Dealing with Triggers
by Mark and Jan Yokers
We talked earlier about disruptions we experienced in the bonding cycle as children. Those disruptions develop sensitivities that cause us to experience “triggers” in present situations. In our relationships, we all experience triggers (i.e., things that set us off.)
Anything can be a trigger; something someone says or does can be a trigger. You can be triggered by the tone of someone’s voice, attitude, behavior, or opinion. You might also be triggered by an innocent and sincere interchange that is not a conflict or done purposely to agitate. (It can even be the other person’s emotions that trigger an acute stress response.)
How can you become aware of the triggers of your emotional responses that are rooted in the past? Notice your intense reaction or overreaction when you are relating to others. This is the way to become aware of your triggers. (For example, screaming and calling your spouse names because they made you 5 minutes late for an event, giving your child a five-minute lecture for forgetting to close the door, retreating to the bedroom to read a book, or going to the fridge for comfort when your children are fighting.)
What is a healthy way to respond to a trigger when this happens?
When you notice that you are triggered (feeling intense reactions) to something or someone, take a deep breath, do your best to calm yourself, and ask:
1. What prompted this trigger?
2. What am I feeling in response to this intense reaction?
3. When have I felt this in the past?
4. Who was I with?
5. What happened?
The next time you are in a conflict with your spouse, partner, coworker, children, or friend, take that deep breath, settle yourself, and ask yourself those five questions. Asking these questions will help raise the awareness level of your triggers, and you’ll find a link between what you’re feeling in the present with a similar feeling you had in the past. We have found that some people have no idea how they feel or have no words for their feelings. Here is a link to a free list of feeling words called “soul words.”
After you are triggered, get out the list and find three words describing how you’re feeling. Then continue asking yourself the five questions above.