When a client is triggered, it can often set off a cycle of reactivity that makes them feel anxious, angry, or out of control.
But how do we help a client who might not even realize they’re being triggered in the first place?
In the video below, Zindel Segal, PhD, shares a two-step approach for helping clients identify their triggers so they can regain control of their response.
Check it out – it’s about 5 minutes.
Dr. Segal: The first thing I think you really need to figure out is, does this person see themselves as getting triggered in a disproportionate way? Or do they see they’re being triggered as a reasonable defensive maneuver on their part to respond to an aggression or something that’s being done to them, someone taking advantage, or standing up for themselves? In this case, the triggering isn’t seen as an aberration, it’s actually seen as, “No, I’m actually looking after myself, I’m standing up for myself.” Then that whole meaning of “trigger”, which can be seen as pejorative if the person doesn’t have buy-in that, “It’s costing me a lot, I’m arriving at work just emotionally drained because all of these incidents are happening on my way to work and my commute.” So does the person see it as something that is something they want to work on and change? That would be the first step. I think the second step, then, involves helping them to develop the mindfulness, curiosity, and kindness skills, because that becomes the container in which these things are going to be investigated. They’re not going to be talked through in terms of a logical pro and con approach. I think they need to be investigated because, often, what we consider to be triggers may be lost in a flurry of the reaction that happens so quickly, the person is not even aware of what comes first and what comes next. So you’re trying to slow down that process, slow down and observe. So the invitation is to get the person to initially just provide more detail about these things, rather than change these things.
In the provision of detail, it’s very similar to what you’re doing with the thought record as well. You’re getting people to write down the events, “Tell me what happened,” and then you’re getting people inside the event to talk about, “Well what were you aware of in your body? Did you notice that you were gripping the steering wheel more strongly, did you notice that you had a surge of blood flow and your temples were throbbing because there was a lot of blood rushing to your head? What emotions were present, what thoughts were going through your mind?” Interestingly, as a therapist, you’re not saying, “You’ve really got to change this, you got to stop this and cut this down.” So, the triggering initially becomes something that is investigated, and the mindfulness skills really allow people to do this because what they’re doing during their home practice is really very continuous with what you’re asking them to do here. Then, once you have that, then you can start to move inside and look at which particular ideas or thoughts people are able to recognize that precede the reaction that they’re having. But the point of looking at triggers isn’t to necessarily get rid of them, it’s to provide the person with the prospect that there can be more elements of choice available to them than is the case with this reactivity. The other thing that I would add is that the concept of automaticity is very important here because the whole constellation of triggers is something that is automatically packaged and automatically elicited. People may not recognize that automaticity plays a very large role here. Automatic can service in some places but automatic can also become a problem if it starts to drive too much of our emotional lives because then, we’re not really choosing, but we’re just being triggered or we’re just being led to a reaction that is already there waiting to happen. So, what that does is it cuts down our ability to choose.
Dr. Buczynski: As Zindel said, when we’re working with clients’ emotional triggers, it’s important to help them realize that they can take control of how they respond. But right now, I’d like to hear from you; how will you use what you’ve just heard with your clients today? Please leave a comment below, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
How have you worked with a client who struggled with identifying and managing their emotional triggers?
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