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Triggered at work? Regulate to advance, Escalate to be managed out.

I don't think we can participate in life, and not feel various degrees of being triggered by others. States of being triggered can cause mild reactions that simply have us scroll on as we let the triggered thoughts that surface from that post trickle away.

Sometimes, and particularly at work, those triggers in us, set alight by our colleagues, can have us animating in ways that we come to regret later. Anything from bullshitting our way through something that nobody is buying, to causing division between you and your colleagues, to having really tough TÊTE-À-TÊTE's with your boss, clients and suppliers.

Often the ones who are triggered and, escalate or shut down, are managed out of the business. Or, they get promoted by leaving jobs to go somewhere new, or in my case, end up running their own business because being employed "isn't for them".


What are Triggers?

I would define triggers as emotional reactions that reside within our unconscious self until they are poked and prodded. Toxins that rest in a proverbial sealed can, deep in our psyche, that surfaces when the lid is temporarily knocked off.

In other words, triggers are involuntary responses to instances we experience in our environment that belong to an unconscious program, (can of toxins) from past (unresolved) trauma, running in the background.


I have high regard and value for triggers. I have come to conclude that triggers surface when the toxic can they live in, deep within our unconscious, recognises that in order for us to grow into this next version of our best self, this is the can of toxins to resolve now.

It shows up by design, and its timing is always perfect.

Consider that you have a desire to grow now, and you (like all of us) have baggage that is keeping you from being able to enter this desired phase of growth. Many times, it's baggage we are still hanging onto, that needs to go in order to complete that next iteration of growth.

In other words, triggers are the perfectly timed prompts waving at the conscious self trying to get our attention to do "The Work" specifically tied to our ability to level up.

(That process of examination is often referred to as doing "The Work". In most cases, doing "The Work" is most effective when facilitated by a skilled practitioner.)

Only we don't fully understand the role of triggers, and because they challenge our need for control and to maintain appearances, we retreat from them, causing them and their chains that bind us to remain. Our desired growth, thus eludes us.

Ignoring these triggers:

1. limits our growth in all 7 areas of life: Mental, Vocational, Financial, Family. Social, Leadership, Spiritual.

2. makes career advancement tricky at best, soul grating at worst.

3. provides a much lower quality of life

4. and contributes to the endless repeat of triggering. Resolve it or Repeat It, if you will.

I think of these triggers as the roadsigns I stumble across, on my next iteration of personal growth, inviting me to pull over, and with curiosity, explore and examine more fully.

Personally speaking, I tend to do a lot of research on a specific area triggering to me first, and then selectively engage skilled practitioners to work with me on a specific trigger.

I engage a practitioner for many reasons, but most obvious to me is because

1. I recognise my own blindspots just don't permit me to get to the underlying issue as efficiently as working with a skilled facilitator would.

2. The value of processing these out of my human is almost unmeasurable. However, the gain is incredible, and without doing "The Work" ... the pain of staying the same, can be unbearable.


Regulate, Escalate, Shut Down

We have a choice between these three states: Self-Regulate, or we can choose to flip the Reaction Coin and go with heads: Escalate, or tails, Shut Down.

And that choice is like a muscle that requires training and strengthening over time through ongoing practice. I came across this idea of choice several years ago, and immediately dismissed it.

Through ongoing examination and putting my ego in a box, I was able to be open to the idea that choice was even an option. I'm about 3 years into my own practice of this and while I have marked improvements in being able to self-regulate, I am still prone to choosing instead to escalate or shutdown. What I'm saying is, this is not a light switch we turn on and job done. It's a commitment to being a better version of your self, and it takes discipline and effort over time to change the game.

That choice is also on a timer.

Consider that we have a brief window for that choice to be consciously selected before the physiology of our state makes choice impossible.

Stress hormones flooding the body impact our ability to be logical and rational. Typically we will need 1 to 3 hours (Stress Hormone Recovery) before those hormones coursing through our body subside, allowing logic and rational thought to return.

