Your ex probably knows how to press your buttons better than anyone. Maybe they are always late picking up or dropping off your kids despite your reminders to be on time. It could be the patronizing way they speak to you or their stubborn refusal to agree to a reasonable request, or they text you wanting to change the parenting schedule at the last minute. What happens then? You become triggered! In fact, at this point, your best version of yourself has left the building and you find yourself focused on revenge, justice, and fighting for what you believe is “right.” Even though you may have repeatedly told yourself that you won’t let your ex get to you, that doesn’t change how you feel after interacting with them.  Sound familiar?

Why am I allowing this person to trigger me?

When you are going through a divorce, there may be times when you feel dejected, angry, and insecure.  This difficult process can set off some or all of these emotions without warning. The next thing you know, you may be overwhelmed by painful feelings and negative messages that interfere with your ability to make decisions. These reactions could negatively impact your case outcomes.

The good news is that being aware of your feelings and figuring out where this derailing happens most often in your life, will help you take steps to manage them.

The first step is to understand your emotional triggers. Emotional triggers may come from patterns in your marriage that have played out dozens of times before. They may also relate directly to the reasons for the divorce.

The more you understand why you are getting upset, the better you can prepare for your reactions. Some reasons, such as your ex bringing their affair partner to your child’s birthday party, are more obvious. However, others may take some work to figure out. For instance, your ex refuses to agree on a mediation date even though they have been offered several choices. You could be highly aggravated and anxious over this delay tactic and not fully aware of why it has upset you so much. When you take a closer look, you may realize that you also are reacting to strong feelings related to your ex being controlling and manipulative. If control and manipulation are hot-button issues for you, this behavior may have triggered your response. Additionally, your ex may be excellent at manipulating other people, including you. If you have spent years dealing with this type of issue, having it appear during your divorce may be particularly infuriating.

We all have specific triggers/stimuli that induce conscious and subconscious reactions in each of us and thus, play an important role in our well-being.

The SCARF Model

The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, a leading scholar of neuroleadership, which tells us that there are universal triggers that fall into five categories and take place when an individual whether through their communication or behavior threatens your sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness or Fairness.

Status triggers occur when your ideas become diminished or rejected. It’s based on the need to feel you have equal or elevated status when compared to others. It’s our relative importance to others/personal worth. When you are accused of incompetence it’s likely to flare up.

Certainty triggers happen when plans get changed unexpectedly or are not known. It’s based on our ability to predict the future. When the brain is not able to predict, it uses significantly more resources, also involving the energy-intensive pre-frontal cortex. This can become exhausting and debilitating and lead to significant physical, mental, and emotional anxiety, which, in turn, will hinder your ability to make effective and balanced decisions.

Autonomy triggers occur when you feel you have no control or influence over events/life. When your co-parent makes decisions behind your back or you feel you have no options other than going along with your ex, this will likely cause your trigger to flare up.

Relatedness triggers are affected by how safe we feel with others. They also occur when you feel left behind, not included, and made to feel as though you are on the outside.

Fairness triggers will flare up when we perceive the exchanges between people to be “unfair” and when we feel the rules/expectations for you are not applied to the others, such as your ex. Do you find yourself honoring the co-parenting agreement, yet your ex breaks all the rules and feels as though they do not have to do their part? This is when the fairness trigger will kick in.

Managing Your Emotional Triggers During Divorce

Identifying your potential emotional triggers and being aware of when they might occur can help you be prepared for them. If you expect to have strong feelings during an upcoming hearing or when you are attending your child’s dance recital at the same time as your ex, now is your chance to anticipate your responses and find ways to cope. You can work on developing self-talk that helps you stay calm. You may want to plan for potentially upsetting events by bringing someone supportive with you.

It’s vital to keep in mind that your reactions can directly impact your divorce. Additionally, if your ex is doing something to deliberately upset you, not feeding into the behavior may help minimize its impact. By setting appropriate limits, maintaining boundaries, and controlling your reactions, you can help protect your case and keep your composure through triggering moments.

Divorce is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. Feelings such as pain, anger, anxiety, and sadness will usually come up throughout the process. Truth be told, the triggers you experience with your former spouse will be with you for the rest of your life. Yes, for the rest of your life! However, these triggers can lose their power and when you can foresee your reactions, you can prepare for them before they catch you off guard. Choose to identify your triggers, plan for alternative responses, be consistent, and commit to the long journey to making the best version of yourself when confronting these situations/events.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men