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How Can My Triggers Help Me?

I was tempted to title this essay, “Oops I Did It Again.” But the memory of Britney Spears’ irritating song kept me from it. Tempting, yes. Funny, a little. But, distracting for sure.

However, the truth is, many of us find ourselves repeatedly tripped up by our own reactions when someone pushes our buttons.

Push one of our buttons and boom, in a flash, unfettered emotions explode from the dark recesses. We get mad. We go on the attack. We go verbally silent and non-verbally vicious. We say things we shouldn’t, but can’t pull the words back into our mouths. Then we’re stuck with a lot of clean up to do… again.

No one has the luxury of being a leader without sooner or later having someone push our buttons or get under our skin. Be honest. I think you know the experience of sitting in a meeting, working with a team, or listening to a complaint when someone makes a direct hit on one of your most volatile triggers.

We get triggered when our buttons are pushed and we become somebody we’re not or, at least, someone we don’t want to be.

Think of it this way. “All of us have a powder keg inside where we store up the pains and injustice of our past—those from our family of origin are some of the biggest. As long as no one disturbs the powder keg we are just fine. But, when our buttons get pushed it detonates. All of that junk hidden below the surface erupts and we turn into someone no one wants to be around.” [Rare Leadership. p.149-150]

I know you’ve seen this in others and I'm betting you’ve been there yourself. So, let’s turn the table and talk about a better way forward.

What if these triggers were actually a gift in disguise?

You heard me right. Our triggers point out wounding and brokenness that needs healing. They help us see unfinished work in our souls that needs attention. They remove the blinders of “everything is going well” to open our eyes to ungrieved losses, to unresolved conflicts, to unhealed injuries and injustices we’ve suffered in the past.

The recognition that we have such volatile buttons which can still be pushed helps us see where the deeper work lies that needs attention. When we get triggered we can no longer live under the illusion of denial. Everything isn’t just fine.

To that extent, our triggers are a gift rather than a curse.

Look, life hurts sometimes. Growing up—whether you’re six or sixty—involves bumps and bruises and scrapes and scars. The question is not whether they happen, it is how will you participate in the healing that those moments require?

If you haven’t processed your pain, your pain is still processing you. And, it is affecting the people and the work that matter to you.

Can I be direct?

When you find yourself triggered into reactivity because someone pushed your buttons, pull back and do the inner work necessary to bring healing to whatever was behind it.

  • Resolve those unresolved conflicts.

  • Get reconciled with people you’ve hurt.

  • Grieve your ungrieved losses.

  • Utilize your prayer journal to do deep reflective work with God.

  • Get a counselor or a spiritual director.

  • Invite someone with experience to do healing prayer over you.

  • Replace the recording of those family of origin lies with the truth of who God says you are.

No matter how we cut it, all of us have been hurt. The question is whether you are ready to deal with those hurts that are preventing you from living as your best and truest self.

Your triggers will help you recognize where healing is needed and in so doing, point you on the pathway to live and lead with deeper joy in every situation.

Your thoughts? Does this resonate with you?


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