The Art of Being Triggered
Being triggered is like lighting a very short fuse on a stick of dynamite. You light that fooker and get your ass away pronto, or your supposed to but in this analogy you end up sticking it in someones face.
Have some of that!
It’s often the small things that get the biggest reaction out of us. Your partner saying the wrong thing, your boss chucking a shitfit in your direction or your dog eating your shoe.
Those moments where you are feeling great and shitting rainbows one second and the next you are totally pissed with a flinching right eye when you see some bird crap on your car, and you gotta let that anger out somewhere – or at someone. Right?
A trigger is when something occurs to us which causes a negative emotional reaction. It could be an event, an opinion of others, a failing on our part, that twat in the BMW cutting us up or a gazillion other reasons. Having our moods changed is one thing; we are emotional creatures after all and emotions shift like sand. It is, however, an entirely different thing to react in ways that we feel we ‘lose control’, or get ‘taken over’. It is in these times that we end saying or doing stupid shit in defense of our own inadequacies.
We have all been there. Whether it’s suddenly finding yourself in fits of rage over some jealousy issue, or starting an argument with your partner because you took something they said the wrong way. Or it could be really subtle, like in my case, knocking back every opportunity given to me for promotion in a company I once worked for, as internally I held a belief that I didn’t deserve them.
In these situations, our brains instantly creates a reason for the reaction that seems to justify the behavioral response, which often makes no logical sense at all. Yeah, ill make screechy wheelspins up the road because my coffee went cold this morning, that’ll show em’ (what a dick I am).
“Can’t start a day on cold coffee”
SO WHAT ARE THEY …?
Triggering occurs when any emotion is evoked which then leads into an unconscious response. Perhaps you become jealous of a co-worker who have received a promotion over you. Instead of feeling happy for them, your jealousy may lead you to tell them that the new position will be too much trouble or the old classic droll, “I didn’t want that anyway”. We can usually tell we are being triggered as it can make us feel uncomfortable or ’squirmy’.
These could be one off events, or a repeating pattern. Either way, it is when we let our emotional response drive us that we know we are in the grips of being triggered.
- You leave work everyday and find yourself cracking open a six pack to relax.
- Your kid won’t stop crying and you catch yourself thinking to “SHUT THE FUCK UP”.
- Buying the latest monster TV or upgrading the car just because your friends have and you don’t want to be ‘left behind’.
- Or every time your mother calls, you find that you end up verbally abusing the wife.
None of these examples are coincidences and are all manifestations of being triggered.
THE TRIGGERING SPIRAL FROM HELL
When we remain unconscious to when we are being triggered we can easily fall into what I term the triggering spiral from hell.
What may of started as a reaction to something minor, can all to easily escalate into a massive argument where there are lots of stomping around, plates being thrown and woken-up neighbours at 3am over something totally unrelated to what was brought up initially.
This severe blowout happens when our initial trigger point becomes activated and through not stepping away and dealing with it then and there, all defence mechanisms come into full force and things can get messy.
We find ourselves lying to cover our inadequacies. We change the subject or deflect away from what is being asked. We say things we don’t mean just to ‘get them’ as a kind of fucked up payback. In worse case scenarios we can totally loose it and do some serious harm only to find ourselves in some jail cell later on and wondering what the fuck just happened.
If our triggering then triggers our partner / boss / kids / whoever and they do the same, all out war can erupt over something so minor as “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE TV REMOTE?”.
When we are aware of our triggers we can tell when things are going too far. For example, I know that if I do not step away quick enough, I will spiral into gobbledygook and make no sense in my argument at all but keep arguing regardless, even if I then realise that the point I am trying to make is wrong.
It is not until things have calmed down where I look back at myself and think “what a twat”.
“I’m going to poke my finger right up your nose you little shit”
WHAT IS DRIVING IT?
It is our underlying emotional baggage that drives these triggers and by looking at the reaction and the corresponding behaviour is were we can get a sense of what is driving it and then sustaining it.
