What Triggers You, Can Transform You
We all have experienced triggers. Something happens, usually something small, and you suddenly feel flushed and are a ball of nerves. It may have been a puzzling look on your boss’s face that triggered a whole-body reaction. Or a speeding car that cuts you off and you shout an obscenity without even realizing it.
All human beings have these familiar and immediate responses to prior experiences. We call any word, event, person, or experience that elicits an immediate emotional reaction a “trigger.”
Triggers can be positive or negative. An example of a positive trigger is smiling back at a smiling baby. The triggers that can hinder your personal transformation are those that produce an unwanted and ineffective reaction.
There are plenty of metaphors that describe negative triggers. You may feel like someone is “pushing your buttons” or has “hooked” you into a response you regret. All of these metaphors describe losing your personal power in the moment and result in an exaggerated and emotional reaction.
Becoming curious about what situations and people are behind your triggers helps you turn triggers into a transformative time for learning and growth. Without understanding what provokes your reactivity, you may feel powerless when triggered and worry that you will never change your reactive and habitual behavior.
If you see your triggers as a learning tool, rather than a powerless moment, you can transform them into simple data points to notice and learn. By being aware and alert to the moment, you have a greater chance to choose a more resourceful response.
When triggered, we tend to react from one of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) roles of Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer. Most of us have experience with all three at some time or another.
Do you have a persistent trigger that you would like to transform? How do you react when you are triggered? What is your “go-to” behavior? Here are a few common examples of reactive behavior when triggered:
- A co-worker who is whining or doesn’t complete their job on time may trigger the Persecutor in you to criticize and say disparaging things to the “whiner.”
- In the Rescuer role, you may be triggered by conflict between two friends, so you interject yourself in the situation, offering advice when it’s really none of your business.
- When in a Victim stance, you might get triggered by feeling discounted or left out and disengage rather than take responsibility for your feelings and actions.
Donna recently had a coaching conversation with a client about her triggers. Her client asked, “How do I know when something is going to trigger me so I can avoid those situations?”
“Anticipating situations that might trigger you is a valuable skill, but relentlessly controlling your environment means you will constantly be on guard, trying to protect yourself,” Donna responded. “What if you shifted your focus to embrace the triggering moment as an opportunity to slow down and become curious about what you care about that has got you triggered?”
Her client said, “I feel so small when I get triggered and overreact. Sometimes it takes me days to recover. Now I see that I can view my triggers as a part of me, and I can pause before I overreact. I can then ask myself, what is the blessing here? What can I learn from this trigger?”
Learning to coach yourself with an open, inquiring mind will support you to stay calm and interrupt a tendency to overreact. For example, if you see a puzzling look on your boss’s face, rather than react, get curious and reflect: “Hmmm. I saw a confusing look. How interesting. I wonder what is going on for her?” Observing the triggering moment as a gift, and inquiring with curiosity, allows you to step into a transformative moment and choose your response to life’s challenges.