Read an Excerpt
What's a Hot Button?
We live in angry times. It no longer shocks us when we hear about a teenager shooting up his own school, a motorist breaking the jaw of someone who took his parking spot, or a mother who shook her infant to death because his crying made her crazy. Were all these people crazy? Or only crazy for a few minutes because they didn't know how to turn off their hot buttons?
A hot button is an emotional trigger. Hot buttons get pushed when people
- call you names.
- don't respond to you.
- take what you think belongs to you.
- challenge your competence.
- don't respect you.
- give you unsolicited advice.
- don't appreciate you.
- are condescending.
When someone pushes one of your hot buttons, it makes you a little crazy. That's all it takes. You explode. Not all explosions are loud, and maybe no one can see your eruption, but you still explode inside. Has it happened to you this week, this month? You know it has. And it has damaged you--and anyone who's been on the receiving end of your rage.
Fallout from a Pushed Button
If one of your hot buttons has been pushed, you feel brutalized--even if there's been no physical attack. Aside from a sense of being savaged, your ability to assess a situation and decide how to react in a way that will do you the most good are obstructed. Your emotions carry such force that they rule your actions before you cool off enough to think about doing the right thing. When you're emotion-driven, you make mistakes you can't take back. You irrevocably hurt other people--and yourself.
It's not terrific to getyour buttons pushed--or to push someone else's. The scary part is that hot-button rage is happening more and more. Our buttons seem to be closer to the surface. The degree of insult we can take before we blow is diminishing.
Jennifer tells me about her “Telemarketer Rage.” The fourteenth telemarketer of the week interrupts her as she's feeding her baby and he starts his pitch--what he calls a “courtesy call.” When Jennifer says she's not interested, the telemarketer keeps right on pitching. When she says she really must hang up, he becomes cursingly abusive and hangs up on her. “This is a courtesy call?” she says in fury to the dead phone. Her hot button has been pushed--hard.
Marsha tells me about her “Cell Phone Rage.” “On the train, coming to work, I want to hit the woman talking so loudly on her cell phone--oblivious to the rest of us trying to read our newspapers in peace. I don't hit her, but the man sitting opposite me who puts his dirty shoes up on my seat gets the brunt of my anger. ‘Would you mind?' I brusquely ask him. When he hurriedly moves and apologizes, I can't believe I've been so crummy.” Marsha's hot button was pressed.
At the gym, someone stays too long on a treadmill and gets killing looks, or one lap swimmer brutally kicks another who's moved slightly over into her lane. “Gym Rage.”
I could go on. It's everywhere. It's as if we're on the edge. It's as if we all have overflowing reservoirs of anger. It's as if the world's hot buttons are suddenly all exposed.
Can We Blame It on Global Warming?
What's happening around here? No one really knows why we feel angrier lately. Perhaps it's a matter of territory: In a shrinking world, we feel we must claim our space or lose it. Perhaps it's a matter of time: With crushing deadlines and little time to unwind, we lash out at anyone who threatens to make us late. Perhaps machines are threatening us: Everything is supposed to work and nothing does. A computer crashes--and all the work you've created during the last year is on that computer. We've just embraced a brand-new millennium and can't get a human voice when we telephone a company--just a menu of directions, none of them having anything to do with the reason we called.
But no matter what's behind all this accumulated rage, if you're a kid with a hunting gun and someone says you look ridiculous, your hot button gets pushed and you explode. If you're a husband and your wife tells you you don't know what you're talking about, your hot button gets pushed and you explode. If your colleague pointedly ignores your ideas, your hot button gets pushed and you explode.
What makes you crazy? Perhaps it's when someone says Calm down. Maybe it's when your mother tells you what to do, or your boss jerks you around, or your friend keeps you waiting for twenty-five minutes. Now think. When was the last time you erupted with anger, lost your cool? When did you get so irritated that you lashed out at a salesperson because you felt ignored? When was the last time you hurt your partner, child, parent, pal, or colleague because you couldn't find common ground on which to meet? When was the last time you blew?
Whatever made you lose it, one thing is clear: Your hot button was pushed, and it was not a pretty sight.
When was the last time you pushed someone else's hot button--and hurt yourself in the process? You might have said exactly the wrong thing to your best friend or to your colleague at work--and now he's furious with you. You might have touched the secret nerve with your teenager when all you meant to do was help, but no matter, there she goes stomping off to her room. You feel despair, and your own hot button is dangerously close to being pushed.