When we’re Triggered: How to Stop Reacting Defensively.

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mind triggered thought

Every single moment you live—awake and aware inside your life—is another tiny (or huge) opportunity for healing, even your moments on Facebook.

I recently opened up a discussion about this topic in one of my favorite healing groups on Facebook. In a virtual room full of healers and people doing healing work, you’re bound to get a treasure chest of ideas, information, opinion and experience. It turned out as awesome as I had imagined, until I was triggered—big time.

Awareness opens the door for curiosity, perspective and shift—the very things you need to change your thoughts and your life.

Being a warrior inside my own life has meant looking at the things that trigger me, anger and frustrate me, wound me, hurt me and depress me. It doesn’t sound like fun, but I’m here to tell you it’s life-changing to choose this journey of healing. Every step brings me closer to my purpose, a true feeling of what I was born to do.

“Without awareness there is no choice.” ~ John F. Barnes

My teacher’s quote floats around my notebooks and my brain, constantly asking me to go deeper. Unless I’m willing to feel it all, even the really crappy stuff, I have no choice but to sit stuck with my old thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.

Just when I think I’m awake and really have it going on—ready to share my wisdom with others—life takes me to a new level of understanding. It’s not about the criticism I receive, it’s about how I respond to it. It’s all about me. But not really.

I sat at my computer, reading the comment from my colleague and allowing myself to feel three. My tiny, cowering, bad little girl showed up and I instantly recognized that even Facebook was testing my discipline that day. I had a choice to let the feeling of fear paralyze me, or use the awareness to do something more healthy. I chose the latter.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” ~ Anthony Robbins

I’m done with identifying with my past, the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that keep me stuck, without choices. I’m ready to feel free, even if it means I first work through the layers of shit that cause me to feel like I’ve been punched in the gut when someone criticizes me.

Instead of frantically typing out a defensive reaction I sat and read the comment several times. I felt into it. Both the energy it was written with and the energy I felt reading it. I noticed that much of this energy wasn’t mine. I’ve learned how to tell the difference by practicing being mindful of the sensations my body sends in the moment.

The ability to stay awake for these moments, especially the moments you aren’t particularly happy to be in, is crucial. It’s the key to growth, change and healing.

In the middle of your awareness inside of these moments is the choice. When you feel a moment inside of you, allow the feeling to be there, and take all the story out of it, it’s just another sensation. When you observe yourself like this, you give yourself the biggest gift. You can choose if and how you’ll respond that very moment.

I chose to apologize and let this person know how I felt. I was able to step into the power of my current day warrior woman and respond from my truth, my heart and my soul—which is the place you connect to every single time you wake up.

Imagine how our lives would feel if we did this all the time. I do. Every day. I make this my practice. This is what it means to be a warrior.

My amazing colleagues creating this tribe of warrior healers are struggling with how to teach their clients these keys to healing. They tell me about people who come to be fixed, those who have a difficult time with deeper conversations about awareness, and those who don’t know what it means or feels like to be in their body at all. They are building trust with their peopleand slowly educating them. They are trailblazers—walking down the path with their torch on a journey into their own bodies and souls, and helping their clients to be brave and start their journeys.

Those of us who have started the journey to passion and power through awareness are facing these challenges every moment, every day. It doesn’t matter if we’re dealing with our own painful struggles, treating a client for theirs, or engaging in a discussion online, it’s all about feeling. It sucks sometimes. And it’s the most rewarding, fulfilling, soul-nourishing tool that exists.

Here are Five Healthier Ways to Practice Awareness When You are Triggered:

1. Zip your lip. Don’t react right away. Don’t speak, or write a reply until you’ve had a chance to feel and reflect.

2. Step into the person’s shoes. We’re really all one. Use the interaction or feedback you get as a learning tool. Allow yourself to understand where the other person is coming from and that nobody has to be right for things to work out.

3. Notice the feelings. If you practice feeling what’s going on inside of you when you’re triggered you’ll usually notice that you’re creating a mental story to go along with the sensation. Separate the two and just bring the feeling into your heart.

4. Don’t take anything personally. It’s never about you. Ever. Realize that someone’s feedback or comment about you is coming from their own unique lenses they watch the world through. It’s just another way to look at things. It doesn’t have to be personal.

5. Respond from your heart not your head. If and when you respond in the instance where you’ve been triggered, make sure it’s only after you’ve done the first four steps, and that you’re responding from a heart-centered place. Why? It’s all about love baby. If we want it we must give it, no matter how someone is judging us.

The planet depends on the evolution of our awareness. Wake up—even when you’re hanging out on Facebook. It matters.


Relephant Reads:

Social Media & Soul: Finding the Balance.

