Thursday, June 11, 2009


Each of us harbours in us, intrinsic to the soul, triggers.

Words; actions; smells; or a seemingly unrelated series of events which singly or together create in us a state of emotion. Most of us would label “triggers” as largely negative as it is those emotionally charged triggers that most of us remember. The words, the tone, the scenario opens a floodgate of memories that can overwhelm, immerse and create anxiety, angst and depression.

Yet there are positive triggers or too, and it’s an interesting observation that human beings generally seem to dwell on the negatives in their lives rather than focus on the positive. I’m not sure if the propensity to do so can be narrowed to culture, upbringing, nature or gender but I find it fairly common.

I find the whole “triggering” scenario fascinating if frustrating. Because it is like a game of dominos.... the trigger occurs which in turn provokes an action or emotion which subsequently triggers a reaction and like dominos falling to the implacability of motion, triggers are almost impossible to halt once begun. I find too that some triggers are so powerful that despite awareness of them, mind and soul still react in the pavlovian fashion that one can learn to despise.

Even more disconcerting are the triggers we don’t recognize and can only learn to apprehend when our awareness of a pattern in certain behaviours becomes apparent.

I believe that most of us seek some form of enlightenment over our actions and reactions and yearn to master ourselves and keep our emotions balanced. I think one of the most frustrating aspects of being human is how, despite best intentions, we fall prey again and again to the same learned responses and only in hindsight recognize our complicity in unwarranted reactions.

At the most atavistic level, I think triggers and learned response are part of our “reptile” brain; that part of our brain that controls instinctual survival behaviours. From this internet source:

It's similar to the brain possessed by the hardy reptiles that preceded mammals,
roughly 200 million years ago. It's 'preverbal', but controls life functions
such as autonomic brain, breathing, heart rate and the fight or flight
mechanism. Lacking language, its impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. It's
concerned with fundamental needs such as survival, physical maintenance,
hoarding, dominance, preening and mating. It is also found in lower life forms
such as lizards, crocodiles and birds. It is at the base of your skull emerging
from your spinal column.
TMI – I know but truly I think our ‘triggers’ are somehow embedded in that part of the mind. For triggers are seldom created from an isolated incident, a one-time event, an unusual situation (with the exception of unusual life-altering experiences). Rather, they are learned behaviours that teach us recognition of potential danger – damage to our bodies, harm to our emotions, injury to our equilibrium.

In short, at its most simplistic, triggers can be linked to our “fight or flight” mechanism.

I recognized that the other night when some simple words triggered an intense, powerful and very painful reaction in me.... a reaction which mirrored all the physical characteristics of panic and fright from a heart pounding so hard that it felt as if it were going to escape my chest, to a lightheadness and a huge tsunami of anxiety that threatened to drown me in its intensity.

The aftermath, as my heartbeat slowed, as my emotions begin to equalize, as panic subsided, was an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, a despairing certitude that we are victims of our own weaknesses. That no matter how one struggles to control negative mindsets, the insidious nature of bred-in-the-bone reactions ultimately triumphs over rationale and awareness. That the reality was that those particular words (or almost identical ones) had heretofore preceded Very Bad Things Many Times was irrelevant.

Can we learn new patterns?

Can we recognize, identify and overcome triggers?

What do you think?


M:e said...

Fascinating posting selkie. In my experience of working with people, yes, we can learn new patterns, and yes its possible to learn to recognise, identify and overcome triggers, but we first really have to see them as negative, understand why, and want to do something about it. Until we do, no amount of anyone else trying to teach us will produce a lasting result.

love and hugs xxx

Buffalo said...

Triggers can be either positive or negative and at the same time, depending on perspective. Triggers, more accurately called 'responses,' can keep us alive.

Sure, we can learn to recognize triggers. But can we learn to recognize a trigger when it exists solely in our mind?

Loving Annie said...

Soemtimes our instincts protect us when we have learned certain things are bad. I don't know what the triggering words were for you the other night Selkie, but they may have had a very real cause for alarm.

I think we CAN learn new patterns, and that that takes a real layer upon layer upon layer of awareness at what lies underneath them, changing our habits, replacing our 'bad' memories with 'good' ones - and also changing the people we have in our lives with those who have higher vibrations based on our new levels of awareness for what we want in our lives, and the decisions to exclude that which we no longer need to learn lessons from.

Thus, our triggers can change. Not all at once, but over time and with the sincere effort to learn and desire to understand. Solutions almost always come from within to alter that which came from without.

It isn't just 'they' who must act differently - but we who choose differently ourselves by no longer cooperating (even unconsciously) with that which does not serve you.

For example,
I no longer hope that people who aren't in my corner will be there - I choose people who demonstrate that willingess to be there.
The first is self-defeating and the second is self-empowering.

I was the one to change the trigger after I figured out what the issue was, metaphorically speaking...


littleone said...

It is my humble opinion that no matter how hard one learns to identify triggers.. learns where they came from.. learns how to deal with them... they are still triggers and can cause irreparable damage


K said...

Interesting. Yes, triggers can be overcome. It takes enormous amounts of self awareness, conscious effort, time, and sheer will power. Several years back, I suffered panic attacks and was diagnosed with panic disorder, with depression. Who wouldn't be depressed with the thought of experiencing such an emotional roller coaster indefinitely?

Some triggers can be alleviated easier than others. Some may always be triggers and the best we can do is minimize the response. At my worst, a full blown panic attack with heart pounding and hyperventilating included a period of being very minimally responsive and trapped in my own thoughts, followed by days of emotional turmoil and wondering the what ifs. Now, the worst couple of triggers only invoke a sense of unease and make me weepy, usually only for a short while. While I may recognize them still, the lesser triggers no longer hold any power over me, at all.

