Just the other day I saw someone on the freeway get extremely pissed off because he was cut off by another driver. As an observer from outside the situation you could see the man get filled with anger in an instant. You could see him yelling something as he provided the other driver a middle finger as he passed.
This guy was extremely upset. In that very moment he lost track of what was most important. “I remember thinking to myself, this dude is super pissed off. He must have been really emotionally triggered by that situation. This happens to us all the time. Something will happen and we have an extreme emotional response.
Simply put, a trigger is an activation mechanism. When someone becomes triggered, they are being emotionally activated. Have you ever gotten super pissed instantaneously, by something someone said or did? Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you’re passionate and dedicated poet, who identifies as being a good writer. If someone were to criticize this person’s work and it caused an extreme emotional response. The feeling that arose is due to being emotionally triggered.
5 Types of Triggers
There are many things that set us off or cause very strong emotional response within us, however, I will provide 5 simple ways in which we are triggered. Just think of our five senses: hearing, smelling, taste, touch, and sight. Each of our 5 senses can cause an activation of emotions.
Hear: You can hear something familiar and be emotionally activated. Good example, listening to music; the music can activate/trigger past or present feelings. What you hear can remind you of a difficult time or remind you of a time in which you overcame an obstacle.
Smell: For example, let’s say there is an individual who was physically violated by a person with a distinct scent. It is safe to say that the person whom was violated will probably never forget that scent; the scent alone can trigger the past memories of abuse and the accompanying emotions.
Taste: For taste I have a personal example. There is a dish that my mother would make when I was a child, it triggers me to this day. In the past, whenever I would smell or taste this dish it would trigger a time in my life in which I felt helpless and afraid. The smell and taste of the dish reminded me of how powerless I felt, how weak I was, and how there were many things out of my control. It reminds me of a difficult time in my childhood. Trigger!
Sight: Have you ever watched something on television or see something in your personal life that acts as a trigger when you see it? Here is a subtle example. I have a friend who avoids a particular movie because it triggers memories of a painful childhood. Just the sight alone of this film sends this person into a tailspin. It triggers them every time.
Here’s another example, have you ever looked at something that has triggered you? The answer is probably yes. Think of looking at an old picture of yourself or someone else. Once you view that picture it can trigger an array of emotions.
Touch: This is one of the most frequently recognized triggers. Think of a PTSD veteran who is hypervigilant (an edgy person on high alert for detecting a threat). This person might respond differently to someone putting a hand on their shoulder than someone who doesn’t have PTSD. For the PTSD veteran, a hand on the shoulder can trigger treat and danger.
It is extremely important that we become aware of our triggers and where they originate. Only then can we combat these triggers with effective processing and coping skills. Take some time to explore what is going on below the surface. This is how it looks; if your emotional response and behavior doesn’t fit the facts (detecting threat when no cause for it) there may be something more going on below the surface.
Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself a few subtle questions. Why am I so bothered? How does this situation remind me of my past? What is the emotion I feel at this moment? As you begin to ask yourself these subtle questions, you allow yourself to separate from the problem and begin working toward the solution.