If I feel my point is not being heard in conversations, my ’not being heard’ trigger becomes activated (usually waaaay too often). This in turn makes me feel uncomfortable and this uncomfortableness then makes me avoid questions in further conversations. This deflection then carries on until I desperately change the subject which makes me end up appearing not present and generally aloof.
The tough guy in the bar who gets punchy when someone spills a couple drips of beer on his shoes as they walk past could have underlying self-worth issues. To him, his outward appearance is a front for feeling so shit about himself all of the time.
By accidentally spilling a couple drops of the finest ale in his direction triggers him into anger as his outward appearance is being compromised and the cliché ‘disrespected’. This is then further fuelled by him having to compensate further for his lack of self worth and in doing so starts a punch up to make himself feel better.
All of this goes on behind the scenes in our subconscious and unless we make the subconscious conscious, we are complete unaware what are diving things and hence, loose all conscious control.
THE LITTLE BOY DRIVING THE BUS
Another way of looking at this is the how one of my mentors explains it with an analogy of the wounded child …
He says that the wounded child (residing in the subconscious) in all of us is always waiting to be healed. Whether that is wanting to be heard, feeling good enough, accepted or any other state it feels lacking.
When we are being triggered and continue with our reactions, we let the wounded child run the show. This is the sense of ‘loosing control’. We (our day to day conscious minds) temporarily steps away and during this period the wounded child steps in and hijacks the #36 and diverts it to Trouble Town.
… and nothing good ever comes from visiting there.
When the little boy is in the driving seat he is doing everything he can to make himself heard, get his point across, healing inadequacies and desperately getting his needs met.
I can see how this is so. When we loose control it is almost like another part of us takes over. As our reactions are mostly based on wounds from childhood, this child will speak the loudest and it is these wounds that is forefront of all of the attention.
“Move outta my way, I’m not stopping until someone gives me some R.E.S.P.E.C.T”
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
The main issue that we face when being triggered is that the rationalisation made by the brain is so quick that we often miss the chance of stopping it before it gets started. This can be achieved with being present to how we are feeling, watching subtle changes for anything that may be surfacing for us, mindfulness and practise.
There are certain things we can do to recognise it when it happens and to nullify its effects as soon as we can. Remember, this takes practise and requires us to remain vigilant.
1, EXCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
The first step is recognising that when we are triggered we are fully responsible for any reaction that we give because if it.
Just because somebody has evoked a negative response in us doesn’t mean that they have to experience the wrath of the reaction. It is up to us to recognise our emotional baggage and for us to control it.
2, FEEL THE RESPONSE
With any emotional response that we have there will also be a physical sensation that goes along with it. If we find we easily get lost in the moment of reaction then the sensations can let us know that something is up.
According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, author of Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain,1 “at any moment, your rate of breathing, blood flow, tension in your muscles and constriction in your gut represents a pattern you can identify as a feeling”.
3, UNDERSTAND YOUR EMOTIONS
Utalising teniques such as mindfullness, meditation and talking your triggering points through with others you can more clearily understand what is driving them.
What may appear to be a case of anger on the surface may actually be driven by the emotion of shame underneath. All of our outward reactions has some underlying emotion and it is important to undertstand what is driving yours.
4, TAKE TIME OUT
If you become aware that you are negatively reacting then step away for a moment. This can be important to stop things escalating into the triggering spiral from hell.
The old adage of counting to 10 could work. Stepping outside, going for a walk are all great techniques we can use.
A couple of years ago I was constantly being triggered by my partner and asked her to say the keyword “bollocks” if ever my reactions got carried away. Whenever things got heated and she called out “bollocks”, I knew that was my pointer to take time out and evaluate what was going on for me. Kind like like a ‘safe word’ but without all the whips and Gimpage involved.
- The last in a trilogy of books that investigates the philosophical and scientific foundations of human life.
Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain : Antonio Damasio