It's hard work emotionally, but we can definitely learn new patterns if we are determined enough. Good luck. :)

Amber said...

Most of my triggers today are good ones, I think. Dan has installed many, like "good girl". That never fails to soothe me, no matter how upset I might be. There are other words he uses that make me obey instantly; I don't even think about it.

But I have bad triggers, too. Mostly about my ex. I saw a picture of him from our daughter's wedding the other day and I immediately had chills and a panic reaction began. The look on his made me remember bad memories and bad times. Another time his second wife called me, concerned about his behavior and was asking me questions. I answered her honestly that yes, he was abusive to me at times and it upset her very much because she was seeing signs in him that were pointing that way. I advised her to get counseling for both of them so they wouldn't go through what we had.

When I hung up, I had a full-blown panic attack. I was suddenly afraid he would come and try to get me and hurt me. I locked all the doors, I was shaking with fear.

Now, there was no reason he would do that, he's not a monster, we had just had some bad fights while married but I felt powerless again and trapped. The way I had when I was still married to him. It was a sickening feeling and just horrible to go through.

It took a few days, actually, for me to get completely over that feeling of being stuck with him again. Like I couldn't fully breathe.

Anyway, I can't think of any bad triggers I have left other than the ones surrounding him. All the others I used to have I've worked through and they don't have power over me anymore. Thank god, because the bad triggers *suck*.

I hope you work through yours too, Selkie. They are just no fun.

Kes said...

Triggers can also be called, in NLP speak, anchors. And as such can be 'collapsed' in a method of creating a new anchor which fires within us something positive, euphoric, uplifting - the anthesis of the negatively held anchor. Then having both the negative trigger/anchor and the positive anchor fired at once - a war of sorts takes place within us. Interestingly enough it has been shown over the years that pleasure wins out! Lovely thought. Both are extinguished in the battle. The positive can be recreated, and used as lance to pierce and destroy other negative anchors within us. I have experienced this for myself many times... it is best done with a partner who can help with anchoring the positive and initiating the "anchor collapse" as it is called.

That said... there are some triggers which may have dark echoes, but I would not yeild them up for anything, the scent of Old Spice for example.

I think what is most disconcerting is having a trigger emerge for which we are unprepared. And then we can but stand and let the reaction buffet through us, around us, shaking the reality of the moment. I find it empowering to know that with a little effort I need not be victim to its touch if I so choose.

Mystress Lady Evyl said...

Ah, quite the topic indeed. Without repeating prior comments....yes one can work really hard to deal and grow past a trigger....but the next thing you know it pops up maybe months or years later. They leave a well hidden residue.

Anonymous said...

I find myself very sensitive to noises -jangles of chains, rattles of buckles, the swish of the cane etc.

I think it's just an association, a learned reaction so yes, I believe we can overcome triggers.

Gillette said...

As so often happens when I read your posts, Selkie...I have to ponder a bit.

I do believe that we can change. I have. Many of my past triggers have melted away. But some core ones remain. And they are seldom really about what's being presented, but rather there from a base "theme" trigger (or button as I call them) that this particular incident is awakening.

So, experience is that they can and do change. But hardly ever when I'm consciously trying to do so. The changes always arrive through a back door. Often I don't recognize that they are gone until I realize I've not responded to a situation like I would have in the past.

I've been reading a great book called The Biology of Belief. It reminded me that the unconscious brain is really what rules us. And it's that part that has to change for outer change to show.

I keep asking: but...if it's unconscious how can I know about it? Hehehe...I believe it is this quest that has been at the root of my quest this life.

selkie said...

thank you all for your excllnt comments - I think what I take most from this is that "triggrs" are one of those univrsal human expriencs; it appears each and evrey one of us has experiencd both positive and negative experiencs in that regard.

As both M:e and Annie indicate, awareness is the first step, then intensive and conscious effort to identify and defuse the "bad" triggers.

Buff, both you and Gillette touch on one of my dilemmas - which at its most sinmplistic is how the hell do you idntify something that is almost by definition, unavailable to the CONSCIOUS mind??

But then, Kes' your experiencs with dealing with and handling panic attacks is a positive note; a little fillip of hope that indeed, triggrs CAN be overcome, if not entirely crtaintly to an extnt that is bearable.

and Amber, your triggre with your ex is an excllnt example of the undrlying damage that can be done by expriencs that you rationally do not see as extreme. But you also offre the positive that they can be replacd with positivs.

Kes, is that true that studis show "pleasure" wins out - I will have to explore that as frankly I would have thought fear and loathing the strongr for thoughts there

morningstar, you and I are of a mind as usual - that is sorta how I see things too - but certaintly hearing the positivs about peopl who have changed things gives a little hope.

My Lady - indeed, there is that resonance but like old memories we can only hope the impact has lessened with time.

subtletims - association? I agree that thre is a dfinite correlation but I guss I see triggers as more intense.

Gillette - again, encouraging to hear that some do disappear and I am intrigued by your observation they are often surroumounted in a lss than obvious way...

and yes, I struggle constantly with what I see as the dichotomy of accesssing the "unconscious"

excus th spelling and lack of "e" - my daughter's laptop is srriously in need of CLEANING.

Anonymous said...

A facinating book, The Unsayable by Annie G. Rogers published by Random House in '06 discusses how some may go further to seek out situations to discover those truamatic memories (so bathed in fright/flight chemicals their encoding isn't in typical memory form). It is enlightening recount of actual cases. I'm sorry you've been through such hard times. Take good care. KayLynn