We all have them. We all know what it’s like to “lose it.” You get some feedback or criticism and suddenly you blurt out something you wish, in hindsight, you hadn’t said. Now, not only do you have to deal with the mess you made, but the angst of losing control. What’s that about anyway?
In this episode, I discuss how we get triggered and provide some tips on how mindfulness helps you be less reactive and create better outcomes.
If you do just the first tip in this process, it will make a huge difference.
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Transcript (not proofed, sorry!)
Hello and welcome to the language of mindfulness podcast.
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And if you don’t listen, you’re going to miss some great stuff that you just won’t hear anywhere else. I’m your host Brett Hill and welcome to the language of mindfulness.
Hi, I want to talk this week about a really important topic because it’s the cause of so much suffering and misunderstanding and some significant pain in the world.
And that has to do with how we can all get triggered. You can be in reaction to something that someone says to you or someone else can be in reaction to something that, that you say or that you think you said, and you’re saying things that you don’t mean, and it can be nasty. It can be ugly.
So what’s going on with that? How does that happen? And if you’ve been on the planet for very long, you know, what the heck I’m talking about? This is, um, very common behavior, actually, all too common. Unfortunately it’s almost normalized somehow.
And I’d like you to say just that it doesn’t have to be that way, that there are things that you can do to help you so that you become a lot less sugar rubble or reactive. And we’ll talk about that in a little bit.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, you know, pushing someone’s buttons, like, well, they just know how to push all my buttons or I just push the button and you push a button is a very much a direct reference to being on automatic, just a mechanistic process, right? You push the button and a light goes off.
And it’s very similar to that. In reality, what we’re talking about is a neural process, neurologically where someone says something to you and mechanically kicks off an oversize outsized reaction that doesn’t involve your higher cognitive functions. You’re not thinking in inside, you’re not going well.
You know, I think the most important thing for me to say is <acting reactively> “you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” You know, that’s not usually the process that’s going on there.
It’s just a very short distance between the time you hear something and the time you speak in a heated manner, that’s exactly why we call it a trigger. First of all, let’s look at why, why is that? So what is it about that particular kind of message that causes you to be, uh, to lose control? And that’s another thing I should mention is one of the key characteristics of this is the fact that you don’t feel like you have control over what the heck you’re saying. And you may hear retrospectively, uh, yourself saying, well, I didn’t really mean to say that I was just in the heat of the moment.
So to speak, people do things in the quote-unquote heat of the moment, um, when they, that they regret. And so there’s all this cleanup to do. There are hurt feelings. There are misunderstandings, business deals, fall about relationships and families can give you severely damaged, um, because of this kind of stuff.
So it’s important to take some time and consider what is really going on here. So when someone gets triggered is because you’ve touched a sensitive part of their emotional self, some schools of thought they even call it a body like an emotional body. I don’t go that far usually, but you can think of it like this for this reason, whenever you injure your physical body, let’s say you get hurt and you have a bruise on your arm. And then someone inadvertently brushes up against your bruise.
What do you do? Well, you just automatically, without thinking with the draw, you pull back, you go out and you pull yourself back and there’s not a process involved with that. You’re not going, Oh, he’s touched my arm. It’s sensitive. And so I should, I should protect it. Instead. What happens is you get a direct signal from your wounded area, which says pain is happening here in a wounded part of my body of your body. So withdraw from the pain and it all happens reactively.
And that’s a case of things working appropriately to protect you from being physically re-injured or suffering pain. Right. And who wants that?
Well, emotional reactivity is very similar. When someone, when you get presented with a stimulus of some kind like, well, you didn’t do that very well. Or how come you didn’t show up on time. And that actually triggers you in some way, because of your past, or because maybe you’re still pissed off about something else and you’re a sensitive rabbit.
So there’s a sense of there’s a hypersensitivity. There’s, you’re, over-sensitive around a certain thing. And as a result, you overreact and that overreaction process is one. You don’t have a lot of control of whenever you don’t have much resilience. There are things that you can do. However, to help yourself become less likely to be triggered. We’re all working on how to be better people.
The way you do that is by looking at these situations and beginning to understand how we’re actually constructed internally, how are we actually wired up in ways that both work well and ways that don’t. So, and when we’re triggered, we don’t want to be as triggerable. And whenever we’re dealing with other people who are triggered, we want to have more skill and facility with that.
Because one of the things that happens is that when a triggered person triggers another person, it’s really hard to be steady in the face of someone, um, verbally assaulting you because they’re over the top trigger. But if you have a sense of ground in yourself, if you have a sense of really kind of who you are, and you realize this problem is over there on the other side of the conversation is not about you, regardless of what they’re saying, it’s not about you. When you really know that it’s difficult for someone to get you, uh, over-amplified or triggered as a result of their triggered, although it certainly does happen.
