I recently wrote a post called 5 Signs of a triggered person. Feedback on the post was very positive, but commenters asked for advice on handling triggered individuals online. Well, here it is. The first of two articles is how to handle a triggered person on social media; the second to face-to-face situations.

Like anything in life, the more planning you do before embarking on anything, the smoother it goes. When dealing with a triggered individual you rarely have time for planning. But if you can quickly ask yourself a few questions you will be much better placed to manage the situation. Here we go.

Like anything in life, the more planning you do before embarking on anything, the smoother it goes. When dealing with a triggered individual you rarely have time for planning. But if you can quickly ask yourself a few questions you will be much better placed to manage the situation.

1. Is there a safety issue?

The first question concerns physical safety. Is the triggered person threatening harm to others or to themselves? Do you need to report them, whether it’s just hitting the ‘Report’ button on a malevolent post or taking a screenshot and contacting the authorities? If you need to, do it.

2. What is your responsibility?

You may have legal, moral, occupational, parental or other responsibilities that require you to engage with this person. You also have the emotional responsibility to manage your own feelings.

Some of these responsibilities may have direct consequences if you don’t fulfil them—e.g. hanging up on an irate customer at work may lead to a caution—and some of them may have indirect ones, e.g. losing contact with a family member. Be clear on what you have to do and what you want to do.

3. What do you want to achieve?

This falls into two categories: short-term and long-term. Let’s look at the long-term first. What is your long-term relationship goal with this person? Engaging with a triggered person is a high-risk poker game that is quite likely to result in them never speaking to you again.

If you’re dealing with a stranger on social media this doesn’t matter. If you’re handling a customer at work or, more trickily, dealing with a friend or family member, the stakes can be higher.

If you want a long-term relationship with this person, this pretty much dictates your strategy: you will need to play it very softly and give a lot of ground, maybe even agreeing with some of their outbursts just to stay engaged. This is not the time to try to change their view. The object is to defuse the situation now so that you still have a relationship later.

If you don’t want a long-term relationship then focus falls on your short-term goal. You have two options: engage or oppose. Remember, you can’t do both. If you oppose a triggered person they will generally retreat further towards their entrenched position and quite possibly cut you out of their life. You may want to engage first and, if that fails, oppose.

4. What is your walk-away point?

Once you are aware of your responsibilities and your objective, you can gauge your walk-away point. This is the point where you cease to respond. Regardless of your objective, the individual may not give up. There comes a time when you just leave them to it.

5. What do they want to achieve?

This may seem like a dumb question. They’re just being a jerk-face on social media! Actually, a triggered person operates on a highly mechanical basis. By definition, a triggered person is someone whose core survival fears have been activated (i.e. threatened). While their actions may seem irrational, at their unconscious source they are entirely logical.

A triggered person only has one, or both, of two objectives: defending and/or dumping. Defending means protecting and justifying some kind of emotional wound. Dumping means venting the fear, anger, humiliation and other toxic emotions they are feeling.

You can use your understanding of the mechanical nature of their emotions to ‘read between the lines’ of their posts and manage the situation.

6. Be aware of your own triggers

Lastly, be aware that they may say something that triggers you.

I’ve seen this happen. Someone fires in a triggered comment on a post. Someone else steps in and tries to be the voice of reason. The triggered posted responds by abusing them. The ‘voice of reason’ gets triggered and goes off the deep end. This is exactly what the trigger-ee wants—more people to vent at or dump on!

7. Respond

Now you’re ready to respond: engage or oppose, depending on your strategy. Engage means saying something supportive while also suggesting that perhaps there are better ways of dealing with this. Be sure to put the support at the front end of your post; if the triggered individual sees criticism first they will not take in that you’re trying to be supportive too. Perhaps make a post that is wholly supportive. See how that goes down then only later suggest changes.

If engaging doesn’t work, either you’ve reached your walk-away point (if you want a long-term relationship with this person) or it’s time to oppose. Be as kind as you can while putting your foot down as firmly as necessary. Remember that this person is in a place of emotional pain and we’ve all been there.

Triggered people love being right and hate being wrong. But even more than being wrong, they hate having their ass busted. A triggered person often retreats in the face of a calm response from someone who sees through their emotional bullshit smokescreen. So, bring your full emotional presence to the situation, even though it’s online. Don’t just bang in a comment. Show up and be the big bad mama who puts a stop to the nonsense.

If you feel you’re getting triggered, back out. Two triggered people arguing on social media will always have a negative outcome.

In my next post, I’ll look at the much trickier business of handling a triggered person—often someone important to us—face to face.

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