Wendy's Blog


How to Change Your Response Before You Open Your Mouth

by Wendy Keller

Especially when we’re dealing with the fallout of trauma, extreme stress or suffering, it’s easy for other people to trigger our issues.  Sometimes, they pick off the scab of an old wound. Sometimes, they are just innocent wanderers who tripped a wire in our heads or hearts.  Now we have super-charged feelings that FAR out-respond to what’s really going on.  The easiest thing to do is react – or over-react. We’ve all done it and paid the price. Whether your first instinct is to react with anger or tears or something in between, these strategies work.

How we handle these triggers determines our peace of mind

Here are some great ways to handle it when someone gets you upset:

1. Give yourself time to react…before you react.  Take a minute off from the situation; sleep on it overnight if you can.  Walk out of the room, change your focus, take some deep breaths, chill out, go outside, do some exercise.  Why does this work?  Because taking your focus off the trigger gives you a broader perspective. It’s not so much about WHAT you do after the trigger happens, it’s about changing your focus temporarily.

2.Try out different approaches in your head. This is SO helpful! Think it through like this:  If I respond by saying or doing this, will it escalate the problem or diffuse it?  Ask yourself, “If I say this, how is she likely to respond? And then what will happen? And then what will happen after that?”  If you carry through with the thing you’d like to do or say to the further stretches of your imagination, is that really the result you want to achieve?  (People who get caught up in revenge often can’t predict the outcome of their behavior long term because they skipped this step!)

3.Determine your objective. If your preference is for greater serenity and peace of mind for yourself, what can you do to diffuse the situation?  For instance, if your partner infuriates you, is your goal to have a more harmonious relationship? If so, ask yourself what response you could try out that will get you closer to your goal.  If every time you see a blond four year old boy who looks like your son did before he died (one of my own triggers for many years) ask yourself if falling apart right now will bring anyone back from the dead or if it will impede your progress through the day.  (Please note: I am not saying it is wrong to grieve!  I’m just suggesting that you allow some logic to slip in when possible.)

4. Respond respectfully. MAYBE NOT TO THE OTHER PERSON, but to yourself.  Of course you’re too emotionally mature to call someone bad names like a tongue-twisted first grader.  I DO mean though that you should respond in a calm way that evidences that you’ve thought it through and that you respect yourself first.  You can use the “Feel, Felt, Found” method I’ve described below.

I feel really hurt when you tell me I am not recovering fast enough from what happened.  I’ve felt pushed when you’ve said “Get over it already!” before.  I’ve found that not just for myself but all people process loss and pain at their own pace, and those who want to be supportive make allowances for that.”

OR  “I feel accused when you yell at me for not doing something the way you wanted it done.  I’ve felt bad before when other people have yelled at me. I’ve found that I respond best when someone calmly explains what they see as a problem, so that we can work together to find a solution.”

OR talking to yourself, “When I see a little boy that looks like my dead son, I feel reminded of the fact that child is alive and mine is dead.  I’ve felt myself fall apart before and every time it’s happened, it has cost me hours trying to get my heart put back together.  I’ve found that by allowing myself to feel this awful pain for a few minutes, it subsides and I can go on.”

5. Allow for mistakes.  Yours and others’.  People get in bad moods and say mean things.  People remind us of experiences and events we’d like to forget.  An emotionally mature person tries to temper their response in the event of a trigger so they don’t say or do anything they might regret later. It’s called “Impulse Control” by psychiatrists.  But the cherry on the sundae of emotionally maturity is having the guts to apologize when you react or over-react.  “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward making amends. 


You have the power to interrupt your “instant” reaction when you are triggered by an event, a comment, something you see or something else.  Recognize that you are extra-sensitive when you are going through a difficult time in your life and follow the 5 steps above.  Soon, you’ll find your relationships – and your heart – are getting stronger.


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  1. Hello Wendy
    This article was exactly what i need to read right now, so just wanted to thank you for that. I am in my first job straight out of university and I am finding it very hard at times because I still feel like I really don’t know anything. I am feeling a lot of pressure at work, but the problem is that most of this pressure is self inflicted. People don’t expect me to know how everything works just yet, they want me to ask questions. But I have this crazy idea that I should already know everything and when i feel lost and confused it makes me very anxious. Hopefully I can put some of the things you have suggested into practise before I have a meltdown and start crying. Anyway I am rambling.. but i just wanted to say thank you 🙂

    • Rachel, there isn’t a working person on the planet who can’t relate to what you wrote! You’re right where you’re supposed to be. When we are unsure of what we know, we’re in a place that is highly receptive to learning. Good for you! It will all work out just fine. Keep up the good work.


  2. Rachel…
    That is a very normal feeling. Even after 20 years in the business world, whenever I start something new… I feel the same way. Like I SHOULD know everything, but that’s impossible. Every company has their own way of doing things and you have to learn their systems and ways of doing things. Ask questions!! Ask… ask… ask. That’s how you learn. And about 3- 6 months (different for everyone) it suddenly just CLICKS. And you get it. And it becomes… second nature.

