We all have experienced triggers. Something happens, usually something small, and you suddenly feel flushed and a ball of nerves. It may have been a puzzling look from your boss, and you immediately feel your whole body react. Or, a speeding car cuts you off and you hear yourself shout an obscenity.
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 you most want to notice 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 tools for learning and growth. It may be hard to believe, but your triggers can be a gift if you can gain insight into what is behind your triggers. By becoming more aware of them, it can reduce being hijacked by the same people or events in the future.
Without understanding the environment that provokes your reactivity, you may feel powerless when triggered, and worry that you will never change your habitual behavior and choose more resilient ways of responding. If unaware of your triggers, you are at risk of repeating unconscious behavior and deepening your unskilled actions.
If you see your triggers as a learning tool, rather than a powerless moment, soon triggers are simply data points to notice and learn from, and not self-defeating behavior.
We are challenging you to take inventory of your reactive triggers so that you can observe yourself in action. If you are alert to the moment, then you have a greater chance to choose a more resourceful response.
Almost invariably, we all react from one of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) roles of Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer when triggered. Most of us have experience with all three at some time or another.
• 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.
Triggers are part of the human experience. Our purpose in writing about triggers is to invite you to reflect on your own patterns. How do you react when you are triggered? What is your “go to behavior?”
The outcome is not to stop all your triggers (if only we could!) but, rather, to be grateful for your triggers so you can see the connection between them and the personal work that you are being called to do. The purpose is to reclaim your power so that daily triggers can turn into information and not unplanned reaction: “Hmmm. I saw that look on the boss’s face. How interesting. I wonder what is going on for her?”
Once you can observe the trigger dynamic at work, you have a better chance of selecting new habits that generate the empowered life you want to create. That is how a trigger can become a life-changing learning tool for you as a Creator.