Triggers – Blind Spots That Become Landmines
Us poor mortals! We have some major blind spots that impact our lives and relationships. I’ve totally felt the impact of these blind spots throughout life, and I can guarantee that you have too. As these blind spots are held in our unconscious mind – we simply don’t know what they are how they cause us to create distress and chaos. Put simply, we don’t know what we don’t know and we can pay a hefty price for this.
The blind spot I want to discuss today is TRIGGERS – this is a monster blind spot!
What is a trigger?
A trigger is any behaviour or stimuli that causes us to recall a traumatic or distressing emotional experience from the past.
The problem we face is that when we have been triggered, we have no awareness of this past event, and the emotional experience feels very present. Some of these past events that distressed us happened when we were young, and often with parents or caregivers who were:
- abusive or violent
Parents didn’t necessarily mean to be frightening, judgmental, disapproving or overbearing. They have their blind spots too. The thing is that children are so dependent on them for absolutely everything emotionally, practically, and financially. Children are rather powerless in the scheme of things.
This means that as children we were vulnerable to the emotional state of our parents. If they were sufficiently well and present, then we were fortunate and experienced less fear in childhood. Yet if not, then home would have had moments of being frightening and even traumatizing.
These experiences leave an imprint on our mind and body, which remains with us throughout life, unless we find ways to heal. The imprint it leaves is fear, which remains encoded and causes us to have greater reactivity and insecurity throughout life and in a whole host of relationships.
This means that throughout life we will perceive our environment and relationships to be more threatening causing us to be more triggered than those raised with more stability.
When we’re triggered, the emotions in the present feel awful, overwhelming, and even dangerous because the triggering event or behaviour has, what I call, a whiff of familiarity to the past. At that moment we can feel as small and vulnerable as we did in childhood. It doesn’t mean that we are actually in a similarly vulnerable position again – we just feel it’s the same level of vulnerability.
We feel the fear like we did when we were small, and attribute this to whoever we are with. Is it our partner’s tone of voice or their volume? Is it a look of disapproval from our boss? Is it an action or a particular phrase they use? We all have different triggers based on what is encoded in our relational template.
Whether we are with friends, family, our partner, or with colleagues, we will be more prone to being triggered. We will perceive others to be a threat to us and then react to them as if the threat were similar to the threat we experienced in childhood. This causes us to go into survival mode – our fight-or-flight response.
In fight mode we may yell, complain, tantrum, use pushback, name call or belittle the person who we believe is a threat to us.
In flight mode, we may want to escape by leaving for another room or the streets or even turn to self-destructive behaviours like drinking alcohol or becoming compliant – to make the feelings go away.
The problem with triggers is that our boss, colleague, partner, children, mother-in-law, or friend, were not around when we were frightened, overwhelmed or sad as a child. They are just being themselves and are not in contact with our triggers. It’s critical we identify our triggers and understand where they come from, or we will continue to create distress and chaos in our own lives and in the lives of others.