And I’m testifying to all of this, because I’ve learned this the hard way. Um, I’m actually a fairly reactive person just by being a mindfulness coach and facilitator meditation instructor. And it’s taken me quite a few years, um, decades. And in fact, I don’t want to go there, but to, to learn how to have some facility with my reactive nature and I’m way better, but I still could be better still, but I digress. Let’s talk about what you can do. One of the very first things you need to learn, or I would suggest that you learn is to mitigate your initial response. You know, this feels like I’m saying, um, don’t express your feelings, but it’s not what I’m saying is don’t blurt out the very first thing that comes to mind.
So you, someone says, you know, Hey, well, you were late and what’s up with that and you want to go, well, screw you. You have no idea what happened before I got here. And it’s been stressful and okay. Yeah. Maybe you have great reasons, but might not be the best way to express what’s going on for you.
What I would suggest is that when you feel that urge to just blurt and it might feel like a tension in your throat, a construct, a contraction, like you want to spit out very rapidly. Our response, learn to notice that that’s going on and feel the tension of reactivity that happens just before it happens.
Now that’s the trick, right? You have to practice being mindful when you’re not under stress. If you want to learn to be mindful when you are, if you don’t have any kind of mindfulness practice, it’s very difficult to say, Oh, I’m going to learn to work on my triggers. Working on triggers is an advanced practice that you will have limited results if you don’t practice when you’re not under stress. And the reason for that is you have to develop this neurological muscle that lets you pause and take a breath and slow things down when you wish to.
And so in a mindful meditation, just to standard, mindful meditation, you’re breathing and you’re noticing your breath and you’re seeing your thoughts go by and you go, Oh, I’m having a thought I’m thinking about tomorrow. And then you come back to your breath. I’m breathing.
This is what it feels like. I’m hearing a clock ticking. I’m hearing the wind blowing. I’m feeling the temperature. I’m coming back to my, in the moment experience. Um, whatever’s going on emotionally, I’m feeling anxiety or I’m feeling sad. You’re just naming your experience. You’re just, Oh, okay. Coming back to your breath over and over and over. And every time you do that, it’s like practicing a musical instrument. You’re practicing a C chord, a scale it’s like, uh, until it becomes like a muscle memory, a memory that you can summon, then when you hear something that is challenging to you.
Someone says, uh, you know, I didn’t really appreciate what you said last night. Then you want to go, Whoa, you feel the urge. And right, then you just go and you inject a little moment. That little moment is everything. That little moment is pure magic. It’s the leverage that you have over your reactive self by taking that breath and pausing right then and there, you suddenly now have the opportunity to go.
I’m not going to blurt out the thing I wanted to say, even though you may be justified and there’s a million reasons why you want to say, what do you want to say that in kind of a over-reactive way, just the fact that it’s reactive is reason enough to intervene on your own when your own behalf. So this is like self intervention in a way. So what you want to do then is take that moment, take that breath and suppress your initial response saying, no, I’m not just going to be reactive.
No, I’m not going to blurt out in a reactive way. I just don’t want to do that. So what do You do instead? You extend that space as much as you can Consider, consider who do you want to be, right. Then consider who, Who do you want to be? What do you want to say? How important is it to you to be defensive about what’s coming your way?
Another possibility then is to extend this spaciousness, to get curious about what is the problem here. Maybe if there’s a situation where you didn’t really realize there was a problem, a better response than, well, I” had all this stuff to do” or “you don’t know”, or, or, or, uh, “I’m sorry, you didn’t like it. I really worked on that and I thought it would be fine and 14 other people’s that it was cool. So what’s up with you?”
Instead go, “Oh, I’m disappointed to hear that.” And that’s legitimate, right? And that gives, you’re saying, you’re referencing yourself. You’re referencing your own experience. And this also comes from mindful as you’re going, Oh, I’m experiencing mindful leaks bridging that I’m disappointed or unhappy. I’m unhappy to hear that.
You’re not saying they made you unhappy or what happened was wrong. You’re just saying in the moment, right now I’m experiencing unhappiness because of what I just heard. And then you can follow it up with what was it that happened that you were disappointed in. And then you’re just asking for information.
Perhaps they have a completely different take on it than you think. Perhaps it’s like, well, I’m disappointed because I didn’t think, I thought it was a good idea, but I just don’t think it went far enough. Or if it’s a business idea or a planning session or something, or maybe it was, I really liked what you had to say, but there was a way that tone was off a little bit. Oh, okay. Well, tell me about that. Then you can get curious about what’s going on.
Maybe it’s useful information, which is the other piece of the pie here is a very often, I think there’s a wise saying, which I don’t know the source of, which is like, if you want to know the truth, ask your enemies because they’ll tell you, right. So, okay. So maybe this person is an enemy, but it’s really hard to get good, critical feedback. And the people who are so pleased with you are the ones that are more likely to give you some good, critical feedback.
