10 definite signs someone is trying to push your buttons (and how to respond)

Do you get the impression that some people actively try to get under your skin?

It’s as though they want to start a fight with you. They might even try to provoke you into saying something you’ll later regret.

If you suspect that someone is deliberately trying to annoy or upset you, there are things that you can do.

Here are 10 ways to tell whether someone is trying to push your buttons.

1) They hit you with low blows

You’re trying to take the high road, but they insist on playing dirty.

They understand your pet peeves and what really gets under your skin and they are clearly purposely doing it.

It might be a passive-aggressive remark or an outright insult. If you feel like you’re being attacked, then you probably are.

They’re not just being rude; they’re trying to make you react in a way that will cause trouble and you know it.

It’s the below-the-belt comments that no matter how “innocently” they are delivered, you know are being said purposely to try to sting.

2) They make fun of you

So-called humor can be a toxic way of trying to push someone’s buttons whilst masquerading as “just a joke”.

Jokes that are at your expense or hit you where it hurts can leave you feeling embarrassed or exposed to ridicule.

You may have been made to feel small for having a particular trait or characteristic.

This kind of behavior is often used by bullies who are insecure about their own shortcomings.

There is a big difference between laughing with someone, and laughing at them.

When someone is trying to push your buttons you will get the distinct impression that the joke is on you.

Sarcasm is another form of humor that uses irony to mock something.

But if you think that someone is using sarcasm to try to hurt you, then they could be attempting to push your buttons.

3) They try to make you feel guilty

At the end of the day, trying to push someone’s buttons is about manipulation.

They want to play with your emotions in an attempt to control the situation. But the rise they are trying to get out of you isn’t always anger or irritation.

Sometimes they are seeking to make you feel bad so that they can get their own way.

The button they want to push is one that provokes a sense of guilt in you.

Guilt makes you feel responsible for other people’s feelings. It makes you want to apologize when you don’t mean to. And it makes you want to give up when you don’t want to.

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: “I don’t know why I’m bothering talking to you.”

With this sentence, their exasperation is intended to make you feel bad about the situation.

4) They play dumb

If you call out rude, cruel, offensive, or downright irritating behavior and they “don’t know what you are talking about”, then chances are they are actually trying to push your buttons.

Denial and gas lighting in themselves are often a way of trying to control the other person, shift blame and get a rise out of them.

They know that if they don’t admit to wrongdoing then you will just go around in circles.

When it’s obvious something is wrong, but they deny it or when they say things that are obviously untrue — these are all ways of pushing your buttons.

5) They won’t let sore points drop

They keep making the same point over and over again. They keep bringing up things that happened in the past.

They keep repeating themselves or they randomly bring up old arguments from ages ago. And they won’t let it drop.

It’s almost as though they are looking for justification for the feelings they have now. But in the absence of anything new, they search for any excuse for their outpouring of frustration.

They are trying to convince you that you are wrong. That you are being unreasonable. That you are not seeing things clearly. And they won’t stop until you agree with them.

You still feel like they are trying to push your buttons because they are keeping score.

6) They ask insulting, impertinent, or incredibly personal questions

This is a classic example of pushing your buttons.

Someone who asks these kinds of questions wants to provoke you into saying something inappropriate.

They are trying to get you to lose your cool. To say something you shouldn’t. Or they may be asking you to do something that you really don’t want to do.

It can also be a way to see how far they can push you. Maybe they are just testing your boundaries.

There are unwritten rules of conduct for how we all behave in society. And when someone starts to ask you things that are quite frankly none of their business it’s bound to push a button or two.

7) They’re dismissive

Dismissive behavior can be incredibly triggering to us because it threatens our egos need for validation.

It can come in many subtle (or not so subtle forms).

Someone can be dismissive of your feelings, thoughts, opinions, and ideas.

Maybe they are belittling and pooh-pooh your beliefs. Perhaps they interrupt you when you’re talking. They could ignore you when you speak up.

When you say something they might respond with a snide “whatever” or tell you to “chill out”

There are lots of ways people can address you in a contemptuous way. By trying to poke at your sense of self-esteem they are trying to push your buttons.

8) They talk down to you

Talking down to someone is one of the most common ways of pushing their buttons.

If someone talks down to you, it almost feels like they are telling you that you are stupid, ignorant, or inferior.

And so it feels like a put-down. It’s an attempt to make you feel bad about yourself.

It might be that they speak to you in a superior or condescending way.

They may attempt to invalidate you, your ideas or your opinions by telling you that you are wrong.

