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Handling trigger points

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Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013 12:30 am

In our continuing study of anger management, we will examine trigger points, which is an event that causes a quick nearly automatic angry response. That’s our reptilian brain on the lookout. Triggers may cause us to lose touch with our “thinking brain.” But with cognitive behavior therapy, we can actually change the anger into something that will help us.

The overwhelming majority of triggers occur when the students felt they had been disrespected in some way. Since respect is a basic need, they reacted to defend or protect their need. However, if a person responds violently by threatening, causing bodily pain or even harassing, it is against the law unless they have been hit first.

A word to the wise: Bullies use trigger points to get you mad. They will continue to be disrespectful to you and maybe even fake a hit so that the victim hits back.

Stop the bullies before they become criminals. Most of them do, unless intervention occurs, and they learn appropriate ways to get their needs met.

Do you know what your trigger points are? What makes you angry automatically? Triggered thoughts fall into two categories:

1 — The belief that you’ve been harmed, ridiculed or victimized. Disrespect falls in this category.

2 — The belief that another person means to do you harm. Remember that it’s our perception about things that causes us to react. Friends come up to us and punch us in the arm sometimes and we laugh. But if it’s a menacing person who’s not my friend, I get angry.

Here are some common triggers:

• Someone falsely accuses your of something or tells a lie about you.

• Someone insults you or your loved ones.

• Someone looks at you from a group, turns back to the group and they all laugh.

• A teacher embarrasses you in class.

Every person, teen or adult, needs to know what sets them off, and have a plan of what they will do when it happens again before their reptilian-brain anger gets them to do something they don’t want to do.

Recognizing when you’re angry: Get to know what happens to your body specifically. We are all unique. One boy’s leg muscles would shake. Be your teacher. These are some anger signs we feel:

• The heart beats faster and harder.

• Breathing rate increases.

• People feel warmer and may even sweat.

• People frown.

• Their hands clench into fists.

• Muscles tense up.

If you’ve gotten to this point, it would be handy to have that plan in place for triggers, but if not, interrupt the trigger.

Calm yourself down. Again, this is unique for the individual, but some are universal: Stop! Breathe deeply and slowly! Buy yourself time if you can. Change any negative self-talk to positive, “I am smart and kind enough to ask for what I need respectfully.”

Get Clear: Anger gives you a lot of energy. It can help you think clearer initially, before you get crazy mad.

So think:

• What was the specific observable behavior that the person did that set you off? What did you hear, feel, see?

• What do you think that means? “You felt threatening to me.” You might be wrong.

• How do you feel about that behavior? Feeling words are emotional words, like angry, sad, jealous and confused.

• What do you need in this situation? Is it to feel safe, to feel good about the situation or to find a way that you and this person can resolve this issue and future issues?

• What will you ask the other person to do? Did you have a negative part in it? What will you do differently?

Explain your side, and make a request. The other person also does the same. Here’s a script pattern you can use when both sides are calmed down. You may need a third person as a witness:

• When you … , I think that means … , and I feel … .

• I need … from you now, and I’d like to agree upon a way to resolve future issues.

• I am willing to … .

Additionally, if necessary, say:

• I think that I was wrong to … , and I apologize.

By using our thoughts, we are able to use the higher brain to transform a trigger into a positive plan for future action. This would be more fun if you and a trusted friend each made a plan together, and gave each other feedback. Next week we’ll cover dealing with bullies.

• Email questions to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org.

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