cooperative behaviour and better relationships. The following exercise suggestions come from Shapiro’s article, Teaching students how to use emotions as they negotiate (2006).


Observe the core emotional concern in your own life and appreciate the core concern in situations you observe.


Take a week to notice each core concern and how it arises in your life and then a second week to appreciate that concern in an interaction you have with someone else. Journal your findings and experiences. This process is repeated for each core concern.


During the first week dedicated to appreciation, you might observe/write about your frustration when your suggestion at a meeting was ignored or brushed over.

During the following week you might actively appreciate someone else’s input in a meeting or seek their input on a project. Mentally note or journal the experience; what worked well, what might you do differently in the future?

The guiding questions below, linked to each core concern, might support your observations in this exercise.

Appreciation: were your thoughts, feelings, and actions devalued, or acknowledged as having merit?

Autonomy: was your freedom to make decisions impinged upon, or respected?

Affiliation: were you treated as an adversary and kept at a distance, or treated as a colleague/ equal?

Status: was your standing treated as inferior to others, or given full recognition where deserved?

Role: did you feel the many roles you play were meaningless, or personally fulfilling?

Of course there is a quicker method. You could spend one week observing all the core concerns. Journal the situations in which you observe the impact of the core concerns being addressed or unaddressed. During the next week, you could use at least one of the core concerns to try to stimulate positive emotions in yourself or others. Write about a situation and its impact on people’s emotions.

Play around with this idea of identifying the core concerns behind emotions. Whether there are 4, 6 or 20. For me, it’s a better model than trying to decipher 7000 expressions and trying to deal with them based on interpreting superficial data. Have fun. I’d be keen to hear what you discover.

Prising open personal padlocks

“We are chained by our own control. Life is nothing more than finding the key that unlocks every part of our soul.” 

― Shannon L. Alder

From a young age we become accustomed to shutting doors and locking things away to protect and keep them safe. We lock houses and cars and we lock away precious possessions. But that is not all we learn to lock away. As a reflex to social pressure and negative feedback we lock away precious parts of ourselves thus limiting our enjoyment and interaction with life.

I know I have dumbed myself down and hidden away my intelligence because those around me were uncomfortable and confronted by it. Similarly, having gained a position of responsibility in my work; a position that required me to make difficult decisions, lead a large staff, a position that was emotionally fatiguing; I slowly locked away my feminine essence so I could cope in this arena and project a self that was firm and strong, not weak and emotional. Several years later I am desperately trying to reconnect with that side of myself. Where is the key? Which door did I lock that part of myself up behind?

Even when we remember where we left the key and behind which door or into which box we safely locked away our true selves when we reach for those elements of us and try them back on they don’t feel quite right, they don’t fit well. The reunion can be difficult and awkward.

Finding myself at this turning point a myriad of questions flood my mind:

• Is there a safe ground between protecting ourselves and locking our true selves away?
• Are we even aware of the sacred part of ourselves we shut away to protect, hide and keep safe?
• Can we, as a society, save our children, our young men and women from this plight?
• Did I fail my son in this?
• Have I, through my actions, encouraged other young women to project more strongly “socially acceptable” traits over their own personal strengths, talents and gifts?

Witnessing the rising number of workshops, courses and programs designed to help men and women sacredly reconnect with their masculine and feminine essences; I realise I am not alone in my concern. Others too have noticed our modern lifestyle can lead us to develop patterns that contribute to the creation of false identities; that we are whittling away our true essence to cope, manage and perform in an increasingly demanding world of work, business, economics and relationships.

My prayer and hope for our children is that we learn to encourage their inner expansion. That we learn to support them in being their true selves, that we teach them to celebrate their individuality and creativity, their intellect.

My hope and prayer for us is that we begin to unlock the doors, throw open the storage containers and welcome our true essence back into the light. I pray that we learn how to ‘wear’ these parts of ourselves again and enjoy the fullness of who we are; that we take pride in, give voice and a new depth to who we are, that we model for our children how we can be true to ourselves and participate meaningfully in the world.

What precious gems have you hidden away for safe keeping? Are you prepared to bring them back into the light, to reconnect and be more whole, more you?