Handling the trigger

Be aware of the trigger

In a trigger situation, one of the hardest things to do is recognise the trigger and not react to it. Our instinct to react is strong and often emotional. It can be difficult not to react.

A first sign is that you feel changes in our body, tightness in the muscles, sensations in the stomach, racing heartrate, your mind being flooded with thoughts that want to make you defend yourself, becoming angry (fight), being startled and stuck dumb (freeze) or the desire to get out of the situation (flight).

Respond rather than react

Knowing what you will do in a trigger situation helps to stop the reaction and replaces it with a response. This response needs to become almost automatic. Responses could be;

  • Give yourself some time - the advice of counting to 10 is old, but it works
  • Focus on the feelings of the other person and acknowledge them
  • Be curious - ask for more information, find out what has happened, get the other person's perspective


One of the best responses is to simply listen. Hear what the other person has to say. Ask for further detail. Adopt a sense of curiosity to get an understanding of how the other person sees the situation. What is their perspective?

Just listening can be difficult, especially doing it without judging or being prompted to defend yourself. If the other person is upset, listening is the best response you can make.    

Adopt a long term perspective

In the heat of the moment, the issue can seem very important. But, if we take a long term perspective, looking back 10 years and projecting forward into the rest of our lives, we come to realise that very few issues are really that important. What are the things that have really made a difference to your life. In comparison to these things most of the things that trigger us are of little consequence.

Postpone the start of the dialogue process

If the issue that has caused the trigger situation is something that is important and will continue to be a source of conflict, then it is best to recognise it and use it as the start of the restorative dialogue process, which starts with the Preparation stage. Now is not the time try to tackle the conflict. Now is the time to say that the issue is important to you and that you need to give it the time and attention that it deserves. Let the other person know when and how you will contact them. This gives you time to consider the situation and the best way to approach it.

Introduction | Handling the trigger | 1. Preparation | 2. Dialogue | 3. Finding solutions | 4. Follow up

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