Years ago I began to notice a mental pattern of getting annoyed and aggravated by women who were powerful. No matter how nice they were, something about them pushed my buttons. It wasn’t until after I started meditating regularly and began to notice the recurring pattern that I could see that these women were openly expressing what I was actively and covertly repressing in myself. I was stuffing my power so I resented them for ‘flaunting’ theirs.
This was a big discovery for me, the kind of discovery that happens quite naturally with the regular practice of insight meditation. Once I saw the pattern I was then able to see through it to the deep fear of allowing my own power to be expressed. (‘If I express my power, will I become an intolerable diva, unlikable by anyone I care about? Isn’t it much safer to stuff it?’ Good grief! Who needs external limits when I can so effectively dis-empower myself?)
This dislike of people who express what we’re repressing is an example of psychological projection. Does it ring any bells for you? Is there a certain personality trait that really pushes your buttons, causing a visceral negative reaction that activates judgments and fears that are out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Many of us have particular people in our lives who have the power to upset us. But the key to these relationships is the power they have over us, causing us to feel threatened. For example, we may have strong negative feelings about a sitting president, but once he is no longer in office our antipathy dissipates considerably. They are no longer perceived as a threat.
Likewise there may be a family member who we perceive as having power over us, even if it is not a physical power but the ability to break our hearts.
When someone is pushing our buttons but they don’t have any power over us, then it is something else. If this brings someone to mind, ask yourself: Is it some particular trait that annoys or upsets you? Is it something that brings up a lot of emotional energy and tension in the body? Do you find there are a number of people with these same traits that activate this energy? If so, this is probably a case of projection.
Next time you feel your buttons pushed, take the opportunity to investigate. What is it that bothers you so much? Listen to the judgments you are making, the opinions so strongly stated in your mind. These are rich clues to let you know what aspect of yourself is being stuffed down, imprisoned deep within, rattling the bars and yelling for help.
Anytime we are doing an inner investigation, it is always beneficial to sense in to whatever physical sensations arise with the thoughts and emotions present. With the thoughts we may get caught up in a dense and circular story, or we go off on tangents that take us away from the heart of the investigation. If we focus on the felt sense of the experience, and breathe into the area that is tight or achy with compassion, we become more open in our thoughts and emotions as well.
I am happy to say that today I admire powerful women and enjoy their company. I accept leadership positions myself as a natural part of maturing. I make a point of learning how to be skillful with power, to be compassionate and generous, to listen, to collaborate and to bring all of who I am to whatever I do. And if someone finds being around me pushes their buttons, may they investigate the true cause. It ain’t me, babe!