Self-Regulation (A deliberate choice)

Emotional well-being and EQ is made of this right here.


Self-regulation strategies when feeling intense; emotion, thought patterns and physiological reactions are numerous. Researching a few that resonate, in order to find the one that suits you best is where I started.

I am currently using a time stamp when I am in situations that I can't simply bolt from, and a timestamp-permission-to-pause approach when I am in a situation where I can hit pause, go away and come back to complete the exchange.

My timestamp is 8 seconds, counted slowly - as I slowly count to 8- I prepare for my breath work - this specific breathing exercise is called Box Breathing.

  • Inhale for 10 seconds.

  • Hold full lungs for 10 seconds.

  • Exhale for 10 sections.

  • Hold empty lungs for 10 seconds.

Repeat 2 or 3x and it will slowwwww-dowwwwwwnnnnnn your entire body.

You can google Self-Regulation strategies and find dozens of different tools and practices to find the one that best suits you. You're also free to borrow mine and see how it goes.

Escalation (A Hyper reaction)

I'm not sure Escalation needs much of a definition here. We all lived it, we have all witnessed it.

Instead, I'd like to unpack this side of the reaction coin.

Escalation is a hyper-response that is informed by your neurobiology, legacy programmes from childhood and repetition over the years. It keeps us small, stuck and dare I say miserable.

It feels normal, and it is not normal.

It is a juvenile expression to a trigger. A trigger that wants us to turn into it, understand it, heal it, dissolve it. Doing so, removes it from your unconscious self so the next time you are in a similar situation that triggered you in the past, this time, the trigger isn't there.

You now get to participate in this new experience as a different, better version of you. The outcomes, possibilities and opportunities of which will be entirely new.

What do they say?

"Resolve it or Repeat it"

Shutting Down (A Hypo reaction)

A distinction to be made here; shutting down is different to calming down.

To shut down is to be triggered, it is a choice to not meet that trigger with the intention of self regulation, and instead we have a hypo-response (this is the other side of the Reaction Coin described above) - we shut down.

To shut down usually gets packaged up by ourself, as some ego massaging expression of stoicism, or worn as a badge of honour suggesting this is us choosing not to participate in drama, or enter your preferred egotistical explanation here.

It expresses as a result of your neurobiology, legacy programming and repetitive use of it over the years - and perhaps even a learned behaviour we now present at work, where Escalation makes you too vulnerable and shows too much, so shut down, is preferred. It keeps your stuff more concealed and hidden, yet presents as 'mature' and thus deemed socially acceptable.

It can feel grown up and mature and yet it is as juvenile as losing your cool and escalating into varying degrees of anger and rage.

It may even be more insidious than it's twin hyper-reaction because this one comes with more smoke and mirrors that can trick us into thinking we are something that we are not. It makes doing "The Work" more elusive as we convince ourselves that we don't need to examine anything. "We are all calm, cool and collected, here, thanks!"

And yet the very next time a similar situation occurs, we get triggered, and force a shut down response to maintain appearances, causing all sorts of inside damage and closing us off to endless opportunities if we could show up inside self-regulation, instead.

I'll end by saying this

Bringing the idea of triggers into our awareness makes it possible for us to reframe how we interact with them. They are incredible allies that are showing up to help us fulfil our innate desire to evolve, grow and contribute.

They are a very important part of the growth process. We can ignore them (at our own peril) or we can find a way to leverage them into designing a life that gives us the most satisfaction.

When we bring curiosity to this examination, we can hold these unloved parts of us lightly, understanding why they are here, feel gratitude for their timing and an appreciation for their role in our growth journey.

If we choose the Reaction Coin during moments of triggering, it is as if we are throwing a dirty, heavy, oversized blanket over ourself, as we seek to excel, climb and do great things.

And we can do those things, covered in 10 blankets - but it will be done in a way that is far harder, far heavier, and far more heart breaking, than if we instead choose to pick up a shiny, beautiful tool to support our self-regulation choice.


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