What is a trigger? Learn to deal with your anger by understanding the psychology behind it

 Our past experiences have a great influence on how we react to the world around us. Our perception is our own and is what creates our uniqueness and individuality. 

On the other end of the spectrum, our perceptions are also the very things that block us from new experiences and new ideas.

The reality experienced by a husband and a wife who are constantly arguing is very different and yet they don’t realize it. for example, her perception could be that he is controlling and his perception that she doesn’t love him. The perception of life experienced by a poor child, as opposed to a rich one is not the same. The child growing up rich might believe that the poor are lazy, and the poor child might grow up believing that the rich are greedy and selfish. Our mind gives everything its own interpretation and unless clear communication and active listening are put in place, our own perceptions will continue to block us from seeing reality.

What is a trigger

Two girls who work together cross each other in the hallway. Let’s call them Kathy and Amy. Kathy had a very bad morning. She got a parking ticket, and now she needs to choose which bills to prioritize first. She is deep in thought when she crosses Amy in the hallway. Kathy doesn’t notice Amy, and as a result, doesn’t respond to her coworker when she says good morning.

Immediately, Amy assumes that Kathy did not say hello because she doesn’t like her, and therefore decides to no longer speak to her.

Why is she making this assumption? She is triggered.

Perhaps, in her past, Amy experienced bullying and is very sensitive to people ignoring her. Perhaps she has a bad relationship with her boyfriend who ignores her when she is trying to talk about her needs. Only Amy knows this, as it is her experiences. And now, she is using those past experiences to shape her reality. Her defense mechanism is preventing her from communicating adequately and as a result, she doesn’t see the reality of a situation.

So, what exactly is a trigger? It is something in the environment that causes a reaction in a person. It could be a sound, a smell, a place, a person, an image and so on. The reaction is automatic and emotional which in turn turns on the defense mechanisms.

Very often, people will be aware of their reaction but they will not be aware of the trigger that caused it.

Defense mechanisms

So now that we talked about triggers, let’s take a moment to talk about defense mechanisms.

A defense mechanism is an automatic reaction that we have in order to protect ourselves from fear, anxiety and other undesirable feelings.

These defense mechanisms may serve us in the short-term, but in the long-term, they become detrimental as they prevent us from communicating with each other. 

A ‘triggered person’ will have a reaction that seems to be out-of-place given the current circumstance. For example, a song starts playing on the radio, and the person automatically shuts it off looking upset. The song itself did not create this feeling, it is the memory associated with it. This is often the biggest problem. People believe that it’s the “song’s fault or the person’s fault” when in fact, they are triggered.

One of the more challenging parts of a trigger is the question, “How do I Know I’ve Been Triggered?”

Sometimes, it can be easier to tell. For example, you watched a friend get into a car accident and now you are afraid to drive. Other defense mechanisms are more subtle, such as feeling helpless or inadequate and not understanding why. 

Step by step, triggers explained.

Trigger (sound, smell, song, color, place etc)

A defense mechanism will Hurt the relationships only when not properly, clearly expressed by the person experiencing it.

It hurts the relationship when the person truly believes that this is the reality.

It also Hurts the relationship when the recipient is not open, not listening or wanting to respect the other person’s trigger.

It is important to know that a defense mechanism is a behavior that has been learned over time. Therefore the good news is that as an adult, once you become aware of your triggers and your reactions, you can learn new and better behaviors. This will help in your relationships and will overall make you a healthier person.

Getting to know ourselves and clearly communicating our needs is the first step to healing.

Resources

https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger/

https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/triggers

https://psychcentral.com/blog/we-are-responsible-for-our-own-feelings/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trauma_trigger

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

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