Notice your reactive triggers

Notice and become aware if you are triggered and reactive.  It is important to know which part of your brain is doing the processing. We can only be in one part of our brain at a time. Take great care to notice which part of your brain is firing up.

Reptilian brain 

  • Informs us about threats, both physical and emotional (amygdala)
  • Protects us – designed to take over and shuts down the prefrontal cortex at times of threat – social, physical or psycho-social. Your body acts as if there is a `predator’, and will survive to keep you alive.

Limbic brain

  • Creates understanding by storing memories, what feels good or bad.
  • Decides who is friend or foe,
  • Works out where we belong or fit,
  • Is concerned with emotion and relationships

 The prefrontal cortex

  • Reflects on the past,  make meaning from the past
  • Analyses the present and
  • Imagines and plans the future

Pattern Matching

The brain bundles all our experiences in life together and files then so that next time a similar thing happens the brain makes a ‘pattern’ or ‘script’.  The brain is good at making patterns. Our different experiences lead to develop different patterns with others and we develop different life scripts, beliefs, values, and different ideas of what is right and wrong.

Based on the patterns our brain has made we make assumptions, evaluations, generalisations, diagnosis and we have expectations of others.

For instance if someone does not do what they said they would do we tend to

AssumeThey are overcommitted and take on too much

EvaluateThey are lazy or unreliable

GeneraliseThey never deliver on promises

InterpretationThey didn’t do it because they are not interested in my work

ExpectationsYou should do what you say you are going to do


We interpret situations and our experiences through our own filters which leads to blind spots, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, offenses and hurts.

What do you do if you are triggered

Engage the neo cortex.  A bridging response defuses issues, sets you up for a conversation rather than an argument and buys time. It helps you to defuse reactive emotions, calm and steady yourself.

  • Note your first physical stress response in your body – this is most likely the effects of adrenaline and anxiety neurotransmitter like cortisol
  • Say to yourself:  `I am triggered’ and mentally picture yourself overriding your reactive response.
  • Extend your outbreath while relaxing your jaw, neck and shoulders
  • Reflect on your values, what you believe in, and what your purpose is e.g. what kind of relationship do I want  with this person now and in the future, what am I hoping to achieve in this conversation
  • Remember impact is not the same as intentions. Think about their greater intentions (rather than just the impact on you).

Enquire (before you fire)

Be curious about what happened by asking for details.  This is to convey you really want to understand their point of view. Ask open engaging questions.  Seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Take the focus away from yourself by adopting attitude of non-defensive curiosity about the other person’s perspective. This allows you to clarify confusing information and get more information so you can find areas where you can agree.

Empathise   Put yourself in their shoes, see the situation from their viewpoint, and tune into their emotions.  It doesn’t mean you agree or have to drop your own position.  Even if you disagree, empathy helps you to genuinely `get’ them. This signals to them that they’re being understood, which is necessary if you want to genuinely process the difference between you.


Allows you to summarise their needs, or their point of view from their perspective. It doesn’t mean you agree.  The other person’s perception is always true for them even if you see it differently.

Acknowledgements: Jane O’Shea