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October 29, 2023

Should We Remove Behaviour Triggers?

Rather than eliminating triggers, we can use them to support the individuals in our care.

As human beings, we all get triggered sometimes. Certain environments, certain people, certain words – these can all provoke strong feelings and reactions. Some of us are aware of our triggers, but more often than not, we find ourselves caught in an endless cycle, where we automatically react on a subconscious level.

The same applies in our organisations, whether it is a school, or a health and social care setting. Sometimes, the individuals we support can become triggered, resulting in distressed behaviours. Naturally, as professionals, we try to protect individuals and interrupt the conflict spiral by anticipating and avoiding known triggers, such as transitions, particular phrases, or specific surroundings.

But this strategy is only successful in the short term by helping us manage a person’s feelings and behaviour. Instead, perhaps we need to shift our perspective of triggers and, rather than trying to evade or eliminate them, use them as a vehicle to support the individuals in our care.

What is a trigger?

A trigger can be thought of as a cue, prompt or call to action that results in a strong reaction, such as anger, fear or frustration. Because of this, we tend to view triggers in a negative light and, in our professional roles, try to reduce the chances of exposure to them. For example, when supporting an individual who finds loud environments difficult to tolerate, the temptation is, understandably, to avoid noisy places.

This certainly feels like a solution: by taking preventative measures, we can intercept the conflict spiral and reduce the likelihood of an incident. Well-intentioned interventions like this seem to work—at least in the short term. However, if triggers are continually avoided, then we unwittingly deny individuals the opportunity to grow their tolerance in different situations and fulfil their potential, both within the setting and in the outside world.

So how can we reframe triggers in a positive way and use them to support behaviour?

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