Um, and you have to sort out what’s good versus what’s just, you know, vindictive or, or over-amplified in themselves. Like maybe they’re the ones that are being reactive. That’s fine too. Let them be reactive. Just make an, Oh, I see. I feel like they’re being reactive and you maybe can explore that in yourself, but at least you aren’t amplifying the situation. So suppressing your initial response, your initial reactivity, and gives your higher cognitive functions a chance to come online and be responsive.
Instead of being reactive, we’re being responsive, create some space, creating some space for these higher cognitive functions to kick in because they’re this their second, there’s a book called thinking fast and slow, which is a great book. And like the fast one is like the reactive part though. That’s lower, literally in a different part of the brain, the reactive part, the higher cognitive functions come online later.
They’re slower, not faster as many people might think. And so you have to give those parts time to process the information and craft a response that considers more of your scenario than your knee-jerk reaction to us. And that will always, well, I won’t say always, but almost always result in a better outcome for everybody involved, suppressing your initial response, creating some spaciousness, considering your scenario, what kind of an outcome do you want? What kind of relationship is this? How important is it that I attend to the tension in this relationship versus solve the problem? Those can be important decisions. Is there a role for curiosity here?
That’s another key question that very often is a fabulous way to shift the energy and then re-engaging so that’s the more or less the formula, right? It’s suppression of your initial response, creating some space, considering the larger picture, wondering what don’t I know, what can I inquire about? And then asking a question or further in the conversation.
Once you’ve done all that work, there’s a lot going on there. All that can happen actually fairly quickly, but not as quickly as a reaction or a trigger in this way. You can learn to become much less reactive over time by grounding yourself and this more or less, more spacious place where every person you encounter is part of a larger conversation. Whether, whether they know it or not. And that conversation is considering all of these other factors that are in your awareness, your conscious awareness.
And when you’re in that larger place, it’s much harder for you to be reactive. Even when someone shows up in an agitated place, you don’t necessarily become agitated. In fact, people will give you feedback like, Oh, you always call me down. Or you’re the one who always kind of like grounds the situation. You know, that people will like you for your clarity and clear-headedness and non-reactivity, and, and those are the kinds of feedback that you’re looking for. Whenever you are practicing healthy communications, mindful communications, because when you hear those kinds of things, you know, you’re doing something right, and you want to do more of that built into this.
You could also underneath when someone’s being reactive. If you really look underneath it, you can really get to the heart of it. Someone coming at you with some criticism or something there is there a place where what they’re concerned about is an expression of concern. So let me give you an example. Someone comes up to you about a project that you’re working on this. So this project is really running late and most of these activities are on your plate. Okay. So, Whoa, okay. I’m being accused of dragging the project to a halt because of the stuff that’s on my plate. So there’s an accusation in there. You can be, be reactive to that.
And a lot of people probably would be what is going on underneath though? Is it you hood name? And you’re at least on your side of this conversation, that there’s a part of this other person who cares about the fact that this project was not going well, if that’s legit and it’s not just, they’re trying to get you, which does happen. But if they actually care about the project, it’s, they’re caring about the project, that’s driving the conversation. And if you feel like that, that’s legitimate probability possibility. You can land on that with somebody and use that as common ground to help take the edge off that conversation.
Because if you care about it and they care about it, then you have a very strong alignment that can be used to help forge agreement. It’s up to you though, to take the edge off because you’re the one that sees it. You’re the one that can name it. And so you can say, I know this project is important to you. It’s important to me too. So let’s see what’s going on. What are your main concerns? And rather than taking it personally like, well, it’s all about you.
You can go back to one of the details and this is, you know, a business, this conversation in this case, right? But you’re naming the feeling and the caring part first, which helps to put, put everybody in a frame of we’re working on this together rather than I’m on the good side. And you’re on the bad side, that kind of positioning in conversation can be exceptionally powerful. And as person who’s working on mindfulness and communications look for, and name those areas where someone’s actually fighting for something that you agree with, but they’re presenting it in opposition.
So do yourself a favor if you do nothing else from this podcast, but the next time you feel you want to be reactive, take a breath and do not speak. Don’t say what your first reactive impulse is. That will help you a ton because then you’ll have a moment to consider a larger context. Maybe you can pull it off and maybe you can’t, but at least you’ll have the opportunity to, if you combine this with a mindful practice, it will change the way you deal with, uh, the vast majority of reactive scenarios that you encounter today.
And so that’s my wish for you is that you can have fewer reactive moments in your life and more gracious outcomes to these challenging situations. And furthermore, you begin then to model healthy communications, mindful communications for other people. And Lord knows that’s do we ever need that now in these times?
So thank you for listening and it’s very much appreciated. So that’s a wrap on today’s edition of the language of mindfulness podcast. We’re hoping to join it. If so, please leave us a review on iTunes and follow along whatever podcast platform you’re listening. We really appreciate it and check us email@example.com where you can sign up for a free coaching session for John load our PDF on eight ways to be more mindful. The virtual firstname.lastname@example.org slash Tate, number eight ways. Thanks to Don and looking forward to a lot of content coming up as well. Have a great one and stay present.