I was sitting in a restaurant chit chatting with a friend when the chef walked into the dining area with a large knife tucked under his arm as if he’d forgotten he had it in his hand when he left the kitchen and was now trying to hide it.
But I saw it. 😳
And without any thought my body decided it was time to leave. Unfortunately, I was so frightened I was unable to move or take my eyes off the knife.
It all happened faster than anaphylactic shock.
That’s being triggered.
Triggers can be just about anything. They cause your fight or flight response to go off like an unexpected hotel alarm clock going off. First, you're disoriented and then you want to murder the clock--just make it stop.
Some situations are triggering to just about everyone. These include:
Regardless of the cause, they are startling, your body reacts involuntarily, and your only thought is to find safety (flee) or eliminate the danger (fight). If you can’t really do either, you’ll freeze like the victim in a horror movie that stupidly just stands there and gets whacked.
While triggers are involuntary, they are not uncontrollable. You don’t have to live your life at the mercy of those little demons waiting to pounce without warning.
With a little self-examination and practice you can learn to recognize when you’ve been triggered and make a sane choice about how to respond before you blurt out something hateful, or stab someone in self-defense.
Wouldn’t that be awesome? Then your triggers wouldn’t take over your conversations or destroy your relationships or possibly ruin your life.
Here's a clip from an interview I did with Dr. Sarah Rattray about triggers. She’s an expert on communication and after working with couples for 30 years has seen over and over how being triggered can be a real problem--it gets in the way of honest communication. In this portion of the interview, she tells us the key to handling triggers in the moment.
How do you handle yourself when you get triggered? Do you ever say or do things you later regret?
What has that cost you? (Be honest here. You probably justified your response because the other person upset you, but (harsh truth) YOU are ultimately responsible for your behavior, including the words coming out of your mouth.)
Responding calmly is nearly impossible and it's all too easy to do something that damages relationships and causes regrets. However, how you handle yourself when you are triggered is essential.
How to Overcome Triggers
One would think the key to overcoming triggers is to NOT have them at all. However, that's WRONG. The real key to overcoming triggers is knowing what to do when they come to the party.
You need to be able to recognize and manage yourself when you get triggered. Putting in the effort to figure out your patterns and a different way of handling them takes effort, but it pays off in some major ways when it comes to your relationships and overall well-being.
Reflect on what triggers you, getting to know both the sensations in your body and the thought patterns that go along with them so that if they occur during a conversation you can ask for a break and calm yourself before continuing.
If you need to take a break from a heated conversation, say to your partner, "I'm getting upset. I want to talk with you about this, but I need a few minutes to calm down so I can talk with you calmly."
It's important to take responsibility for your triggers and to not make your partner responsible for what upset you and triggered your fight or flight response.
If you want to learn more about triggers I have a new worksheet coming to help you figure out your triggers and what to do about them. Stay tuned.