Triggers are what activate old memories. When we are triggered we may not act like our normal selves in a given situation. In fact, we may over react. Being able to recognize that we are being triggered in the moment is not always doable. Afterwards we may feel ashamed of our behavior and wonder why we reacted so over-the-top.
Truggers are individual, that is, they pertain to a single person’s history. However, similar triggers exist for certain groups, like war veterans, firefighters, police and people who work in hazardous occupations. Triggers can be loud noises, chaotic situations, deadlines, high-velocity wind, talk of abuse, movies about rape, and violence.
There are an array of responses associated with triggers. Among other reactions, triggers can cause anxiety, depression, anger, panic and fear. When you are triggered, your body goes into a fight or flight mode. For example, you just started a new job. Your boss yelled at you and was exceedingly demanding on your first day. You come home and tell yourself you did the best you could. As the evening wears on, you start feeling more and more depressed. Of course nobody wants to be treated like that. Rather than becoming depressed, another person might decide to give the boss another try. Afterall, he or she could have been having a bad day. You, however were triggered from an unconscious memory of being constantly yelled at by someone in your childhood.
It’s hard to anticipate triggers ahead of time, nor can we always figure out why we reacted the way we did. Getting in touch with old events in your life that caused you harm is a good step towards breaking down recurring triggers. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an example of one treatment that’s been empirically shown to help desensitize the impact of a trauma, thus changing the dynamics for a trigger to occur. EMDR therapists are the professionals who are trained in this treatment.
The EMDR theory is that unprocessed traumatic events stay stuck in the unconscious and or the body. Present events may trigger the unprocessed feelings/memories so that one’s reaction to the current event feels bigger than it should.
Triggers can interfere with a person’s ability to function well in society. Consider a soldier with PTSD who ducks for cover when a helicopter flies overhead. No matter the severity, you owe it to yourself to get help from painful triggers. Living in the present is a good thing!
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