Our bodies make some pretty powerful chemicals! I recently wiped out on my bike and despite being hurt I got up and went on. Right after my wreck I felt fine. Granted, I was a little banged up, but compared to how I would feel just hours, days and even weeks later…I felt like a million bucks. I was pumped up on adrenaline.
I’ve heard other stories where people have far worse injuries than my own and have a similar reaction. Sometimes, it’s cool to have a go, go, go response like that. Imagine, you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, injured and have no way to communicate for help. Getting up and going despite your injuries could literally save your life.
Our brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is a fancy way of saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Other times, it is anything but cool! Think of that moment when you were in an important meeting, someone says something that rubs you completely the wrong way and suddenly you’ve lost your cool. It’s like you’ve gone from zero to sixty in a nano-second.
Your brain’s been flooded with chemicals like cortisol, and the instinct to fight, flight, freeze or appease has kicked in. You might feel out of control, saying things you don’t mean. Or you may have things you want to say, but can’t seem to find your voice. Either way, your instincts are telling you there’s a threat and that self-preservation is the only priority.
You’ve been triggered! And the chemical reactions occurring in your brain during conversation are akin to what I experienced during my bike wreck. They drive you to say or do things that are irrational, counterproductive and hurtful. As a result, you negatively impact your conversational partner (and potentially your relationship) despite your good intentions.
Identifying, deconstructing and re-writing the patterns of our triggers is a big part of what I do as a Conversational Intelligence certified coach (I’m one of only 220 in the world, humble brag over). We all have different things that trigger us. Some triggers are universal, like when someone yells at you. While other triggers are cultural or personal.
What typically happens when someone experiences a trigger is called an Amygdala Hijack. Your Amygdala, which is located in the Limbic section of the brain, senses a threat and tells your primitive brain to do what it’s best at, preserve and protect yourself.
The problem is, that most of the time when we experience such a triggering event our lives are not actually on the line. And by reacting as such, we are not being rational or considerate of other perspectives. In fact, we become so entrenched in a myopic point of view that our own behaviors will compound the problem.
As I’ve explored these conversational dynamics at home, my husband and I have observed that triggers beget triggers beget more triggers. It can be nearly impossible to discern which was the one instigating comment or who started triggering whom. We both dig our heels in out of a primordial need to preserve our own interests, yet collectively we lose.
Luckily, we have the abilities to re-write these conversational patterns. Our brains have amazing neuroplasticity, which is a fancy way of saying, you can teach an old dog new tricks. You need not be a victim to the neurochemical reactions occurring in your brain. It takes a concerted effort that starts with simply being more aware.
I have found that the journey of awareness starts by looking in the past. In order to train your brain to recognize a trigger in the moment it’s best reflect on experiences you’ve had before. Recall a time when you felt controlled by your emotions – either speaking up or holding back out of fear and reflect on that.
- What was happening when you experienced an Amygdala Hijack (trigger) in the past?
- How did you feel when you were triggered?
- How did you act when you were triggered?
- How did the conversational dynamics shift after you experienced a trigger?
Once you can begin to understand your own triggers and patterns you can start to re-write them. I will share more about that shortly. In the meantime, feel free to share your own experiences and questions in the comments!
What’s Rosabella Consulting Up To?
We are gearing up for back to school time! I’ll be speaking at a number of events in the next month+ including: the Loveland Business Development Center, the Salt & Pepper Lunch Club, and the Larimer County Workforce Symposium. Check them out, tell your friends and join us as you can.
Did this post get your wheels turning? Join me for the EntrepreNerds Conversational Catalyst Workshop 8/22 or 8/31. We’ll help you learn how to apply these concepts to your work and life. Signup before August 14th and save $70 with the early bird pricing.