Updated: Jul 26, 2021
“Pause before you react. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing or defending. Pause to take a breath and seek the truth. Let the pause be the bridge between thought, emotion and action.” – Terrie Elizabeth Reeves
How can I tell I have been triggered?
You will know you've been triggered if you land in a place where you are experiencing fast action emotions that lead you to anxiety, sadness, anger or fear. It can feel like a tennis match with yourself or another person. One thought, usually sticky with emotion is served, followed by another. Suddenly, you are in a full-on match with yourself and/or the other person. I call it being sucked into the game, where wisdom stops playing, but you find that you are still volleying the ball back and forth. Do you find yourself in this place sometimes, and have you noticed that no one seems to win? If so, changing the way you think, feel, and respond to yourself, others and the world around will help you live with greater intention and sanity.
What can you do to deal with triggers?
You can’t control life, people and circumstances but you can learn how to better manage situations that cause you stress, sadness, fear and/or anxiety. Cultivating greater awareness, improving your ability to self-regulate and building stronger resiliency can equip you to deal with triggers in a healthier way. If someone or something trips your trigger, you have a choice on how you respond, but often it’s not that easy. Who taught you how to be present in the moment, to think clearly under fire and to develop better coping skills? Last time I looked; these skills are not an integrated part of the academic landscape, or daily conversations at the dinner table, so if you are lucky you learn these skills by just living life. I don’t want my life to hinge on this word called luck, so I created a 10 step process to help you gain greater awareness, which involves pausing and answering some powerful questions when you are triggered. I hope you will consider working the steps, because changing behavior requires effort.
Triggers and where to start:
If you don’t want to do all the steps, I encourage you to at least consider doing this one: Next time you find your emotions are running hot, stop and notice your thoughts and feelings. The simple act of pausing can be very powerful. Encountering stressful situations can make it even easier to become pulled into the “trigger vortex”. It can literally feel like you are being drawn in, like metal is to a magnet. You may be aware that this is happening sometimes, but other times not. It is also easier for people who are not attached to your situation to say things like, “I don’t know why you get sucked into that same situation all the time, why do you keep playing the game, or I would just let it go and walk away”. Easier said than done, but there is hope. The below exercise is an invitation for you to bring more awareness to situations that trigger you. However, developing better coping skills when triggered, will require 2 things to start: The desire to change and a game plan on how to do it.
Pause, notice and consider new possibilities:
I encourage you to reflect on a situation where you were triggered and see if you can retrace the situation and move yourself emotionally through the below 10 step process. Keep in mind, this exercise is good to do right after you have been triggered, in order to capture your thoughts and emotions while they are fresh. You will notice redundancy in the process because self-study requires you to ask yourself valuable questions more than once. It is important to keep pausing and doing self-discovery, which is the only way to get to the “why” below the emotional surface. Sometimes your answers are buried underneath your conscious thoughts, in a place often not explored, the subconscious. This exercise can be cathartic and will accelerate self-awareness and personal growth. I hope you find the the process helpful.
The following 10 step process will give you a game plan. Next time you are triggered, consider using this framework to help you navigate your triggers with greater compassion, clarity and intention.
10 step process to guide you:
When you feel yourself triggered, pause and focus on yourself rather than reacting.
Try and identify what triggered you.
Stay still in the moment, breathe and become aware of what you are thinking and feeling emotionally and physically.
Explore by asking yourself, what is at the core of the feelings and thoughts I am having?
Notice what is coming up for you, don’t judge it or try to fix it, just meet yourself and others with compassion.
Keep pausing and continue to process your emotions and thoughts before taking any action.
In the heat of the moment, see if you can change your internal dialog by saying affirming and encouraging things to yourself. Imagine and visualize positive outcomes and see new possibilities by moving your thoughts intentionally in a positive direction.
If the other person has the capacity to meet you in a space where the dialog and conversation is constructive, keep talking as long as you have invited wisdom into the conversation. Wisdom can only show up when your head and heart work together, and that is difficult to do when things are elevated.
If you are emotionally super charged, consider walking away and taking a break until things settle down.
Changing patterns of behavior is hard, but possible. You have to decide to stop playing the game, by not pulling the trigger.
More questions and food for thought
What are your tendencies when you are triggered?
Do you tend to fight (judge, defend, project, deflect or justify), flight (runaway and abort the situation), or freeze (shutdown and stay stuck)? Maybe consider doing more discovery around your tendencies, by asking yourself, why do I react the way I do? Learning not to pull the trigger is possible. Gaining greater self-awareness, learning how to better regulate your emotions when triggered, and improving your resiliency by changing your patterns of behavior is possible. Inquiry of yourself and others is an effective way to build a bridge of compassion and greater understanding. Don’t assume; gain clarity through inquiry, pause and ask questions. Assumptions can be dangerous, and they lead to one-sided conversations, creating greater separation from the truth.
People can be sticky:
If someone triggers you, consider walking away to allow time for emotions to settle. Remember, don’t try to fix or manage the other person. You are only responsible for yourself… your thoughts, emotions and actions. Importantly, if you tend to take on the role of “fixer”, you are doing the other person a disservice. Growth and becoming more emotionally mature is a personal job, so don’t rob the other person of their opportunity to develop better coping skills by handling their own behavior. Focus on the person you have the greatest control over, yourself.
Changing your reactions can change your life:
Like anything worth improving, it requires desire, a game plan and training. Just like going to the gym to build muscles, you can improve your self-awareness, your capacity to self-regulate, and gain the resiliency muscles you need, so you don’t pull the trigger. You have a choice.
Learn how EHA is empowering individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations to THRIVE.