There is something all of us would like to be free of, not just on the fourth of July, but most any regular day – a phenomena that occurs frequently to most people at home and at work (and often driving on the freeway), that has to do with our thoughts and feelings when we are ‘triggered’. Many of us have no idea how to deal with the worst of triggers or how to promote and institute positive triggers inside of us and other people around us.
What are emotional triggers anyway?
Today the word triggers is being used all over the place and it’s good to find out more about what they are and how important they are us. Triggers is a term used in various ways to describe events that are perceived in such as way as to set off a change in mindset and attitude, usually suddenly. Today the term is used in several ways to connote environmental events or factors associated with both positive and negative states that are set off inside an individual and nudge the person into a spontaneous reaction. Basically, triggers cause strong sudden reactions.
Various uses of the term. Condoleezza Rice used the term in a speech delivered to a university graduation class when speaking about the use of specific words that can trigger a strong negative reaction among people – such as the ‘n’ word and other controversial terms that infer social discrimination and may solicit an outcry or outrage from listeners. Author, Nir Eyal uses the term in his book called Hooked where he shares how companies today can intentionally focus their product development to create a hook response – an immediate buy reaction and trigger consumers to purchase and/or continually reuse a product. An example is someone who cannot go for very long without looking at their phone or Facebook, forming a type of addictive need to automatically keep returning to check on it and do so quite unconsciously or even in a compulsory way- kind of like someone who has to double check 3 or 4 times if they really did lock the door or not. Another author and executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith actually named his new book Triggers to describe the very difficult but necessary task of learning to change poor habits, not just talk about them. He says structure is critical to being able to create positive triggers that promote one to engage in good life skills. And he has also found that most people who are even highly successful fail to create a strong enough structure to help themselves really change—they may prefer to have many discussions about it though. I agree with Goldsmith on that point drawing from my own experience. Let’s face it, change is really hard to do, but it is done all the time by really committed people. One of those important items to be able to change is our reactions to the specific triggers that get to us.
No matter what, it takes work to overcome and not be controlled by negative triggers and it takes self awareness to understand the power that your own actions have on other people who may be triggered by the words you say, or don’t say, the look on your face, tone of voice, or any number of situational peculiarities that induce a triggered response, both good and bad.
What makes trigger so confounding is that people infer different meaning to triggers, and different individuals will often infer a different meaning to the same event, or even perceive the same event differently depending on the what day it is or what time of day it is, and all sorts of other factors (such as how hungry or thirsty you are at the moment).
I’ve helped people identify and reframe their peculiar sets of triggers for many years and I usually address triggers right out the gates when working with any client. Though most people are able to describe scenarios that set them off, they usually have less understanding about why they are susceptible to particular irritants, and even less ideas about how to manage them better. One main issue with the business of being triggered is how your five main thinking skills are literally derailed in the middle of a trigger event. That is a discussion for another post. Suffice to say now that we just can’t think straight when we are triggered and it takes learning how to maintain mental clarity with self awareness to oneself at the moment of sudden impact.
What makes things even more confusing is there seems to be something about triggers that people actually like, even when it makes them frustrated, annoyed and put off.
Additional problems. Concomitant to negative triggers are factors of a deeper nature with components even more ambiguous that can convolute most any situation. These are conflicting behavioral reactions, personal hooks, blind spots, biases, shadows, hot buttons, and your core cognitive structure made up of highly individualized paradoxical dynamics. These factors are much closer to the core and at the center of the onion. You being the onion.
In this post, I wish to add clarity the outer layers of the onion about the term triggers and help readers understand more about what they are, what it means to get triggered, and some recommendations about how to deal with them. Most all of us want and need new ways to deal with negative triggers that hook us in particular ways.
In a nutshell, the usefulness of doing trigger work is to understand your reactions to your environment and understanding other people and their reactions to environmental factors too. These are valuable to examine because it gives you greater insights into managing your relationship with others as well as yourself