How Breathing Correctly Can Change Our Lives.

How Our Hearts Think, Feel, & Communicate.





Mindful offering:

Buckwheat Cushion Meditation Pillow


Author: Laura Probert

Apprentice Editor: Jaimee Guenther / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Luca Hennig/Flickr

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Laura Probert

Laura Probert, MPT is a holistic physical therapist, author and awareness coach. She’s serious about integrating mind body and soul as a journey to passion and power, and she’ll show you how. She works to help you wake up, be brave, heal your shit and do what you love so you can share your message with the world. She’s a contributor for The Huffington Post, Wild Sister Magazine, MindBodyGreen, The Wellness Universe, Tiny Buddha, Black Belt Magazine and Elephant Journal. When she’s not writing you’ll find her with her kids, dogs or a horse or taste-testing dark chocolate. Find her Writing for Warrior Healing workshops and programs at LauraProbert.com and on Facebook.


45 Responses to “When we’re Triggered: How to Stop Reacting Defensively.”

  1. Brandon Brodie says:

    Beautiful message here. On my own path to peace I’ve noticed a very similar reaction system. While reading the steps they felt so familiar almost as if I were there as they were written, although this seems to be how I react to anything that is asking for my reaction and not just stressful triggers. This familiarity has led me to wonder whether or not thinking this way is a state of mind that healing people resonate at and not just a system which hurt people should learn. The idea that each of us, during a healing stage of our lives, came up with the same system of responding makes me think we’ve been to the same place or learned from the same teacher on another plane of existence. What do you think about people connecting like this and learning the same lessons?

  2. Ed Balls says:

    This really connected with me – SO many times I have read something hurtful toward me in comments on FB. It's made me just want to hurl an unopened tin of beans at that person's head! But then I take a deep breath, pause, slow down and realise – hey, I could just EAT these beans. Then the urge for that violent, emotional reaction just slips away. Plus, if they piss me off I can still hurl the empty tin of beans at them if I see them in the street.

  3. bodyworkspt says:

    You know what Brandon, I dwell in possibility and curiosity. So I say, why not? Thank you for your comment. It definitely makes one wonder about the amazing energy and connection.

  4. Lava says:

    Mindfulness, staying centered, responding from ones authentic self, all ways my DBT therapist referred to using the skills you shared. In my opinion distress tolerance is the most important skill to be proficient at when one is yet involved in unhealthy dynamics. These skills taught me to so very much, about myself and my soon to be ex husband.

    Thank you for sharing, it’s helpful to know I’m not alone in these struggles.

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am interested in the term Distress tolerance Lava. Tell me more!

      • Linda says:

        "Distress Tolerance" skills (a DBT module of skills) help you cope with crises when your emotions become overwhelming and you are unable to solve the problem, but where you need to persevere and live through the crisis without making it worse by impulsive actions. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is built around learning and cognitive theory as well as dialectical and Zen Buddhist philosophy, teaching people skills to enable them to cope and regulate overwhelming emotions & impulses, as well as to handle relationships in an effective and constructive way and to be in a state of Mindfulness. So Distress Tolerance skills in particular are temporary solutions that allow you to distract yourself and focusing your attention on what you are doing providing you mind and body with new impressions that will affect your emotions.

  5. Narayani says:

    Dear Laura – Thanks for this beautiful share. I am one of those trailblazers who help clients feel in their body and unwind stories with awareness to make choices that feel activated and liberating. AND, I too am triggered and feel deeply sometimes. Thank you for pointing this out, being vulnerable and authentic and letting us all know that no one is on top of it. Healing is a practice of returning to choice in the moment and with the tools you share of, we can learn how to wakeup to greater joy and ultimately peace within. Thank you. Om.

  6. MariaElena says:

    Thank you. I needed this today.

  7. Brilliant as always, Laura. I think the person in your group that triggered you misunderstood what you were saying because of her own lens and look what happened. You turned it into a gift. You are always an inspiration to me. Bravo!

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Thank you so much Andrea. I really believe that many things like that can be turned into gifts…whether we know it at the time, or it comes a little later…we just have to trust that it's all good.

      • kristen says:

        a very helpful and beautiful read. I just have a question on these steps. What if these comments by other people do actually hurt, and when you express that you get zero back. What happens when everytime your “Triggered” it is a personal blow at you. Me apologizing for someone hurting my feelings doesnt seem to help, it actually gets me no where as that backfires on me. I totally understand that its them and not me.. but words do hurt and they cut real deep when its from those who mean most to you

  8. Kelly says:

    This is amazing and beautiful. Thank you. <3

  9. Mark says:

    Where you are going I have always been. What you are doing I have always done, since I was developmentally old enough to discern the world. If we allow ourselves, I truly believe this is our natural state.

