Are you trigger-happy?

Here’s a story my dad shared from his childhood:

Setting: Early evening on the farm. Mother stirring pot on kitchen stove-top.

Younger Dad (7 yrs. old) enters the  kitchen.

7 yr. old: “Mom—what’s for dinner?”

Mom:  “Borscht,”  (a Russian soup made with beets, cabbage, onions, potatoes, carrots, and spices).

7 yr. old: (With an opened mouth look of a baby who has just tasted lemon juice) —“YUCK!”

In a few quick steps mother took the pot of borscht and threw it all out the open window.

7 yr. old:  Eyes and mouth wide open—speechless.

Nothing else was said.

Over fifty years later I love my grandmother’s spunk and the memory of my dad’s laughter when he told this outrageous story.

It’s also a great introduction to triggers– triggers to angry outbursts that lead to blowing off your lid (or the whole damn pot)!

And while we can share the humor surrounding an outrageous display of being triggered, there’s a downside too. Out of control behavior (words and actions) level degrees of embarrassment, fear and shame for all involved– whether at work, home or play.

Let’s get a handle on those trigger-happy-lid-popping impulses.

In this article:

You will get a working example of how I use Pattie Porter’s template for identifying YOUR TRIGGERS and for identifying WHAT YOU TRIGGER in others.

Managing your angry reactions requires deeper self and other-awareness.

That’s right! You’re expanding your awareness to include the other’s experience.

It’s a mutuality awareness thing— trigger-handling.

Grab on. We’re moving.

Step 1: Sleuth out YOUR triggers.

Be a detective and reflect on the situations you encounter that provoke you for the next week. Get a handle on what triggers your anger by answering the questions in the Trigger Handles template.

My client shared her reflections from an angry encounter with her life partner:

Trigger Handles

Handle 1What was said or done and/or what wasn’t said or done?  I was cleaning the fireplace screen. My partner suggested I use a different cleaning method. I said “no” –I liked what I was doing. Partner called me indifferent/stubborn/dismissive.

Handle 2Where did you feel it in your body? What were your emotions? My stomach and head. I could feel my body tense up. My face felt hot.

Handle 3What core value or need was not being met? How did you feel personally challenged?  Unmet need– acceptance, autonomy, being able to say “no” without hassle. Probably I felt my competence was being challenged. BTW, my projects at work aren’t delivering needed results either. Doesn’t help.

Handle 4What thoughts/interpretations did you make of the other person’s intent or motivation? I have to do it his way– I have to adapt to his way. My way is inferior.

Handle 5What did you do? How did you respond to this specific trigger point? I became belligerent, said a few choice words back, left the room and came back with more choice words I knew would anger him. I didn’t want to back down– I could have– I felt entitled.

INSIGHT: Notice how triggers can pop up in distinct categories involving what other people say or do (or not say or do), situational events like a computer malfunction or traffic jams, even a cleaning challenge; disappointment in yourself and/or a combination of all of them.

INSIGHT: Unmet needs probably have roots that go back to when you were a kid.

INSIGHT: There are a few seconds during any messy, angering encounter when you’re aware you could respond with maturity–that is, calm things down rather than ramp them up for yourself and for the other. Notice them if you haven’t before– they are there.

Step 2: Find out WHAT YOU TRIGGER in others.

Here’s the extra sensitivity step that makes your efforts to handle your triggers rewarding. Call it “walking in someone else’s shoes,” empathy and/or mutuality (a sharing of sentiments– intimacy).

It’s a beautiful thing when you can hold the belief that the “other” isn’t bad– but in pain. (Holding that belief about yourself is a good idea too.) 🙂

The learning and understanding become powerfully hopeful because of this stance of mutuality.

Here’s my client’s “best” guesses on what she triggered in her life partner:

Mutuality Trigger Handles

Mutuality Handle 1What did you say or do or not say or do that triggered the other person? I said “no” to his suggestion abruptly.

Mutuality Handle 2What did you notice or observe about the other person when they became triggered? Lots of anguish all over his face and claims I was pushing him away routinely.

Mutuality Handle 3What did they need from you most in that moment? Kindness, respect and consideration.

Mutuality Handle 4What did the other person assume about you when you said or did what you did? I was being dismissive and selfish.

Mutuality Handle 5 How did they react or respond to this specific trigger point? Really insulted and exasperated. The incident itself was minor— he reminds me “I’m not your enemy!” and says I treat him badly.

Mutuality Handle 6How did you react or respond after they were triggered? I jumped into the anguish and blew my lid! Power struggle 1,000,001. I held on to my anger for a while. It was easier to blame him than look at my stuff.

INSIGHT: The person with the least interest has the most power. It’s hard to deal with rejection. And that is what it feels like when someone hears “no”. Whether it should or not isn’t the point. Knowing this principle can remind you that when you say “no”– do so with care.

INSIGHT: Do the mirror test. Repeat your recent dialogue looking at yourself in the mirror. See and hear yourself. Would you want to listen to you?

INSIGHT: Is it possible that you minimize your impact on others because it’s hard to imagine how what you say or do (or not say and do) matters to others?

You don’t have to have a diagnosis of Major Depression to dismiss your own importance.

It may be an old habit (something you’ve been doing since you were a kid) you need to drop. Done!

Here’s the takeaway for you:

YOU can get a handle on what triggers your anger and in the process develop more understanding for others and yourself.

YOU will get a grip which clarifies the deeper issues fueling your triggers.

Greater clarity catalyzes (the right) actions.

Be trigger– happy.


Interested in getting a handle on some personal or professional challenges? Let’s talk strategies. I’ve got a ton of them.