It could be a comment like “don’t worry about it, you wouldn’t understand”. They may scoff or even laugh at something you say.

No one likes to be talked down to, we all want to be treated equally, so it’s a sure-fire way to push anyone’s buttons.

9) They use privileged information against you

It’s often the case that the people who know us best and who we even love the most can push our buttons like no one else.

The classic examples are our family members or partners.

They have all the dirt on us. They know our pain points. They understand our insecurities.

They know all the ways to best trigger us and so they use them. In short, they know what makes you tick better than anyone.

When they use this privileged info against us it is with the intention of hitting us where it hurts and pushing buttons.

10) They are passive-aggressive

However it may manifest, passive-aggressive behavior is always about venting frustrations against someone.

They can’t find it within them to come straight out and address the real issue, but neither can they let it drop.

So instead they find niggling little ways to get back at you.

Perhaps they don’t directly confront you, but rather try to undermine you through indirect means.

For example, they may subtly criticize you behind your back. Or they may give you the silent treatment.

They may act as though nothing has happened, but then suddenly start acting differently towards you.

In any event, passive-aggressiveness is always about getting back at someone. And it’s usually done indirectly in an attempt to get a rise from you.

How do you deal with button pushers?

Take full responsibility for yourself

I know it’s super tempting to fight fire with fire.

It can be our ego’s first instinctive defense mechanism whenever we feel under attack to bite back. But ultimately this serves no one.

The best defense is really to not let it get to you. Sure, easier said than done. But the key lies with you.

When it comes down to it, we all need to remember one very important thing:

They are your buttons to push.

Nobody can take your peace of mind. It lies within you. It requires you to give it away.

Know yourself, know your triggers, and ask yourself why it annoys you so much? Is the threat real or just imagined?

Is it really all them or is some of this you too? How are you contributing to the situation? Ultimately, we cannot be a victim if we refuse to play that role.

The reality is that this is the best way to respond to them. Firstly, because you get to keep your peace of mind. But secondly, because you refuse to give them what they really want — which is a reaction from you.

Firm up your boundaries

You don’t have to tolerate unacceptable behavior or words.

You can put a stop to them before you reach breaking point by firming up your own personal boundaries.

These are the so-called rules to your club that people must abide by. Think of your boundaries like the bouncer.

Rather than wait for a fight to break out, the bouncer is going to kick out troublemakers at the first sign of disruption.

Similarly, by having very clear boundaries which you enforce you can do the same.

No means no. You don’t have to explain yourself. And you can walk away from a situation.

You can politely but firmly tell people how you feel and what you need from them.

Change the subject

Let’s face it, some people can be totally clueless.

It doesn’t make it any less frustrating but it can be better to dodge a confrontation that might not be necessary.

Your mom may know just the thing to say to wind you up but is oblivious to her affect.

Perhaps she decides to bring up for the millionth time why you haven’t “met someone and settled down yet”.

Rather than let her get to you, change the subject. Say you’d rather not get into it. Take control of the conversation.

Remove yourself

We’re all human, so no matter how zen we try to stay, there are always going to be occasions when someone successfully pushes our buttons.

You might feel yourself getting a frayed temper.

If things get heated, retreat can be the best form of defense.

Especially if you know you’re about to reach your limit. Going away to regain your cool can help defuse the situation.

If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, don’t hesitate to take a time out and excuse yourself.

Take a deep breath and count to 5

There’s a good reason why breathing deeply and counting are classic anger management techniques.

Our breath has an incredibly powerful impact on our bodies and can very quickly calm the nervous system.

I used to lose my temper really quickly. I felt anxious and stressed all the time. What really helped me to keep my cool was starting to do breathwork.

I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.

The exercises in his invigorating video combine years of breathwork experience and ancient shamanic beliefs, designed to help you relax and check in with your body and mind.

After many years of suppressing my emotions, Rudá’s dynamic breathwork flow quite literally revived that connection.

So if you’re ready to say goodbye to anxiety and stress, check out his genuine advice below.

Click here to watch the free video.

Don’t take it personally

Try to remember when someone tries to push your buttons that deep down it’s totally about them and not you.

They are projecting what is inside them. The reason they’re trying to get a reaction from you is that they are wanting to play out emotions that exist in them right now.

If you can, try to approach the situation with compassion. Appreciate that you’re not perfect either.

Have you ever taken a bad mood out on someone else? The answer is probably yes, most of us have. Was it always intentional? The answer is probably no.

It can take greater strength to forgive and accept other people’s imperfections. But it will also help you to keep your composure during more trying times.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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