May 21, 2014

Horsenality/Humanality course notes (part 2): Triggers and reactions

I spent most of the last post talking about the different humanality types, and I think it's easy to see from the descriptions how each type has the potential to be both attractive and frustrating to others. In this post, I'm going to linger a bit on the frustrating part, because that's where we usually get all tripped up in our interactions with people and horses. 

One problem most of us have is that we allow ourselves to be triggered by others—often by others who are in different quadrants than our own. We don't understand or empathize with their priorities or modes of communication, and we take their behavior personally.

As Patrick defines it, a trigger is something that sends you into an emotionally reactive place. You don't even process the trigger: you just immediately get defensive or upset, judge, blame, attack, retreat, shut down, etc. In this state, it's very hard to have meaningful communication or make good choices. But it's very easy to alienate and hurt others, and to make things worse for yourself.

Some common triggers among humans:
—rolling eyes (read as lack of respect)
—walking away (read as rejection)
—staring/intense eye contact (read as creepy/predatory, or a power play)
—no eye contact/looking away (read as not caring)
—yelling or raising the voice (read as a sign of anger or emotional upset)
—finger-pointing (read as blaming)
—silence (read as coldness)
—smirking (read as mocking/laughing at the other person)
—blaming or saying "you're wrong" (read as a personal attack)
—putting words in your mouth (read as presumption or condescension)
—being left out (read as being intentionally excluded)
—not being acknowledged (read as dismissal) 

The problem, as this list shows, is not so much with the action itself as with the meaning we place on it . . . and the assumption that the other person did it on purpose. 

Yet while many of these actions could be rudely intended, many of them would be easy for certain humanality types to fall into without meaning anything negative by it. An LBE might tell someone they're wrong in the process of trying to fix a problem without any thought that the person might feel hurt. An RBI might look away, not because they don't care, but because they can't handle the intensity of the connection. An LBI might be silent because they are thinking about what to say. And an RBE might roll their eyes out of sheer over-expressiveness.

Understanding the behaviors of the different humanalities is a good starting place to help us avoid taking things personally in the first place. 

We can go a step further by becoming aware of the specific kinds of things that trigger us, so that we can begin to respond more consciously. If we also know the triggers of others, we can become more effective in communicating with them and working with them rather than against them. 

The following charts lay out some triggers and reactions that are typical for the different quadrants.

 Triggers for each quadrant

Being out of control.
Feeling minimized or

Feeling ignored,
unheard, or left out.

Having their system
or schedule messed up.

Not having their needs
understood or cared about.
Being pushed.

Go-to techniques for each quadrant:
what they will try first 
when under stress or dealing with adversity

Lead/Take charge

Connect and
express themselves

Make a system

Be diplomatic

What they do when that doesn’t work


(and then fight harder—
get even louder and bigger)


(for humans, it’s a flight 
into out-of-control emotion)


(become even more 
attached to doing it their way)

Freeze or Leave

   (hide, disengage, give up,
back off, avoid conflict)    

Under stress, we tend to over-use our strengths. When the pressure continues to build as a result of the fact that we're being ineffective with our go-to technique, then we often flip to the other side of the chart. As Billy Joel would put it, sometimes we go to extremes:

What they do when THAT doesn’t work

Shut down/Walk away

“Fine. Screw it.”

Go cold

“You don’t love me, 
I don’t love you.”

Have a tantrum

“I’m tearing up the system!”



If we go on long enough with our unconscious reactiveness, at some point we kind of calcify into a not-so-fun-house mirror version of what used to be our personal strengths:

When it heads toward being pathological


self-important & self-admiring
condescending & bullying
no empathy with or gratitude for
fantasize about unlimited
power, success, and love


rapidly shifting & extreme
Drama Queen, Princess, or
must be center of attention
believe that they are critical to
you & you are critical to them

Obsessive Compulsive

obsessed with rules, lists, order,
schedules, & cleanliness
perfectionistic & judgmental
reluctant to delegate
inflexible & overly conscientious
emotionally stiff & unadaptable


       avoid intimacy & social situations
 because of a fear of being shamed, 
ridiculed, criticized, rejected, or embarrassed
vigilant, anxious, & isolated
feel inferior, inept, & unappealing

It is useful to be aware of the fact that people who are in extreme or moderately extreme emotional states will often try to induce us to join them. As Patrick noted, people who are angry or upset don’t have fun being that way by themselves, so they try (usually unconsciously) to hook us into an emotional state as well. 

Here are some common strategies they might use on us (or we may find ourselves using on others):

—blame (so that we defend)

—exaggerate/tell it wrong (so that we feel the need to set the record straight)

—guilt-trip: "You don't care!"

—name call: "You're just like ________!" [your mother, my ex-wife, your no-good Uncle Doug] or more general things like princess, slob, coward, etc.

—threaten (to leave, stop doing something, etc.): "If you don't do X, I'm going to do Y"


—ask a question (so that we'll explain, which will give them an in to arguing)

—use the silent treatment/mope

—complain/go negative

However, rather than getting sucked into escalating the drama, we can opt to put our energy into helping others stay calmer instead. Here are some strategies my classmates came up with to put each quadrant at ease:

 Advice on how to treat each quadrant

Have fun. Be playful, competitive, and speak up. Say what you think and don't sugarcoat it.

Accept us, include us, 
and direct us.
Smile and be friendly.

Get to the point, be logical,
 and keep emotions in check. 
Keep voice low. 
Respect my bubble 
and my privacy.

See us, invite us in with 
eye contact, wait.       
Don't interrupt.      
Be gentle and sincere.      
Keep energy low.      
Ask permission.     

While it's not our job to manage or prevent other people's reactiveness, learning how to flex and meet them halfway (or sometimes more than halfway) is a gift that we can give to those we love. It's also a practical skill to have, for, as Patrick pointed out, "A lot of times your spouse will not sign up for the personal development program."

Indeed, family members are the most challenging for us. They know all of our buttons, and family dynamics are generally deeply rooted. Patrick, once again: "They throw us off more than the angry and upset people because they make us angry and upset, and we want to shake them and become normal." 

But, of course, it's ourselves that we need to shake into a less reactive state in order to feel normal again, even when it seems more satisfying to shake others. We can always attempt to change others, but we have a radically greater ability to change ourselves. And once we manage that apparently daunting task and let go of a little of our judgment/blame/resentment, we often see that there's a ripple effect in those around us.  

By then, however, we will care less about others being reactive, because we will have learned how to manage our own reactiveness better. And the world will seem, at that point, a much less stressful place.

I hope some of this information contributes to the understanding and awareness that will help on that journey. In the next post, I'll move into the horsenality side of things.