    Thank you for having the skill and intention to articulate this to A wider audience. The most purposeful "work" is done AT this level. There is no compassion without action.

  10. Jacob Goren says:

    An excellent article that reminded me of things I have seen before. I suggest that the author make a point of making sure that the folks at elephant journal read it. I had the audacity of posting a comment under a post on Facebook from elephant journal. While I enjoy the vast majority of posts there, I mentioned that this one was the worst one I had seen. I was blocked from liking or commenting upon any Facebook post of elephant journal after that. I messaged them and they never replied to me. Sometimes, New Age people need to practice what they preach.

    I hope that this does not get me blocked entirely from seeing the posts on Facebook from elephant journal.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Jacob—We only delete or block comments if they attack the author, are crude, have curse words or are blatantly offensive. If they contribute to mindful conversation (and, believe me, we're very lenient when it comes to this, leaving up at least 95% of comments on our social media pages). Messaging us on Facebook isn't a good way to get ahold of our editorial team, for future reference. Instead, try [email protected] :). ~ Caroline

  11. kat says:

    The ideas and intentions of your article are lovely, and, often, can be utilized well. However, there are some people who are truly mean spirited bullies, and really are personally attacking someone. This approach falls on deaf ears, and their hearts are usually completely blocked, as well, as they do not want to treat their target with any human-ness. It is not always the fault of the person under attack, either. There are people who really are only interested in belittling others and pushing buttons which they know hurt someone. When you can walk away from them and cut off communications, that is the best. If you have to work with them, or be exposed to them almost daily, that makes for a pretty miserable several hours.

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Kat you are so right. I think, through my practice of awareness, I can know easier when it's time to walk away from toxicity. It's really important. Thank you.

  12. Christina says:

    The timing of my finding this article is really remarkable, because my partner and I are healing, slowly, from a double-trigger response two days ago. We were both inadvertently upsetting the other, and when he addressed it, I could have breathed and said nothing, but, instead, I lurched into a sarcastic reply and his reply, though equally sarcastic, opened an old wound, and I'm still reeling. We were both wrong, and reading your five steps remind me of how to avoid this next time. I'm sorry I didn't have them sooner. I think I'll write them down and post them on the fridge, because they're so important in order to succeed in daily life! Thank you for sharing your story and for helping so many of us along the way. You are wonderful. Thank you.

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Thank you so much Christina. And you know what, even in hindsight, we can help ourselves. Awareness will help even after these things have happened. I have practiced it so many times with my husband…not every time getting it right at the moment (would have been nice) but sometimes having to go back and say – you know, I reacted and I'm sorry, and here is how I feel. I know I am still trying to get to the point where the trigger doesn't trigger me so badly! 🙂 Thanks very much for your comment.

  13. Sanjay Gupta says:

    The only area I would disagree is the "respond with your heart not your head" part. This is the exact opposite of how we should respond. Your heart is emotional and your head logical. Cold hard logic wins over emotional responses almost every time in these instances. You can feel passionately about a subject but your response should be filtered through the logic filter of your mind.

    • I think you missed the whole point of the article if you are left feeling like you should react with logic. The article is talking about healing, not being right. It's a new paradigm for healing that uses your innate intelligence~awareness~ and what you are ~feeling~to heal old wounds and patterns of reacting. Using cold hard logic is what the culture has taught us and how we have learned to react defensively rather than using the guidance of our emotions. (our innate intelligence) Try it first, before you dismiss it. Listen to your heart. It might have something important to tell you.

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Thanks for your comment Sanjay. I believe we need both the feeling and the thinking parts of ourselves to help us. So maybe rather than using the terms heart and head, referring to body parts, I like to think of it as using awareness in general, of our thoughts (logical, rational etc..) and our feelings/emotions – and allowing all of it to be there, in an attempt to integrate the parts into some form of whole.

  14. Raoul says:

    "respond from your heart not your head".
    Sorry but that's a ridiculous statement.
    Any reaction we have comes from our head.
    The heart pumps blood to the rest of our body, it doesn't have anything to do with cognitive thought.
    It's fine to try and give constructive advice but try not using nonsense terms. It diminishes your intent.

  15. Nice article, thank you. Though I must say that when you are triggered it is actually all about you. Being triggered is an opportunity for growth. Disconnecting from that gift brings a reduction in consciousness, not an expansion. The popular urge to constantly feel better about everything that happens to us is understandable, but that is not the same thing as growth.