    But.. I always tell my new bosses and new co-workers, “I may ask a million questions at first. But I guarantee… you will be coming to me asking me qustions in 6 months!” Shows confidence. And usually true! 🙂 Good luck and go easy on yourself. You’ll save yourself a lot of hair color and possibly a stroke! 🙂

  3. Geeze, I should have read this earlier today! I completely flipped out at someone who kind of deserved it, but it wasn’t helpful or the way I want to behave. I’ve apologized so now I guess I just need to leave it to the other person to accept that or not. I so rarely do lose it; I suppose I need to focus on that and not this one instance where I just went for the jugular. I’m just so worn out right now. 🙁

    • Rebecca,

      Do you think you over-reacted because you’re “so worn out” right now? That’s when I’m the least conscious of my thoughts and actions. That silly old thing about exercise and getting enough sleep…blah blah blah….seems to make a difference, at least for me.

      Wishing you love, joy and peace,

  4. Wendy,

    Thanks for this. I’m currently struggling with making amends with someone in a case where we probably each hurt the other’s feelings. The person has totally become a trigger for me, and will be there when I return to work from medical LOA (for depression). This has been very helpful!


  5. Hi Wendy,

    In your last Feel Felt Found example, you differentiate between falling apart and feeling the pain. Can you elaborate on the difference and/or point me towards materials that can help me to truly feel?

    I was recently triggered by someone who accused me of not feeling my feelings and I found it deeply hurtful. In the past I’ve certainly done a lot of the falling apart and piecing myself back together that you described; if that isn’t feeling my emotions, then what is?!!

    I agree that falling apart is not a particularly helpful strategy, so now when negative emotions come up, I do my best to shift my thoughts to a more productive mindset. But perhaps that means I’m not feeling my emotions? I’m confused. Any help you can give me on how to release emotions in the moment will be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks for sharing your experiences and your work with the world. You are hugely helpful and a blessing.



    • Hi Barbara,

      Great question! Thanks for asking. I believe that “feeling the feelings” is allowing yourself to notice how your body and “insides” are reacting to external events, thoughts, etc. For example, someone says something cruel but they do it with a smile on their face, and in front of other people. (Adult bullying!) If you feel the feeling, on the inside the sensation might be as if you were just hit with an arrow or a bullet – a sense of being attacked.

      If you deny that it hurt, or try to logic yourself out of it, and the person continues in their behavior, you might find you build up resistance in yourself – a wall, a Kevlar vest, to “protect” yourself from something that could perhaps be solved by communicating clearly with your persecutor. Recognizing that you are not a helpless, choice-less victim would mean confronting the adult bully, using the feel felt found technique respectfully point out the problem; and then having the self-respect to get out if the situation doesn’t change.

      Some people, families and cultures do not show emotion on the outside. They may express their emotions only in private, or when they are alone. Are you that kind of person? No one said you have to wear your heart on your sleeve! But you DO have to process the emotions somehow – which means noticing and reflecting (later or at the time) on the things that cause a disturbance inside you. Pay close attention to your responses to the world and the people you encounter today. Chances are very high you ARE having feelings, you just may not be expressing them to others. That’s fine, but make sure you ARE expressing them somewhere – to a friend, a therapist, a partner, a diary, even talking it over with your dog.

      If this is too much to think about, look up “Feeling States” and “Feeling Words” in Google and do a little research. Once you have words to describe them, see how accurately you can find words that precisely match the way you respond to external stimuli. You’ll be an old hand at managing your feelings in short order!

      Wishing you love, joy and peace,

  6. Gosh I wish I would have had this last week I have been dealing with a person who triggers & triggers & triggers and for a whole year I have NOT once replied so proud but then she got a hold of my blog site & attacked me there I blew all my progress :((
    I am not a FB person but I would love to follow your blog I am Janice’s Footsteps @ jaysactivity.blogspot.com I did put you in my favorites to keep finding strength in your posts Thanks for this :))

      • It’s her constant gossiping about others personal life she finds no remorse in telling someones life story even if it cause someone grief and embarrassment and when you ask her why she would share that she thinks it is funny. Her triggers are to get arise from you….e-mailing you or a phone call with a slip of guess what I heard. Toxic people that find joy in drama is not for me so I try to avoid it and I have until she attacked my faith I slipped 🙁

  7. I’m struggling with obsessing about a person who triggers me right now. I met this person in a 12 step program for Adult Children and we both attend a program for Codependency as well as a other mutual friend. What’s worse is that both of them started attending the sex addiction program I’m a member of. I’ve been sober from my sex addiction for nearly 4 years! I’m so grateful to God for my sexual sobriety and now I’ve met two people who are quickly becoming frienemies. I wish I had never met them! I’m a human being and a get lonely and wish I had more friends. It doesn’t help that I’m already on disability for depression,anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, I’m post abortive, I deal with some PTSD and started experiencing Fibromyalgia symptoms in April. I’m pretty sure these two women aren’t worth my time because so far it has disturbed my serenity so badly. I hate the part of myself that is lonely, sad and desparate enough to put up with all of this. If there’s anything I need to be desparate about it’s my relationship with God. Despite the loneliness I sometimes feel and my desire for friends I need to be extra wary of recovery friends, especially codependant female ones. It’s better to have nothing at all than to have something that’s not good for me!

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