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Who pushes your buttons?

There's an old adage that says "If you spot it, you got it". This means that we are often irritated by people who display the very qualities that we most fear in ourselves. For example, I am irritated by people who talk alot. Why do I find this behaviour irritating, whereas someone else doesn't? Obviously the talker isn't making me irritated, because if they were then everyone would react the same as me.

So what's going on? Well, I'll confess that I have a lot of emotional charge around the idea of talking too much, because I fear that I could also be a person who talks too much. And I have judgements about that in myself.

Here's how you can figure out your own triggers:

Write down or say out loud everything that bugs you about other people. For example, "She thinks she's so great" or "He's such a whiner".

After you've made a list, go through the list and substitute "I" for she/he. So it would be "I think I'm so great" or "I'm a whiner". If you answer yes to any of the items you have made an important step towards having compassion for yourself and others.

Sometimes we are so afraid of being seen a certain way that we overcompensate by becoming the opposite. For example, remember I said I have a fear that I could be a person who talks too much? As a result, I overcompensate by being darn sure to be an amazingly good listener!

Still can't figure out why someone bugs you so much?

Try this: describe their behaviour and then ask yourself "What do I assume their behaviour says about me?"

For example, recently I was really bugged when a friend described herself as a very good listener (and in my opinion, listening is definitely not one of her strengths). It took me a few days to figure out why her statement bugged me so much: because there is so much emotional charge for me in being a good listener, that for her to claim that quality for herself somehow diminished (in my mind) my accomplishment. But in reality, how she views her own listening skills has no bearing on the validity of my listening skills.

Bottom line: Recognizing what it is about you that is triggered by someone else's behaviour is a powerful technique for neutralizing your anger. Usually once you get the awareness, the emotional charge diminishes significantly and eventually the behaviour simply doesn't bother you anymore.

So to recap, there are three main points:

* no one can "make" us angry
* the things that make us angry are very revealing
* asking "how am I like that?" is a powerful technique for neutralizing anger

Barbra Sundquist, MPA, IAC-CC
Founder, LowCostLifeCoaching.com