“It’s All A Blur. I Got Triggered Again and Lost My Cool!”
“I didn’t make a mistake!! You aren’t listening to me, Joe!”, Pat remembers yelling at his boss. All he could think about at the time was how all his coworkers should be listening to him more. If they only gave him a real chance, he could have the project finished tomorrow! Every time, it’s like tunnel vision and all becomes a blur; until later when he sees his boss looking upset and giving him the cold shoulder.
“And when Jennifer nags me about housework, I can’t help myself, I just lose it”, he thinks running it all through his mind again. “I literally blank out, can’t focus and feel totally ‘stupid’. All I can hear is my heart beating way too fast. Jennifer’s a great wife, so sweet, but at times I can’t seem to help myself from getting mad and storming out”. More and more, Pat said he was feeling isolated from everyone. Once again Pat realized it was a myth that it’s healthy to vent anger without limits. “All it causes me is pain and the suffering of slowly building trust back up with people in my life. If they let me”.
These were some of the complaints Pat related to me when we first met and he explained that he was sick and tired of losing his temper.
“That’s the thing about anger”, he said, “it’s a shifty thing. It feels so right at the time and so wrong 3 hours later. And, it feels really bad a day later when the boss calls you into his office with a warning to cool it or there might be consequences”.
Pat was frustrated, because he wanted to keep calm, but it just wasn’t happening. He was afraid he was going to get fired, just 2 months away from retiring. Working with Pat as a Psychotherapist or Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I suggested that he experiment with some tools and exercises that many people find helpful. “If left alone, our bodies, and also our feelings naturally calm down and we usually feel less intense in a short amount of time” I said.
“How can I slow it all down, though, and stop getting so defensive without even listening to what the other guy is saying?”, Pat asked.
4-Step Process of Self-Control
“What if we develop a 4-step process that you can practice ahead of time and it short-circuits the habit of getting all upset?”, I offered. With some resistance and numerous reports of heated fights with Jennifer, Pat slowly began to talk about what caused him stress and the “trigger thoughts” associated with the stress. His thoughts were really fueling his anger. Now when he gets upset and wants to scream and storm away from an argument, he uses the “4 Ps Process of Self-Control”. He can return to this “Chill Tool” whenever he needs to. In this process, he has decided to 1) Pause, take 3 breaths and repeat a codeword he created to identify when he is upset, 2) Perceive what he is feeling, thinking, sensing and doing, 3) look at the People around him and see what is going on with them, and 4) Plan what he is going to do or say before he says or does anything. It has taken a lot of self-restraint, but slowly he is beginning to notice more what is going on around him when he gets flooded with what he calls, “that big anger feeling”. When he just follows the process, it all goes smoother. He’s started to realize that when difficult things happen, he’s revving himself up with negative, “trigger thoughts” like blaming himself or others when there’s really no need to. We all make mistakes and it’s only human to mess up sometimes. When he thinks more kindly and accepting of himself and others, instead of expecting perfection, he feels a lot better!
There are sometimes good reasons for looking into the origins of our emotional triggers, because they can be related to traumatic events of the past or learned behaviors from observing role-models, such as parents. Exploration of these influences can be relevant and helpful in addition to practical tools that can be used in present situations.
“When we get “triggered”, if we don’t ‘react’ too intensely or too pessimistically right away, but instead pause long enough to begin to think again and ‘respond’ with more clear, well-thought-out ideas, we can slow things down. There is nothing wrong with anger (and sometimes it is justified), but often we begin to see that we are more frustrated, or disappointed, or tired and might be blaming someone else for something we have a role in. We can then identify what we really want and communicate it better” I suggested.
It had been a struggle for Pat, but after he read that anger causes health problems like high blood pressure, hypertension, heart attacks and digestive problems such as ulcers and colitis, he made a commitment to himself that he would be more mellow and chill-out before getting upset and angry.
Pat has made progress with calming himself down when he gets tempted to lose his cool and has learned to express what he wants in an effective and harmonious way. Now, when Jennifer complains, he first listens and then asks her what she wants specifically from him. On the other hand, he is also standing up for himself in a firm, but kind way. He is practicing all this and it is improving his relationships! He is happy he has taken the time and effort to understand more about getting emotionally triggered and what he can do about it. “The rewards have been worth it”, he said the last time we met.
© 2019 Sharon Sanborn
Request the FREE downloadable “Chill Tool”, entitled “4 Ps Process of Self-Control” at
It is one of many “Tools” explored in the “Stop Getting Triggered or Defensive: Chill Tools for Self-Control” course. You can sign up for my free Thinkific account, see the curriculum and Sneak Previews and register for “My Success Courses” at https://my-success-courses.thinkific.com
More information about the author, Sharon Sanborn, a Psychotherapist, Life and Relationship Coach and On-Line Educator living in Seattle, Washington at www.SharonSanborn.com