If you’ve seen House of Cards, you will know that Frank Underwood is one of the most fascinating and complex characters on television. Ruthlessly ambitious, his moments of cold, calm calculation are punctuated with him losing his composure when things don’t go his way, often with terrifying consequences.
I won’t spoil any of the plot for you, but I’m presuming you don’t have much in common with Frank Underwood – if you do then that’s probably beyond what I can help you with! However, all of us to face moments when we’re prone to losing our composure, usually when we react with a fight, flight or freeze response rather than using the best of our rational, emotional or other intelligences. This is what’s called being ‘triggered’, and it’s when you enter the danger zone.
I shared some tips on this issue back in February, but there’s so much to say I thought I’d revisit it. Here are four ways to reframe the situation when you become triggered.
The more you can notice – in the moment – that you are being triggered, the better. This means understanding the physical and other responses you make when you are triggered. Some people sweat, some have an elevated heart rate, some go quiet, some shout – it’s different for everyone. If you can increase your self-awareness in this regard, you stand a better chance of doing something about it.
What did your mum used to tell you to do if another child pushed or hit you? (The answer I’m thinking of is not, as one client of mine replied, “hit him back”.) Count to 10. This is excellent advice; research shows that in situations where we have suffered amygdala hijack (the technical term for being triggered) it takes our neocortex, the rational part of our brain, around 8-10 seconds to kick in.
3. Tell Yourself Something
When I get triggered, my focus often becomes excessively about me – my needs, my fears, my safety and so on. So when I am in a stressful situation, or feel otherwise triggered, I am learning to tell myself “it’s not about me”.
4. Ask Yourself Something
When I get triggered I sometimes find that someone has really disappointed me. So in these situations, I am learning to ask myself “what impresses me about them?”
List two or three people you know or work with where the relationship is not very good. Reflect on what happens within those relationships that triggers you – perhaps something the other person says, or fails to do, or an email they have sent you. What can you tell yourself? Define a phrase that you can tell yourself in the moment that will help you respond more effectively when triggered within these relationships. What can you ask yourself? Define a question that you can ask yourself in these moments too.
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