It’s not a character weakness in you, that certain people are able to push your buttons. 

We all have people in our lives who can push our buttons. 

Not coincidentally, they’re often the same people who installed those buttons in the first place. 

When we have complicated or painful relationships with certain family members, interacting with them can very much push our buttons. 

It doesn’t take too much to do it, either. 

Sometimes we think we can interact with certain family members and be “okay,’ because it’s not supposed to be a particularly emotional or deep conversation. 

Then, we’re surprised to find that we want to cry, minutes into the conversation. 

It’s not so much that whatever you were talking about was all that emotional or difficult in itself. 

It’s that interacting with certain people triggers certain memories and certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and reacting from years past. 

It’s amazing how easy it is to slip back into some of those old patterns. 

If we’re going to interact with family members with whom we have a complicated or painful history (or a complicated or painful present relationship), we have to be realistic about what’s likely to happen for us emotionally. 

It’s likely we’re going to get triggered. 

It’s likely we’ll be pulled back into old patterns— either a little or a lot. 

If our history with that person involves trauma or abuse, it’s likely that dissociative defenses might kick in, making it hard to stay oriented to where, when, and who we are. 

If we’ve struggled to cope with the trauma stemming from a relationship over years, it’s possible that interacting with certain people might trigger urges to harm ourselves or engage in self-defeating behaviors. 

None of that is about “weakness.” 

It’s about hour our nervous system reacts when it gets exposed to relationships that it has identified (often correctly so!) as dangerous. 

That doesn’t mean we can NEVER talk to certain people again— though I do think we have to devote a lot of realistic thought to whether certain relationships are worth continuing or resurrecting. 

It does, however, mean that we have to take reasonable precautions. 

I’ve injured myself running. It doesn’t mean I don’t get to run anymore. It means I have to wear a knee brace. Maybe some cushioning insoles. It means I have to change my running form to compensate for my injuries and avoid new injuries. 

The most important thing we can do when we are interacting with triggering family members is pay attention. 

Pay attention to how we feel— both in our mind and in our body. 

Pay attention to the images that are passing across our mental movie screens. 

Pay attention to the urges that are showing up. 

Pay attention to how and where our body is getting tense. 

And, it’s really, really important we provide ourselves with SOME means of escape from the conversation or interaction— and that we give ourselves emphatic permission to TAKE that escape route if we need to. 

If we don’t give our nervous system a realistic escape route from a dangerous interaction, it will create its own escape route via dissociation— and we won’t be able to control that escape plan, even if it creates different kinds of danger for us. 

Overall, now that you’re not “weak.” You’re not “immature.” You’re normal, and you’re trying to cope with what most people experience as a very difficult, painful situation. 

Cut yourself some slack. 

Give yourself some options. 

And, whatever happens: be cool to yourself and have your own back. 

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