Taming the Triggers

Crazy, busy life reactions are amplified when we have some “history” that can pop up at the most unexpected moments. One leader I talked to summarized the conditions as ripe for triggering the past with words like: Exhaustion. Scattered. Juggling.

Relationships are also fertile ground for triggering unexpected responses within us. Put on the stress and pressure of work or leadership and our knee-jerk response can surprise even us.

Often there is more under the surface of these moments. It can be helpful to dig a little deeper into what is behind the emotional triggers that can catch us by surprise. You might notice things like:

  • Emotions: Unexpected intensity of emotion after the comment a colleague makes.
  • Interactions: Biting words quickly spoken without thinking in reaction to a reasonable request.
  • Physiology: Sweaty palms and racing heart in response to a neutral situation.

When we catch ourselves “overreacting” to a situation it’s our clue to take notice, turn to our observational self and explore what might be going on at a deeper level. It could be a hook back to something that happened in recent history that is still open or something a little further back that resurfaces when the conditions are right. Our reaction is the indicator that we need to go and close the loop. 

Unresolved issues left unaddressed can cause leaders to burn out or lash out. If you are noticing either of these reactions it might be a good time to pause and explore this further. 

Ideas to Tame the Triggers:

  1. Take a deep breath and tell yourself it’s okay.
  2. Pause and reflect on the experience in a non-judgmental way.
  3. Talk it out with a trusted friend who could ask you good questions to think it through.
  4. Check in with a professional to expand your “tools” for taming your triggers.

Disrupting your immediate reaction to a trigger can lead to a more thoughtful response. Imagine a PAUSE button in your mind in that moment of reaction. Slowing down and bringing calm to the brain can re-engaged your thinking function so you can choose to “respond” instead of “react”. Quite often the outcomes that follow will prove to be better.

What’s Next?

There are some insightful resources available to guide us through the process of taming triggers so we can be the leader we want to be. I recently had a great discussion with Kathy Johnson, LPCC on trauma and triggers in our Side by Side Podcast. Check it out on our website, apple, spotify or google. She highlighted great resources from Berne Brown and Kristen Neff

I am always energized by conversations that get me thinking about what is behind human behavior and ways to expand our coping capabilities. What peaks your curiosity about human behavior? What resources can you share? Comment below!


Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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