Holiday Hot Buttons: 5 Simple Steps to Cool Them Down

October 21, 2011

fighting nerds with holiday hot buttonsHolidays can trigger powerful emotional reactions. We all know what the holidays are supposed to be like–perfect gifts and understanding, the warm glow of family togetherness and a spirit of lovingkindness.

But the gap between this illusive image and our reality, filled with holiday pressures and challenging gatherings, can be a set up for hot button responses.

It is possible, however, to “cool down” these hot buttons, improving our communications and increasing our holiday serenity in the process.

Here are 5 simple steps for cooling down holiday-intensified hot buttons:

1. Identify your hot buttons.   We can’t change our response to hot buttons unless we know what they are. So, start by thinking of a holiday remark or action that sets you off.

One example is the loaded question: at a family gathering, your grandmother asks why you’re still not married; or your brother in law asks if you found a job yet; or your mother asks if you should really eat whipped cream on that pie. Think about the facts (what happened or what was said) and feelings (how you felt, reacted.) If you felt overwhelming shame or instant anger, they most likely hit a hot button.

Now what? I’ve never had much success getting family members or other loved ones to stop “pushing” my hot buttons, even when I’ve clearly identified them. If that’s true for you as well, I recommend steps 2-5.

Step 2 Tell your own story.

The next step is to understand the story you are telling yourself about what the button “pusher’s” intent was and what he/she thinks of you. This often involves some variation of your belief that the other person must think you are unimportant, incompetent, stupid, or unlikable. These internal stories are hurtful, and give hot buttons some of their power.

You may believe your mother is saying you are fat and/or greedy for wanting the whipped cream, or your brother in law is judging you as lazy and incompetent for not having a job.

Step 3: Explore your underlying emotions (backstory).

Our childhood and earlier adult experiences are the true source of the intensity for current hot buttons. If someone’s words or actions remind us of earlier hurtful events, or seem to repeat a pattern, we react against all of those incidences, not simply to the present trigger.

 If my mother put me on a diet when I was a young teenager, for example, one remark about whipped cream can set off an emotional storm. Or if a parent implied I was lazy, my brother in law’s remark triggers those old bad memories.

Step 4: Imagine a different story.

After we become aware of the story we are telling ourselves, the next step to imagine a different story. This could mean shifting our vision to enter the other person’s perspective or changing our self-story for the better.

Perhaps  your brother in law is asking about the job out of concern and caring, albeit poorly expressed, or feels badly about his own job situation and is displacing it on you. Your mother may believe she is being helpful, especially if she is always on a diet herself.

Step 5: Change your response (Act as if).

The final step is to change your response; in effect, to unhook the hot button and detach. You can choose to act as if the kind interpretation or positive aspect you investigated or invented in step 4 is correct.

Then, use this new perspective to slow down and change your response. Getting support and perspective from a friend, coach, or counselor can also help. We don’t really know the other person’s intent; we only know the effect on us. Deciding to assume the better story is true and responding accordingly can help us detach and stay serene during the holidays.

Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal is a conflict coach, trainer, and mediator specializing in transforming communication and conflict. Her business, Conflict Remedy, is based in Santa Rosa, California. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University.

Lorraine will offer a special special workshop on Holiday Hot Buttons on November 3rd in Santa Rosa, California. Click link for flyer.

For more information about Lorraine’s coaching, mediation, and training services, please visit her website/blog at www.ConflictRemedy.com, e-mail her at lorraine@conflictremedy.com, or call her at (707) 236-8079.

Some ideas for this article came from the following books and article:

Developing Your Conflict CompetenceCraig Runde & Tim Flanagan

Difficult Conversations; How to Discuss What Matters MostDouglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

“Hot Buttons: Five Simple Steps Guaranteed to Cool Them Down”-Lorraine Segal (pdf file available with request to join e-list.)

Note: A different (and shorter) version of this article was posted on November 28th 2010.

© Lorraine Segal http://www.ConflictRemedy.com



Letting go of grudges and resentments—a key to transforming communication

October 2, 2011
Holding grudges is letting someone live rent free in your head.

photo by Kanchana Joseph

Holding grudges is a very human thing to do, but it creates a number of problems for the individuals who hold them and for the people they are in relationship with.

As the quote someone sent me on Facebook states,  “Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent free in your head.”

People often think they should keep holding onto grudges until they get an apology or some other kind of compensation. They think they will lose out if they let go.

But we don’t have the power to make others do what we think they should, so a positive outcome from “nursing” the grudge is unlikely.  If these people need something they can’t get AND can’t let go, they are stuck. And these grudges persist, taking up space in mind and heart that could better be used for love, discovery, growth, and fun.

When held for long periods of time, the grudges tend to expand and people’s lives became smaller and more miserable. They can lose contact with friends and stop activities that previously brought them joy because the resentments block everything. Often they start to have physical symptoms as well.

When clients come to me for help with relationships clogged by resentments, we look  together at this negative impact, and how letting go would benefit them. Then, if they are willing to go further, we begin to look at how they can change.

Here are some actions I’ve found helpful for those ready to take additional positive steps:

1)    Be willing to change behavior and thinking toward that person instead of letting past experiences control present interactions. This takes practice and further awareness.

2)    Examine your contribution to the problematic interactions and change it, regardless of whether the other person is willing to change. It “takes two to tango”, so when one person changes, the dynamic changes, even if the other person is exactly the same.

3)    Ask  what your own needs are and find ways to honor them and get them met. We all deserve to take our true needs seriously.

4)    Since the person you are focused on may be unwilling or unable to meet those needs, explore alternative ways to get the need met.

5)    Let go of expectations of the other, and instead send good thoughts, wishes, or prayers for the other person’s healing and wellbeing, even if you don’t mean it at first.

These simple yet powerful steps are  not always easy to implement, even with support and guidance. However, in my experience the willingness and courage to walk this path leads to a saner, richer, and more satisfying life.

Lorraine Segal and Conflict Remedy, are based in Santa Rosa, California. Lorraine provides one on one communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University.

To schedule a free initial telephone session or get more information, you can reach Lorraine at (707) 236-8079, e-mail lorraine@conflictremedy.com  or contact her through this blog.

© Lorraine Segal http://www.ConflictRemedy.com