Desensitizing Your Triggers

For Your Interest – June 2014


Hi, there ~

"I bruise, easily," said the woman next to me as she pointed to the black-and-blue marks she got from bumping into something the other day. Me, too, I thought, although my bruises are more the 'ego' type. 

It's so easy to get 'triggered' sometimes. And once your hot buttons are pushed, you've got to think and act fast – which is not such an easy thing to do when 'danger' signals are coursing through your veins and your 'thinking' brain has seemingly lost all consciousness. But effective trigger management is so important to getting on in the world these days. Not just in a theoretical sense, but in everyday, real-world, conversations, as well. 

What are Triggers

Triggers are protection measures – overreactions, actually – that stem from our deep, personal, and long-standing challenges with fear. Not actual fear; perceived fear. Fear that our ego is (or will soon be) in serious danger. So it's on the lookout – in permanent hyper-vigilance mode, if you will – ready to protect and defend at a moment's notice. It'd be kind of nice if it weren't for the never-ending string of false-positives it creates.

Indeed, there are all sorts of things that other people do, intentionally or otherwise, that 'feel' like threats – real threats – that really aren't. But our ego doesn't know that so it floods our body with incredible amounts of energy, emotion, and adrenaline that instantaneously shuts off our brain and engages our 'fight/flight' instinct, leaving us to attack or lash out ('fight') or shut-down and run away ('flight') again, and again, and again.

It's really an amazingly powerful process. Too bad it's so disruptive, unhelpful, and so-often flat-out wrong! 

Different things trigger different people, but here are 9 'ways of being' that are known to drive us pretty crazy under certain circumstances:
  1. Unreliable – Some people are wildly bothered by those who miss deadlines and cannot be counted on; others are not.
  2. Over-Analytical – Some people are wildly bothered by those who try to be perfectionists, over-analyze things, and focus too much on minor issues; others are not.
  3. Unappreciative – Some people are wildly bothered by those who fail to give credit or seldom praise good performance; others are not.
  4. Aloof – Some people are wildly bothered by those who don't seek input from others or are seemingly hard to approach or talk to; others are not.
  5. Micro-Managers – Some people are wildly bothered by those who constantly monitor and check up on their work; others are not.
  6. Self-Centered – Some people are wildly bothered by those who believe they are always right, notwithstanding how compelling the counterargument might be; others are not.
  7. Abrasive – Some people are wildly bothered by those who are seemingly arrogant, sarcastic or sardonic; others are not.
  8. Untrustworthy – Some people are wildly bothered by those who exploit others, take undeserved credit for something, or cannot be trusted; others are not.
  9. Hostile – Some people are wildly bothered by those who lose their tempers, become angry, or yell at others; others are not.
As you see, not everyone is triggered by the same things, or to the same extent, but the odds are pretty good that at least one or two things on this list can drive you a bit nuts – and cause you to react in ways that don't serve you well or allow you to remain present to the moment.

Why Effective Trigger Control is Important 

There are three main reasons why being able to control our triggers, and effectively manage our hot buttons is, so important.
  1. Controlling our triggers is our first line of defense in keeping interactions productive. Face it; conflicts don't get weird if we don't get triggered. That doesn't mean they get any easier, but it does mean that we're able to deal with the challenges they bring far more effectively because when we're not busy reacting to ego-threats, real or imagined, we can tackle bigger things more effectively.
  2. Rogue personal triggers are our weakest link. When triggers fire, they distract our focus, dilute our impact, dissolve our hardiness and resilience, and hijack our most important conversations, turning otherwise ordinary interactions into counterproductive piles of goo. That when triggers fire they also have a way of convincing us that our over-reactions are fully justified and reasonable doesn't help us much, either.
  3. Self-management has broader applicability. Whether we're triggered or not, there are times when being able to control and filter what we say, think, and do provides us with a decided advantage. Not being able to control and filter what we say, think, and do can put us at a decided disadvantage, as well. It's a choice we get to make.
The good news is that triggers are fairly benign when they're idle, which is something pretty helpful to remember when collaborating with others. If something/someone is triggering you, chances are good that someone else in the group isn't nearly as bothered by it as you. So letting an 'un-triggered' person run lead while you cool down is a pretty effective strategy. And just so you don't think that's all take and no give, rest assured. You'll likely have ample opportunity to return the favor by stepping up when something inevitably triggers them that doesn't bother you.

Desensitizing Your Triggers 

If you tend to 'heat up' when triggered, it'd definitely be worth taking a moment or two to identify 8-10 specific things you can do – in the moment – to cool yourself down. Similarly, if you tend to 'shut down' when triggered, it'd be worth taking a moment or two to identify 8-10 specific things you can do – in the moment – to re-engage with whomever you're dealing with. Whichever list you create, it'd be a good idea to carry it around with you, and review it regularly, for a while. 

Here are some other things you can do:
  • Engage in some self-reflection. Consider why a particular trigger aggravates you. What is the added meaning you're giving to it that others seemingly don't? When and where does this trigger fire most often for you? Knowing the patterns, what can you do to lessen the impact of that 'added meaning' in other circumstances? What would help you remember that in those moments?
  • Look beyond the person's behavior and examine the substance. There's the message you heard and the message the person intended for you to hear. Compare and contrast. Are they really saying (or implying) what you're inferring? (Hint: Likely not.) Are they really trying to trigger you? (Hint: Likely not.) If you're not sure, ask someone you trust for their take on things. Don't just assume you're right because once we're triggered we're usually wrong. Know that. So rather than try to validate why your trigger-filled interpretation is right, seek alternate explanations for what's going on. In other words, rebooting your 'thinking' brain by giving it something to do helps dilute the impact of the adrenaline flow.
  • Work your triggers in creative ways. Let's say you're typically triggered by 'abrasiveness.' Okay, here's a creative something you can do to ready yourself for someone like that: Get several grits of sandpaper, and a piece of wood, and practice. Seriously, sanding (being abrasive, yourself, in a socially acceptable way) will help you re-frame how you 'relate to' abrasiveness. Bothered by 'aloofness'? Go to an animal shelter and play with the cats and kittens. See what they respond to and what they don't. 'Unappreciative' people get you going? Go to the park and ask someone to pet their dog! Listen, I know it sounds crazy, but it works. How? By replacing the tired, old, overused, no-longer-helpful synaptic paths in your brain with brand spanking new neural linkages that eradicate (or at least lessen the impact of) those ego-based interpretations that have been messing things up. It's like rewriting the book of how you tick (and what ticks you off).  
Noticing what triggers you, and how you trigger others, makes this whole trigger/hot button control thing far more manageable. So notice it. Recognize it. And ready yourself to be ready for what's likely to happen next.

Knowing your triggers really does help. Maybe not at first, but ulitimately. Does it take practice? Yes. Do you have to go out of your way to practice? No, not really – there's ample opportunity everywhere. Plus, the payoffs can be significant. 

And your ego will most definitely appreciate the rest! 

P.S. For some case studies of how I do what I do, visit Have a fabulous month!

- bz
Barry Zweibel | 847-291-9735
LeadershipTraction® |

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