5 Ways To Stop Reacting Defensively When Triggered

When we are triggered, we become defensive.

Without even realizing it, we allow our insecurities and fears to dictate how we behave. This means that sometimes, a certain word or sentence can trigger us and make us act in ways we cannot justify. In other words, while we may know that someone has angered or hurt us, we cannot explain exactly why they have affected us so deeply. What is worse, instead of pausing and reflecting on what has triggered our defensiveness, we lash out. This means that we become aggressive and blame the people around us when, in reality, they might have done nothing wrong. For example, if you feel insecure about your work, you might become defensive when someone gives you work-related advice. Subsequently, you might lash out at them for telling you how you could improve, instead of thanking them for their help.

Your defensiveness can harm your relationships.

When we act defensively, we are trying to protect ourselves. However, we fail to understand that the other person might not be trying to hurt us. While it may seem as though they are trying to hurt you, they have most likely accidentally triggered a fear, insecurity, or past trauma. Naturally, when we feel afraid or threatened, we react. Unfortunately, when you lash out at someone, they too will become defensive. Not surprisingly, this has the power to harm your friendships and relationships. To ensure that you do not lose the people who are dear to you, you need to learn how to control the way you respond to your triggers.

There are 5 ways to stop reacting defensively.

1. Pause before reacting 

When you feel yourself getting angry, stop and ask yourself why. Take a few seconds to think before responding and try to review what just happened. Why are you offended? What did the person say? Did they intend to hurt you? Are you actually angry at them or did they conjure up negative thoughts and emotions?

2. Learn to respond

There is a difference between responding and reacting. When we react, we allow our emotions to dictate what we say or do. When we respond, we take the time to understand what was said, what was meant, and what we must say in response.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

Although this is more easily said than done, try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Look at the situation from their perspective and ask yourself whether what they said or did was intended to offend you. You might find that they did not, in fact, intend to hurt you.

4. Exercise patience

Understand that everyone is fighting their own battles. Even if someone has said something offensive, ask yourself whether it truly warrants such a strong reaction. We all have bad days — sometimes, it is better to let things go.

5. Look within yourself

The next time you notice yourself “overreacting”, ask yourself why you feel so strongly about what has happened. It is only when you look within yourself that you will be able to identify the things that trigger you. This will not be easy and it will take time. What is more, it will reveal things that might make you feel uneasy. First, ask yourself exactly what triggered your reaction. What words or actions affected you? Then, dig deeper to understand what you felt before/when you reacted. Did you feel angry? Upset? Threatened? Afraid? Guilty? When you find out what emotions fueled your reaction, you will be able to work on finding out where they originated. Ultimately, through close examination and introspection, you will be able to understand what triggers you.

Identifying your triggers will allow you to learn new ways of managing your emotions and controlling your reactions. It must be noted that, sometimes, it is difficult to look within on your own. Therefore, you might consider speaking to a mental health professional who will make it easier for you to understand your thoughts and feelings.

When we are at peace with ourselves, we make way for better communication and healthier relationships.

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