When Buttons get Pressed

  • Have you ever gotten overly upset about something not knowing why?
  • Have you witnessed someone losing it over something small?
  • Do you sometimes get scared as if you’re a child?

Maybe someone pressed a button. The problem is we never know when it will happen 

I’m a little girl in school when a teacher raises an eyebrow. Like a piece of paper, I crumple up inside. I’m not even conscious I file away the experience. Years later someone raises an eyebrow and I overreact. We never know when our buttons will be pressed. We don’t even know each others buttons, unless of course we share that information with one another. All we can do is navigate through our lives as best we can.    

Last month driving down Main Street I noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Instinctively, I tightened my grip on the steering wheel, hoping the police car would pass me by. But he didn’t.   

I had been speeding after leaving my house too late. The day came for me to pay my ticket. As I waited in the courtroom, I focused on those called before me, watching their behavior for clues as to what I should do. 

Buttons get pressed at the most inopportune times 

When my name is called I practically run to the attorney. I see his mouth moving but am unable to understand what his words are. My ability to think has slowed down. I hear myself gasp when he tells me the amount of my fine. I write out the check, holding back tears. 

Confused I walk to my car. I thought I was going to see a judge. I didn’t get to ask any questions, I just went through motions. I had been terrified.

Once inside my car, I sob as if I lost a loved one. Each time I think of the ticket another wave of shame washes over me. I cannot reason right then. I don’t care that a lot of people get tickets or that everyone gets nervous when they see flashing lights. I am merely a scared child who is in big trouble.   

A couple of days later I leave for traffic class. I opted for this over court supervision. I didn’t even know what court supervision was. I just want this all to go away. Part of me dreads the four hours the class will take. 

Getting more red lights than I counted on I am running late. Arriving at the college I discover more than one building and I start tensing up. I try one door, finding no one in any of the rooms. 

Though I try to focus on the task at hand, a button gets pressed and instead of an adult looking for a room I am once again a child arriving at school after the final bell.  

I panic not knowing where traffic class is. I get turned around and can’t recall where I parked my car. Driving to another building, I find a man who I ask for help. With one call he finds out my class is in the next building. I thank him and leave.  

Walking in, I tell the woman behind the counter the room number I need. “I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to go in, you’re late.”

“Can I just explain to him that I didn’t know the room, didn’t know …”

She repeats she’s sorry, though I don’t believe her. “You can register again if you like.”

“No,” I hear myself say, “I’ll call to register.”

Back in my car, a Tsunami of tears overwhelms me. My back starts hurting as it seizes up. I just want to get home. I am exhausted. So how can we learn how to deal with the buttons in our lives? 

Think of what is true

I remind myself God is bigger than any button. He is the God of the past, present and future who knows our history. Patiently he tells me to take care of myself when those buttons go off. I listen carefully, fully aware he is teaching me how to reparent myself, how to grow myself up. 

When I am uncertain as to what I should tell myself, I think about what I need to hear.  

Say what’s true

My dialog is to the point:

  • You’re going to be okay. 
  • You’re not alone. 
  • You can do this.

I start to breathe a little easier as my fears shrink and I regain control. Maybe I will be okay. A calmness blankets me. And when I have witnessed someone else who is upset I can help reassure them things will be okay. It never helps to react to someone whose button has just been pressed.   

Buttons will go off 

I used to wonder if I could just short-circuit these buttons, rendering them ineffective. I was told it’s not likely. Instead, I will learn how to respond when they go off, much like we learned what to do with fire drills. To avoid panic we need to  go through steps when the alarm goes off.  Panic shuts down our ability to think clearly.  

Buttons will be pressed, and we won’t know when. But if we prepare, little by little we will find that the duration of our difficulty will shorten. Then we can breathe and move on to the next thing. And for me that was registering for traffic class again. I can do this. I know I can. God told me so.

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