Develop a thick skin so others can't push your buttons

Those who are overly sensitive often wind up playing the victim and shifting the blame

Special to The TribuneApril 15, 2014 


Emotional buttons are those sensitive topics that cause personal angst whenever they’re mentioned. They can revolve around any number of issues: our marital status, receding hairline, lack of education, income or parenting skills. And they come in all sizes. Some issues barely rankle, while others create no end of psychic pain.

Clients often report to me that a loved one “pushes their buttons.” They describe how a person repeatedly brings up touchy matters and they have no choice but to explode.

What these people intend as an indictment on their partner’s bad behavior actually speaks volumes about themselves. That’s because folks who are overly sensitive keep their buttons out where they’re easily pushed. They scan each conversation for material they could deem offensive or hurtful, then react as if the speaker has once again been callous or rude.

For instance, a casual statement such as, “I like what you’ve done with your hair,” is met with “So, you think I looked ugly before?” An innocent observation, “I prefer your macaroni to the lasagna,” is interpreted as “You never appreciate anything I do for you.”

Hypersensitive types blame others for their reactions. They easily assume the role of victims who must defend themselves from unjustified attacks.

As a result, they respond to the perceived assaults with their own verbal salvos. They intend to inflict as much pain on the perpetrators as they possibly can.

Of course, sometimes people do use emotionally damaging words. They engage in a kind of relational bullying that keeps family members on edge.

But overly sensitive folks are on the lookout for insults. Their buttons are impossible to miss. They habitually assume underdog status while complaining that others are unfair.


• Identify your buttons. Do a personal inventory. Notice which parts elicit dissatisfaction. Recognizing where you’re vulnerable means you’re less likely to get caught off guard by others’ comments.

• Don’t take everything personally. It’s very seldom about you. People are so wrapped up in their daily dramas that they don’t have time to worry about anyone else. Even their thoughtless comments say more about them than they do you.

• Change what you can. Embark on a self-improvement campaign to enhance areas you feel are lacking. Attend night school to get your diploma. Walk after dinner to get in better shape. Begin by overcoming your insecurities. Learn to accept everything else.

• Develop a thick skin. A thick skin is like sun screen with high SPF. It blocks out harmful words and keeps fragile emotions safe inside. Practice deflecting thoughtless comments with a laugh or a shrug. Then change the subject.

• Hide your buttons. If it seems like your buttons are always being pushed, then hide them under an emotional sweater. Don’t place them front and center where they’re impossible to miss.

• Turn down your sensitivity. Hypersensitive people chronically overreact. The tiniest misstep sends them into an emotional tizzy. Check the setting on your sensitivity meter. It’s probably way too high. Bring it down a few notches so you’ll feel more in control.

• Stay away from hurtful people. Some folks thrive on meanness. They love putting others down. If you’re around them, don’t cave in to their bullying. They can’t hurt you with their words. If the behavior continues, it may be best to leave the relationship. You deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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