Triggers: How they impact your life and how to deal with them

A trigger is something that sets off a memory. A trigger can actually or subliminally transport the person back to the original event he or she experienced.

Edvard Munch,
Edvard Munch, "The Scream." (Via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2015 – For better or ill, “triggers” have been very much in the news lately. But what, exactly, is a “trigger?”

A trigger is something that sets off a memory. A trigger can actually or subliminally transport the person back to the original event he or she experienced.

Cover image for "Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts. Becoming the Person You Want to Be" by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter.
Cover image for “Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts. Becoming the Person You Want to Be” by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter. Goldsmith’s book explains how to achieve change in our lives, make it stick, and become the person we’ve always wanted to be.

Triggers are very personal. Different things trigger different people. People may consciously avoid situations and stimuli that can trigger a flashback, as some triggers are highly negative and can present with an emotional intensity similar to that experienced during the original event.

An individual’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting.

Giving that repeated negative memories can severely interfere with our lives, controlling negative triggers thus becomes extremely important for individuals who experience the resulting negative flashbacks.

Ask yourself:

  • What makes you tick and what ticks you off?
  • How do you recover quickly from a triggered state?
  • When you are emotionally charged, do you get aggressive or do you become passive?

People’s reactions to actual events and recollected memories are unique. They can range from a co-worker disregarding our input to a conversation to a spouse leaving a mess in the kitchen to a child talking back to us.

A negative, emotional reaction set off by a trigger can result in an action or reaction to the connected emotion without the mindful intent to do so. When this happens it’s not so much that we’re a person with that emotion. It is more like we are that emotion with a little bit of person involved.

When we are triggered, our ability to respond to a situation can be compromised because we are being overwhelmed by the resulting recollection or emotion. The usual result is that we just live through the reaction.

This situation is much like when your doctor checks your knee reflexes. When the hammer strikes, your leg reflexively jerks upward. This is pure reaction. Much in the same way, when we are emotionally triggered, our actions and words can come from an unconscious place, a level of consciousness far below that of conscious consideration.

Think about driving your car. What reaction do you have when you are cut off? At the very least, it’s not positive. But for some, it could be much worse.

There are too many emotionally triggered people acting out extremely reactive behavior during episodes of road rage. Some choose to retaliate for being cut off, leaning out of their cars screaming. Others go way too far by getting out of their cars to fight. The act of putting their personal safety in jeopardy is nothing but pure reaction to being emotionally triggered.

If the same person were to consider his or her actions rationally rather than automatically react, we would see a tremendous altering of the acted out behavior. That is because the decision about how to act would come from a conscious place, rather than from a dark, constricted, reactive level of unconsciousness.

Some triggers can cause physical changes in us. Muscles can twitch, blood vessels can constrict, the heart can beat faster, and for some, everything can become black and white. Our focus can go from sharp to hazy, communication and listening skills can go south, and our productivity can decrease.

When we are stressed, a deluge of hormones are released that can put us into the fight or flight response. Knowing what our triggers are can help us control our reactions.

The benefits of identifying our triggers and mastering them can help reduce stress, improve our focus and communication with individuals and teams and shorten our recovery time.

Something as simple as simply being aware can be the “safety switch” that can stop negative emotions from firing off uncontrollably. With repetition, time and mindfulness you can disarm a given trigger entirely.

Practicing awareness can reduce your virtually autonomic reaction to emotional triggers until the associated negative, depleting reactions no longer occur.

Triggers can flood through an individual to such an extent that the past seems just as real as the present. Being fully and consciously present in the here and now, however, is key to noticing that the “here and now” isn’t the same as the “there and then” when the event actually took place.

Wishing a happy and safe Independence Day holiday weekend to all.

For more Information Contact:

Susan Commander Samakow, PCC, CPCC
Certified Business, Life & Leadership Coach
Focusing on Confidence & Resilience Strategies, Life & Career Transition, & Business & Leadership
Certified Mediator         [email protected]

Twitter: @SelfTalkCoach

301-706-7226 & 703-574-0039!/susan.samakow

Ask Susan about the Stress Reducing techniques she teaches: EFT (Tapping) and Breathing Exercises.

“Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts. Becoming the Person You Want to Be,” by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter can be purchased by visiting


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