Cool the HOT BUTTONS in Your Life This Holiday Season


The holidays are supposed to be a time when the spirit of loving kindness is expressed towards spouses, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.

But there’s a gap between this image and our reality filled with holiday pressures, old conflicts and tense, stressful gatherings. This gap can be a set up for hot button responses. The good news is that it’s possible to “cool down” these hot buttons, improving our communications and increasing our holiday serenity.

Here are five simple steps, drawn from the practice of community mediation, for cooling down holiday-intensified hot buttons:

Step 1: Identify your hot buttons.

We can’t change our response to hot buttons unless we know what they are. So, start by thinking of a holiday remark or action that set you off. What did they say or do? Your ex-spouse said they want more time over Christmas with the kids. The neighbor’s dog barks all the time. Your spouse disagreed about where to spend Thanksgiving. Your mother complained about the way you keep house. Your father said you need to find a job.

Think about the facts (what happened or what was said) and feelings (how you felt, reacted). If you felt overwhelming shame or instant anger, they’ve most likely hit a hot button.

Step 2: Tell your own story to yourself.

Understand the story you are telling yourself about what the button “pusher’s” intent was and what he/she thinks of you. Do you think they believe that you’re unimportant, incompetent, stupid or unlikable? These internal stories, the stories you tell yourself are hurtful and give hot buttons some of their power. Your stories may or may not be true but the point is they’re stories you tell yourself. You may tell yourself that your neighbor doesn’t care about your peace of mind or your ex-spouse doesn’t respect you.

Step 3: Explore your underlying emotions (your back story).

Your hot buttons come from your history. Our childhood and earlier adult experiences are the true source of the intensity for current hot buttons. If someone’s words or actions remind us of earlier hurtful events, or seem to repeat a pattern, we react against all of those incidences, not simply to the present trigger. So how does your story, fed by history and long-term emotional reactions, push your hot buttons? The more aware you are of your story, the more power you have to do Step 4:


Step 4: Imagine a different story.

After we become aware of the story we tell ourselves, the next step is to imagine a different story. This could mean shifting our vision to the other person’s perspective or changing our self-story for the better. My spouse is really scared of losing contact with the kids. The neighbor is gone most of the time and may not even realize their dogs are barking. I am smart, competent, important and likeable.

Step 5: Change your response (act as if).

The final step is to change your response; to unhook the hot button and detach. You can choose to act as if the kind interpretation or positive aspect you investigated or invented in step 4 is correct.

Then, use this new perspective to slow down and change your response. Getting support and perspective from a friend, coach, or counselor can also help. We don’t really know the other person’s intent; we only know the effect on us. Deciding to assume the better story is true and responding accordingly can help us detach and stay serene during the holidays.

Lorraine Segal offers individual conflict coaching and informal mediation (facilitated dialogue) in her Conflict Remedy (Santa Rosa CA) office and by phone/Skype. She specializes in helping divorced parents improve communication and resolve conflict. She also teaches Conflict Resolution classes at Sonoma State University. 707-236-8079,

Allan Flood, Mediation Coordinator, Central Oregon Mediation, Inc. 1029 NW 14th, Ste. 104, Bend OR 97701. 541 383 0187.


About Author

Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

Leave A Reply