I saw that phrase on a bumper sticker and it reminded me of something similar that Marshall Rosenberg said in Nonviolent Communication: “Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.” In other words, we are in charge of our own feelings. “Upset” seems like such an ingrained response to negative communication, is it really optional? Is it possible for me to choose to not let something upset me? For example, can I really choose not to be upset when my kids do or say certain things that push my buttons? Can I change my buttons?
Past experience might indicate no…that my brain is hard-wired to react a certain way to certain stimuli. But I actually do think wiring can be changed. It takes practice and conscious awareness. Constant conscious awareness.
My PD mentor, associate, and friend, Glenda Montgomery, once explained the concept of “The Continuum of Change” in how we can change a skill set. The four levels of change are:
1. Unskilled and Unconscious. Regarding a particular skill, in the begining we are first not only unskilled at it, but also unaware of even how to acquire it. We can’t do it, and have never thought about it before. For example, I would be here at stage 1 if I am not good at not letting my kids push my buttons, and I’ve also never even thought about how to work on this.
2. Unskilled and Conscious. Once we start to make the change, we are still unskilled at it, but now at least we are conscious of making a change. Stage 2 is when I’m still not good at not letting my kids push my buttons, but now I’m aware of my own effort and responses in trying to change this. I’m thinking about what I can do to change my triggers, but my responses are still (for now) the same.
3. Skilled and Conscious. We continue our efforts and we get good at this new skill. But it still takes a conscious effort to do it successfully. This is where I think I am now, with regard to my buttons being pushed. I’m much more calm and collected than I used to be when reacting to aggravating behavior, but I still have to think about it. I have to take a breath (or a mom-time-out), remind myself that my kids’ behavior is age appropriate, and that I am capable of acting in an age-appropriate way, too.
4. Skilled and Unconscious. We are good at it, and we don’t even have to think about it anymore. It becomes rote. This is where I want to be. When I can respond rationally to my kids, no matter what buttons might normally have been pushed, without even thinking about it.
Will that ever happen? Maybe. I’d like to think it’s possible. Though, I’m happy to hang out at stage 3 for a while, knowing that at least I’m aware of my responses to my children’s behavior, and that I’m getting better at staying calm and not “flipping my lid.” It might take many more years to get to the “unconscious” stage, but I think that with time and effort emotional wiring can be changed. I don’t have to let certain things make me upset.
I also like thinking about it this way; they are my buttons to change. The kids don’t need to change–I’m not trying to get them to stop pushing my buttons–I’m trying to change the way I react. To say that I behaved in a certain way “because my child pushed my buttons” indicates that the child is at fault for my feelings and behavior. They are my buttons, and I am in control of their programming.