Not all strong emotional responses are trigger reactions. If you receive news about the sudden death of a friend or relative, it is sane and sensitive to react with shock and grief. Your body experiences an automatic change in heart rate, breathing, pulse, brain synapses. This is not something to be avoided, nor is it healthy to try to control it.
When we react this strongly to a less significant event, though, it’s likely that the past is invading the present and hijacking our nervous system. In my work as a psychotherapist, I see nine categories of triggers:
- Feeling self-conscious, such as when we’re alone in a group or comparing ourselves
- Being discounted, such as when someone stands us up or ignores our calls
- Feeling we are controlled, such as when someone is making decisions for us or is telling us what to do or feel
- Feeling taken advantage of, such as when someone fails to pay us back on a loan
- Feeling vulnerable, such as when we’re in a situation in which we feel exposed
- Relationship experiences, such as when we’re lonely or feeling smothered
- Boundary concerns, such as when someone is coming at us while drunk or disrespecting our space
- Feeling uncomfortable about what is happening, such as when we witness someone being hurt or when someone’s words or actions disagree with our values
- Fearing what might happen, such as when a threat appears imminent
This article originally appeared as “Trigger Origins” in “Reactive Remedies” in the October 2020 issue of Experience Life.
David Richo, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer. This article is adapted from Triggers: How We Can Stop Reacting and Start Healing by David Richo © 2019. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boulder, Colo.