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3 Tips when Triggers Interfere with Listening.


woman in tan sweater holding her head in her hands

Emotional triggers are something we all have. These are the intense, prolonged or frequent activations of emotions that occur in situations now that our brain sees as similar to past experiences. What defines 'triggers' is not the emotional activation itself. It's the intensity of it, how easily it activates and how often it's out of proportion to the current circumstance or scenario we're in now.


Throughout our classes, we've talked about how emotional activation patterns form in our early years. And we know that it's something that can either be managed as it is, or refined and developed at its baseline so we don't get triggered as often or as intensely. Yet, emotional triggers can still happen even as we're doing that deeper developmental work. Especially if you both are in early stages of recovering from the influences of early-life trauma. If you're consistent and congruent with your development work, triggers begin to subside and become less frequent. But in the meantime, here are some suggestions when you're listening attentively to your partner so that emotional triggers don't interfere with getting the connection you truly seek.

 

1.Pay attention to your body


Awareness is a term can sometimes be so overused in the personal development world that it's meaning starts to get lost. When it comes to raising your emotional activation threshold, being skilled at noticing your body sensations is KEY! So as you're listening, occasionally do a quick self-check on your body. How are you sitting? Are you leaning forward or back? Are your arms crossed? What's your face doing? These are all signals that can tell you what's happening 'under the skin' in your emotional body. If you can sense it as it’s building in your body, you can ask for a break BEFORE it escalates and before you lash out or behave in a way that isn’t helpful. This is called effective pattern interruption. I know emotional triggers can happen lightning fast. But one of the best results from learning the skill of Interoception is that your sensitivity to subtle shifts in your internal states increases. If you haven’t learned this skill yet, the free classMeditation for Wiggly People’ gives you several easy exercises to develop this skill.

 

2. Take a break before you blow up


Don’t wait until you’re clenching your fists or distracted in thought planning what you’re going to say in response. If you sense your attention diverting away from the speaker and/ or you're tensing up, ask for a break to regoup and come back. Remember from last months Connection Depot topic, that it's about timing. You’ll have your chance to speak your mind.



3. Slow the conversation down. Like, way down.


PRO TIP – the most effective resolutions come from a slower-paced dialogue, not a rapid-fire word volley. The reason for this is because our brain can more easily function as whole (using both intellect and humane relational skills) at slower frequencies or speeds. When you speed up your thinking and speech, areas of your relational brain can’t be accessed as easily.

 

couple standing on opposite sides of table

But what about when someone gets loud, intense or misdirects their frustration? How do we respond then?


That's definitely a tough situation. Especially if you grew up with loud, angry voices in your household like I did. I can tell you that it's something I'll no doubt have a sensitivity to for a long time, despite the depth of the work I've done. Yet, I can also say that when I do get emotionally activated by loud, angry voices it's not very intense and it's short-lived. So that's a reflection of the shift in my emotional baseline, and a 'win' in my book. But early in my work, I did have to take a lot of breaks to return my body back to calm. So here are a few ideas that may help, that I still use today.


Acknowledge the upset and ask them to speak in a lower voice


I can tell by your voice that you’re really mad/ upset/ frustrated. I’m right here. Will you lower you voice a bit so I can focus more on what you’re saying?"


Be gentle as say this. The speaker can sometimes feel a bit embarrassed if they didn’t notice themselves how loud they got.


Partner up against triggers

 

My husband and I have also given each other permission to remind us with a cue when intensity is escalating, so whoever is speaking can make a choice about it. We use a simple, one-word cue like ‘”voice” to remind the others. This is really effective for us. Think of one that works for you. Remember you both are in this together, so partner up to take on the 'trigger challenge' together.

 

Regroup


If the other persons rant is misdirected at you or becomes abusive or rude, its completely reasonable to firmly yet kindly call a 'time-out' or leave the room until things calm down. Doing this is upholding a boundary around how you wish to be treated. Sometimes coupling this with a visual hand gesture.. ( no, not flipping them the ‘bird’ )... like  a palm-facing ‘stop’ with your hand can help get the verbal message across to a frustrated partner. If it’s someone you care about, as you say ”I’m taking a short break until things cool down”, add “and I’ll be back in ___ minutes to continue”. This not only puts a tangible parameter around the cooling down period, but also relays the unspoken message that you believe the person’s behavior is not who they are and you're still interested in resolving the upset. It also avoids throwing gas on the fire of any abandonment wound that may have been activated. This choice of response is a far more effective UP-level to the ‘silent treatment’ - which is a connection destroyer.


arms hugging someone in a grey sweatshirt

It takes two to tango


Sometimes I get a few mindset purists who chime in with something like, "It's not my responsibility to help my partner with his/her issues!" or "I need to focus on my own work, and he/she needs to do their own work". There is some truth to this. And it's also not relational. I understand where it comes from. Many of the mindset 'gurus' are still teaching the same material that was taught 30 years ago. I sat in on a class a few years back out of curiosity. And the exact same material was being taught as the class I took in the 80's. No lie. And it's not because the subject is 'timeless', as some will defend. It's simply because (like a lot of education) it hasn't been updated, or caught up with current research and what we know now about human relationships, attachment neurobiology and what it takes to heal trauma.


So to anyone reading this who doesn't want to partake in their partners healing? I say, well, see how far that gets your relationship and report back to me.


Yes, we each are responsible for our own emotional response. And, if you choose to be in a relationship of any kind, voluntarily allowing yourself to be sensitive to each others human struggles and partnering up 'against triggers' can be one of the fastest roads to intimate connection.

You aren't doing their work for them. Believe me, you probably know from your own struggles how much of our growth is a very personal, 'inside' job. And we can do that work while also being sensitive and responsive to each other. And If that's something you didn't get earlier in your life? Well, it's something you can gift to each other now.


 

If you have a great set of coping skills, but you're still getting triggered frequently or coping doesn't work consistently across all situations, consider expanding your work by identifying some of the unconscious thought patterns that may be inadvertently holding you back. Check out this affordable 90-minute class and workbook that can guide you to do that on your own, and at your own pace.



 


The Human Infusion Project is a grassroots, philanthropic personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical and affordable ways. 100% of all online class profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant. If financial constraints limit your participation, please contact me and we'll work something out. 


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