    • bodyworkspt says:

      Yes, Richard, thanks for that. I agree about "the popular urge to constantly feel better." Each trigger is an opportunity for sure. Feeling through them (whether it's the "bad" feelings or "good" feelings) is important. I find it difficult to define expansion…except to say that I think I feel it as a freer, lighter sensation. I am naturally drawn to wanting to feel more of that. Tell me more about how you understand or feel growth or expansion…

  16. Deborah Bountiful says:

    EXCELLENT! The best I've read in a long time.

  17. Brian Wall says:

    I am a simple man, trying to better myself each and every day. I consider reading this article a gift. Thank you. I have often generally been unable to take the time between feeling ( or being triggered ) and reacting. I like the “zip the lip” step. I will be training myself now to fo this. I am so excited to see the results of following through on your advice given. I have in the last few years been able to not take it so personally. My work environment is so toxic and I used to feel personally attacked by management until it was pointed out that they treated everyone the same way eventually. Your article is well presented and I see a different me in the near future because of reading it. Thank you so much for taking the time to help out. I hope you feel as wonderful as you are for helping so many. Big ((((((( HUG )))))))

  18. Chris nettketon says:

    Must say, I don’t understand how u felt the energy that was put into the comment that set u off, I’ve struggled with this myself. Social media is, to me, a void of life energy. To feel someone’s energy in a comment, in my opinion, is to adapt or assume ur own energy or into the comment especially if it really bothers u or if it really resonates with u. If u have a method for avoiding this would love to hear it. Your thoughts r very insightful just didn’t understand that…

  19. Noah says:

    I saw your post floating on my timeline as i scrolled through. The tittle caught my attention and clicked, what was there to lose anyway, right? But whoa! The very struggles I’m going through right now! I’m holding a bottle drinking my sorrows away as I type this on one hand. So eye opening.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  20. MINERVA MALONE says:


  21. Kate O'Brien says:

    The term you should be using here is not “triggered.” “Triggered” should refer to when a person has a PTSD flashback. What you and your readers are discussing here is clearly not the recurrence of intense intense emotional and physical reactions, such as raised heart rate, sweating and muscle tension.

    For those of us who *do* have PTSD, it is actively harmful to us when people who don’t have PTSD use the term “triggered” to describe situations to which that term does not accurately apply.

    There is a backlash in our culture against the use of trigger warnings, the discussion of triggers, even the idea of being triggered itself and much of that can be attributed to the indiscriminate use of what should be mental illness specific terms to describe what really is having one’s feelings hurt. There is nothing wrong with having one’s feelings hurt! But there *is* something wrong with appropriating the terminology of an actual, very serious, very unpleasant mental illness–one which many of us would give anything not to have–to…I don’t know? Make people take you more seriously?

    So, please, I’d like to respectfully ask you and your community to not use the term “triggered” unless it refers to an actual incident of PTSD triggering.

    Thank you.

  22. sabretruthtiger says:

    Actually respond from your head, your heart is emotion and will lead to a rant based on how you feel.

    Too many people, especially the social justice warriors have a warped view of reality, a touchy feely world where everyone is equal in all aspects and there are no differences, the state is our parent and should give everything to us for free.
    Thus when the harsh realities that competition and conquest are an inherent part of the universe and that letting a group control you unchecked only leads to more control and eventually tyranny SJWs react defensively and emotionally, as religious adherents of the liberal religious worldview.
    They lack the ability to think critically and will automatically believe anything the mainstream media or government tell them if it supports the liberal/Marxist narrative.
    For instance anyone that's looked into Significant Anthropogenic Global Warming knows it's a scam and that all the evidence supports the skeptics but no matter what facts, science and evidence you present, they will absolutely refuse to consider it.
    This is why the liberal religion is so dangerous, it was engineered by the central banking oligarchy as a means of Marxist social engineering to divide and weaken society and has been marketed by them as a trendy 'intellectual', 'progressive' ideology. Thus even highly intelligent people fail to think critically on a number of issues because their primary concern is 'fitting in' with the liberal herd.

  23. Klaus says:

    Thanks for your insights and for sharing it. Very truthful and very workable advice.

    May you have a joyful journey and may all the rocks in your way turn out to be blessings.

    Love and peace

  24. Joe says:

    Not a bad piece, but some real ego coming through. Amazing how vigilant we must be ALL the time, and how it can 'sneak in the back door' so to speak, and that one so mindful can still be totally oblivious to it.

    Thank you for most of your words, writer.

  25. Nadine says:

    I love these tips – although it is so difficult to do when I am triggered, it almost feels like I am being “fake” when I don’t react immediately but I realise that is just my default way to react. Following your steps is like reprogramming and it’s tough!!! I haven’t mastered totally yet but will bookmark this page lol . Lovely piece x

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