Triggers!! Through the lens of the Enneagram and System Thinking...
Triggers (with an Enneagram perspective) and how to de-trigger a secret self to be in control of your actions and avoid embarrassment...
TRIGGERS!! We all have been at the mercy of a trigger at some point in life. Something happens, you see white/black/disco-colors and next thing you know you did something or thought something or did absolutely nothing (when you should have done something).
Triggers are often part and parcel of all those moments of life that we won’t classify as our proudest. The brain is designed to remember frightening or dangerous events so that we can avoid them in future. This is a pretty awesome strategy to avoid situations which could historically kill you. These events leave a very distinct memory (sometime unconscious!). For example, it would be well worth your while to remember about the time when the strange dog that you reached for almost bit your hand off. You may have only been a young child when this happened, but you immediately stored the memory for future reference – dogs that do not know you may bite you! When you find yourself in a similar situation, a process occurs and we act as if we are again experiencing the initial event. The version of you who comes to the fore is the version who experienced that very first event! In some instances you could literally let loose an angry toddler in the toy store! Or in the example with the strange dog above, a frightened 3 year old.
Different people have different triggers and the trigger will often once it occurs release an emotional reaction (or passion) within you placing you in a state where you act almost instinctively. Behavior can include anything from acting totally inappropriately (overreacting) to complete paralysis or anything in between. How you would know that you are triggered would basically lie in the fact that your behavior, feelings or thoughts in the moment would be not in align with the situation or with how you wanted to be in that moment. Depending on the severity of the trigger, your resultant reaction could be very mild (perhaps a slight annoyance) to very severe (fullblown rage for example). Depending on your Enneagram type, certain evens may especially trigger you. If you are a Strict Perfectionist (Ennea 1), you may be triggered if people change their plans that involve you, without discussion or if they don’t show up on time. A Loyal Sceptist (Ennea 6) may similarly be trigger by external pressures or people who they perceive lacking in genuineness or commitment. A trigger for an Ennea 8 (definitely for this one!) could be Injustice. I remember many instances where I immediately felt triggered when someone was unnecessarily rude to a waiter in a restaurant, or the receptionist at my office. These are example of triggers which elicit a milder response from me (more controlled) – in that I could immediately correct the injustice by addressing the person whom I perceived to be out of order.
My own big trigger however, is definitely a lack of control. And I also definitely had a few less-than-okay reactions as a result thereof, before I figured it out (with some assistance of course).So, if triggers can embarrass us, make us act in ways we do not intend to, why have them in the first place?
The key lies in trying to understand how this specific trigger is trying to be helpful. As indicated before, triggers are often as a result of a previous incident that could cause harm, injury perhaps even death. As such it is trying to warn the current self of an impeding danger which a previous version of self managed to avoid! As the self who experienced this harm was probably a less-matured or less-skilled version of you, the reaction in the moment may not be appropriate when judged by your adult self.
So how do we deal with this?It is very possible to process a trigger (identify a secret-self), gain appropriate awareness (figure out how it is trying to help you!) and then redesign your behavior (retiring the toddler and taking the function over as your adult self). In order to do this, you need to go through a process where you stand in relationship with the version of you who experienced the first incident. From there you can then deal with the incident as your current more mature self. If this process is completed successfully, the next time you are exposed to the event which previously triggered you, your reaction will no longer be your triggered response, but your redesigned approach. This could hopefully mean less embarrassment and more appropriate actions! If you often feel triggered, and as if you cannot control your actions, it may be worth your while to explore this in a bit more detail.
A system’s coach can assist you to identify your secret self and also with a process of de-triggering.(The above article is based on my interpretation of content taught as part of the Organisational Relationship Systems Coaching Curriculum, the Integrative Enneagram as well as my own observations derived from my coaching practise).