If you’re a regular TT reader you may notice that this isn’t the first time that I’ve written about being triggered, or activated as I prefer to call it. The thing is that I keep learning more about the topic through experience and feel called to share it.
As a speaker who often talks on the topic of suicide, I always provide my clients with a written trigger (the term is currently better known than my preference) warning to be shared with an audience at the outset of my talk. For a lot of this year, I have also encouraged event organisers to share details of my story and background prior to the event so that participants know exactly what they are walking into.
While I’m unlikely to stop these processes in the foreseeable future, recently I’ve found myself opening trainings with a discussion about the risks of being activated in the session by literally anything that anyone says or does. You see people come to the session with their unique histories, values, beliefs, filters, etc and these variables can cause a reaction to words or actions that can be outside the conscious awareness of people.
Recently I have learned that I can activate someone with my high energy. One of my two day workshop participants kindly shared with the group on the morning of day two that for the first couple of hours of day one she had been in a state of fight or flight after my excited greeting and overly enthusiastic approach to the session. She reported thinking to herself “Nothing good can come from this. I don’t think I can stay here.” She had to fight an urge to leave the course.
I was pretty surprised to hear this information and what really concerned me was that I had no idea what was going on. I would never intentionally put someone into that state and I know that it’s not an optimal state for engaging in learning.
It’s not the only time I have activated someone with my enthusiasm. A mum from school who lived with depression once told me that she used to avoid me because I always seemed so happy and friendly and it didn’t seem like it could be real. Another example is an evaluation I received indicating that the “Least Helpful Aspect of the Workshop” was “the facilitator’s enthusiasm”.
Back to my lady in the workshop … By sharing what had happened the entire group got to learn about being activated. As she drove home on day 1 she had contemplated what made her react to me in the way that she had. What was it about her that couldn’t deal with my energy? Where did that come from? Is it the way she wants to respond in the future?
This is an excellent process for building our self awareness and becoming more conscious in life. The other great thing was that I got to ask her what I could do differently in the future to reduce the risk of activating someone else in that way and I took on her advice to warn my participants about my high energy and style.
It seems that I’ve been activating people all over the place lately. Another workshop participant reacted in a very emotional way when I kindly said “Can we just have one conversation in the room at a time”. This lovely lady kept speaking, saying that they had only been clarifying what the speaker had said to someone else. I gently took them back to the fact that when we’re doing mental health training it is particularly important that people feel fully heard. I have since reflected and wondered if my participant is perhaps a bit like me and really likes to ‘be good’ and ‘do the right thing’ and it hurts a lot if we feel we’ve been perceived as ‘being naughty’.
The final example I want to mention is someone who elected to skip a resilience session that I was facilitating as part of a team planning day. The audience had been pre-warned that I might mention suicide. Nowadays I often don’t know exactly what I’m going to say, it’s more working with what comes up in the session or flows out of me while I’m in flow. That day I didn’t actually talk about the topic of suicide at all and unfortunately, the gentleman missed out on some great information and practices that would likely have been very useful in his life.
I personally think being activated is okay and in fact, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. It warns of something we are yet to fully process. It can lead to people reaching out and getting help if they’re not able to resolve it on their own. I really want to advocate for having discussions in a safe and inclusive way. My mind goes to the fact that exposure therapy has been show to be effective in the treatment of anxiety.
I hope this story inspires you to get curious when you’re activated and to encourage others to share what’s coming up for us without judgement and as a gateway to learning and thriving more in life.
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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.