It was a sunny afternoon, about 2:00 pm. I was in my office going through some emails that I hadn’t quite got around to replying to.
Then I see a notification.
Someone I didn’t recognise had sent me an email.
I opened it.
This person had emailed me with a tirade of vitriol and baseless claims, accusations that were wholly untrue. It’s amazing how text, without context, can be miscommunicated or misunderstood…however, it triggered me.
I was feeling a sudden wave of anger and frustration bubbling up inside of me. This person had no bearing on my life or my goals and aspirations, or the work I had done, yet my inner critic started to shine through: “Are their judgements accurate? Am I this misunderstood?” I wondered.
I went on the defensive. I wanted to reply immediately. As my fingers pounded the keyboard, drafting and deleting, drafting and deleting, I paused.
Was I really about to respond to this email from a place of fear and defence? Was I going to take the bait and repel what felt like an attack?
No. I took the moment to honour how I was feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, it was f*cking uncomfortable. But necessary.
I walked away from my computer and headed for the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, and to finish crafting the response to this email.
In these moments, I honoured my feelings and acknowledged why I felt so hurt. I sat with these feelings, taking time to understand them. I opted against suffering in silence, phoned a friend and shared my pain. When I spoke to my friend on the phone, I told her what had happened.
Her response to me was simple: “Layne, just delete it. It doesn’t require a response.”
With my cup of tea in hand, I went back to the office, re-read the email a final time, replied with: “Thank you for sharing”, and hit delete.
Not all moments that trigger our emotional responses are equal and yes, external triggers can be difficult to manage, especially in certain situations. But it is important to recognise when a trigger happens, and to know how to manage the situation…or to know that you have the power to make a choice about how you respond.
What are external triggers?
External triggers are factors outside of us that can incite a range of emotional responses. They often take the form of people, places, things, situations, or memories that spark feelings of discomfort, anxiety, anger, or other strong emotions. These triggers can seemingly come out of nowhere, blindsiding us with particularly intense reactions that can be hard to understand or manage.
Triggers are not inherently negative; they are merely stimuli that provoke a reaction, offering us an opportunity to become more aware of our emotional landscape and how we interact with those around us.
As triggers can be quite a personal experience, they can affect us in different ways and to different degrees.
I’ve previously admitted that I am triggered easily when one of my three key values is brought out of balance.
Support. Vitality. Growth. Three values that go to the heart of who I am and what I do. This email ‘attacked’ these values, and naturally I felt triggered.
I was fortunate that I had a support network around me and that I resorted to my three key steps to managing my triggers.
It’s worth noting that we all have different thresholds for being triggered by external stimuli. Knowing our individual levels of tolerance can help us to better manage our reactions when we feel overwhelmed. By taking a moment to step back and assess the situation in a non-judgmental way, we can figure out what works best for us and develop effective coping strategies. This might involve practising self-care activities such as talking to friends or family, going for a walk in nature, or engaging in simple activities that help us to stay grounded and calm. For me, I’ve recognised that my triggers are a message from my emotions to take a step back, to breathe, journal, practice gratitude, among other things.
What to do if you’re feeling triggered?
The most important step you can take is to identify what triggers you. External triggers are just that, they’re things that are outside of your control that you know might initiate a strong emotional reaction. It can be as simple as a partner’s habit. How do you manage these situations? Here are three simple steps:
1. Honour the feeling
The process of honouring your feelings is about accepting and allowing yourself to experience your emotional state without judgement. It’s about permitting yourself to feel as you do, without trying to suppress, ignore, or change those feelings. This acceptance provides a sense of validation to your emotions. When we honour our feelings, we give them space to exist. We acknowledge that they are a part of us and that they have a right to be felt.
It’s not about succumbing to them or letting them control our actions, but rather acknowledging their presence. By not honouring our feelings, you can’t surround yourself with compassion. Without self-compassion, you’re never going to be truly in control of your emotions.
2. Sit in that feeling for a moment
Sitting in your feelings refers to the practice of allowing yourself to fully experience your emotional state without hurriedly trying to change, ignore, or suppress it. It’s about leaning into the discomfort of these emotions, acknowledging them, and giving them the space they deserve. This can be challenging as it often goes against our instinctive desire to avoid pain or discomfort. However, by sitting with our feelings, we create an opportunity to delve deeper into our inner selves and understand our emotional triggers and responses better. How do you do this?
Interrogate yourself with some simple questions: What am I feeling? Am I angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed?
Acknowledge it’s okay to feel this way, then ask: Why do I feel this way?
Breathe into the answers you give yourself and process your responses.
This practice isn’t about dwelling negatively on your feelings, rather it’s about understanding them, giving them the room to breathe so that ultimately, you can respond in a way that best serves you and your well-being.
3. Make an informed choice
Finally, you need to decide how to respond. Are you going to respond to your trigger from a place of love, or a place of fear? Or are you going to ‘delete it’ and move on with your life? The choice is yours.
Behave in a way that’s true to who you are
Overall, external triggers are an integral part of life and we must understand how they affect us in order to be able to manage them effectively. With awareness, self-reflection and practice, we can all learn how to identify and cope with external triggers so that we can continue living our lives with greater peace and harmony. By learning to recognise how we are feeling when triggered and choosing how we respond, we can find a way to work through external stimuli without letting them overwhelm us.
We must learn how to recognise and manage external triggers so that they don’t derail our daily lives. By taking the time to self-reflect and assess the situation in a non-judgmental way, we can find strategies that help us to stay grounded and control our reactions. With practice and dedication, we can all learn how to effectively manage external triggers so that we can continue living our lives with greater peace and harmony.