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  • Sean Cuthbert

How do you manage your triggers?

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

A trigger can essentially be anything. Depending on your personal history, it could be a smell, a word, sound, a feeling, imagery, how somebody else reacts... Somehow in society many times people think that actually getting triggered is a negative thing, and if we find ourselves getting triggered we are doing something wrong. So do we ever get over being triggered? The answer is no, we're always going to get triggered. There's no doubt, it's painful at times. However, the good thing is that by doing some work on your triggers, you don't need to get triggered as long, or as deeply, and it doesn't need to completely throw us off track. By learning the anatomy of a trigger and starting to parse out the links in the trigger chain, we can unpack and make sense of a trigger, realising that often it is a pretty strong protest that is putting up huge arrows to what needs healing. So here's a simple way to start to break down the behavioural chain in a trigger.

The first step is to pause and stop. Often when a client recounts an episode of when they got triggered to me, they will say "It just happened!" A question asked by people who don't understand the neurobiology of a trigger is, "What were you thinking?" The important answer is: you weren't thinking. When someone gets triggered their autonomic nervous system (ANS) goes into a sympathetic response meaning their ANS goes into hyperarousal, and their ability to think rationally becomes momentarily impaired. When someone gets triggered, it's a reactive process that takes over our bodies and minds very quickly. So, it's important to stop and take a deep breath as a means of slowing down the system. This orients us to the present and brings in the skill of mindfulness. Once we have mindfulness, then we start to gain some distance from what's going on. The next step is to separate from the trigger in some way, either by externalising in some way such as writing or drawing it out (if that's possible) or by physically distancing ourselves from it by walking away. Doing physical activity is another way of taking it out of our bodies . This way we can give ourselves room to look more deeply into the triggering process. At this point, we can start to bring our consciousness online. We can look at who, what, or where was the trigger and unpack the trigger moment-by-moment. Consider, is there is something feels familiar about this? What happened inside you when this thing happened? What is this pointing to? Often the reason that a trigger happens because there is some underlying issue, or unfinished business. By starting to develop the ability to respond differently, and doing this process over and over (like any new skill you learn, repetition is key), it gives us some room to move and that makes other behavioural and emotional options possible.

© 2020 created by Sean Cuthbert, Clinical Psychologist