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James O'Halloran holding a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse in his mouth.

Navigating Triggers: Insights from a Business Coach’s Perspective

Do you ever feel that someone ‘made me feel…’?

It certainly seems that way. When someone cuts you up on the motorway and you get angry “That bad driver made me feel angry!”

And yet there will be days when you are in such a good mood that if the same thing happened you wouldn’t care, you’d roll with it.

Nobody can make you feel anything!

I still struggle with this because it doesn’t seem that way.

Let’s say someone held a gun to your head it would be reasonable to say “The gunman made me feel scared!” But let’s say you had decided to commit suicide would the gunman still ‘make you feel’ scared? Probably not.

Nobody can reach into our brain and tamper with our hormones and neurochemicals and ‘make us feel’.

At best; all anyone can do is light the fuse. The ‘explosion’ (of anger, sadness, pain, happiness) happens within us as a reaction to this trigger.

If you ‘light the fuse’ of a highly experienced meditator —let’s say a Buddhist monk who’s meditated for decades. Someone might shout at the monk, punch him, they might steal from him or promise to do something and then not do it. They light the fuse that in many people would cause an ‘explosive’ reaction but in the monk, he’d just smile and let it go. He’s trained himself not to have expectations.

That person or situation who ‘made you feel angry’ (sad, hurt, confused, joyful)… didn’t make you feel anything they were simply the stimulus for your reaction that was lying dormant just under the surface.

Of course, when we experience hard / upsetting emotions we are in conflict. Conflict because we don’t want to feel that way, so we try to push it away. We reach for something that will ‘make us feel’ better (food, shopping, exercise, our phone, blaming someone…).

But Conflict is a great teacher! It points to where the pain is. Conflict can be a huge gift to our self-understanding it can help us determine where our boundaries ought to be. It highlights where we’ve got some stale conditioning and self-talk that could do with being liberated.

What to do?

Bring the things that trigger you to your therapist, coach or someone you can safely talk to about these things. Someone who won’t judge you or think less of you.

When you realise that you reacted badly —someone inadvertently lit your fuse— you can apologise to them and share what happened for you so that they can better understand you. Even if that apology is given days or years later it’s still healing for both people.

Use these two phrases:

1.      “I felt [upset] when you [didn’t email me the work by the time you said you would]”

2.    “The story I told myself was that… [you don’t respect me.]”.

Understanding this cognitively is great but that’s very different to fully embodying it all the time. Our conditioning takes a while to unlearn, especially our triggered reactions. Be kind and gentle with yourself, don’t beat yourself up when you react badly as that only further conditions you. Celebrate when you realise you’ve reacted badly —this is important— because the realisation enables us to unlearn the reaction and cultivate the behaviour that we want. Bring your reactions into conscious awareness.

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