Have you ever yelled at an employee because they made a mistake that cost your company dollars (or even a customer)? Or have you picked a fight with your spouse because he didn’t stand up for you when someone criticized you in public?
I’m sure everyone reading this can relate to these situations or something similar. However, many people don’t take the next step and really try to uncover why they’re so upset. On the surface, it seems pretty self-explanatory: you’re mad because your employee messed up and you’re upset because your spouse didn’t have your back.
But is that really why you’re so upset?
Usually, when we’re triggered by others, it’s a sign that we’re angry or hurt - not necessarily by what they did - but by what it says about us.
What do I mean by that? Take the spouse example. Are you really upset that he didn’t back you up, or did that bring up an internal issue and remind you of a time when you could have stood up for someone else, but didn’t? Or maybe something even deeper – an internal fear that maybe you don’t deserve defending? How about the employee? Are you really angry because the employee made a mistake that cost the company, or about how that mistake reflects on you as the manager or owner of the company? Maybe even your self-assessed effectiveness in your job?
Commonly called ‘projection’, we’re often triggered by others when they display behavior that we don’t really want to look at in ourselves.
Do you get defensive when someone gives you negative feedback, just to turn around and then bristle when a co-worker or friend displays defensive behavior? If you’re worried deep down that you aren’t as good of a friend as you’d like to be, you may be overly sensitive to situations where one of your besties ditches plans with you or forgets your birthday.
And here’s something else: we’re most likely to project on those who are closest to us. Our close relationships often act as mirrors and can help us see ourselves more clearly if we simply know what to look for. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what to look for, so they continually get triggered without ever really knowing why.
What to do about it?
So what can you do in situations like this? The first step is to simply be aware. When you have an especially strong reaction to something, stop and think, “Why is this affecting me so deeply? What part of myself is this person’s actions or attitude reflecting to me that I don’t like?”
By simply taking a moment to ask yourself these questions, you’re light years ahead of those who are unaware of what’s going on.
The second step is to decide if you want to do anything about that part of yourself that’s being revealed to you. When we get triggered by others we are offered a wonderful opportunity to grow ourselves. If that person’s defensiveness is irritating you, think about when you are the defensive one, what’s going on, what part of you is feeling threatened, and how you would like to react differently in the future.
Remember that whatever we judge as good or bad is only good or bad because we say so. When we use upsetting events as an opportunity to take a look at ourselves, it becomes a potentially great teacher for us - revealing the beliefs and stories we’ve been holding onto as true. This is an excellent step towards personal growth for those willing to take a closer look at it and what it’s trying to tell them.
Trish Cody is an Executive Awareness Coach and Speaker who focuses on optimizing results for business leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with senior level leaders and business owners to raise their levels of self-awareness, and create more trust, loyalty and success in their businesses and teams. Contact Trish at firstname.lastname@example.org.