A Trigger is anything which stimulates an immediate escalation of stimulation. Some common triggers are embarrassment, confusion, and rudeness. Impulsive behaviour is acting without thinking of the consequences, and often a trigger kicks of an automatic pattern of behaviour. Knowing your triggers helps break those patterns. In Claudia Herbert’s book, Overcoming traumatic stress she notes that with triggers:

  • “Your sense of how the world ‘should be’ has been violated. The bubble of safety around you has been burst”
  • The body retains memories that the mind is not yet ready or able to process.
  • Traumatized individuals are ‘programmed’ to expect danger
  • “The body knows the score” (Bessel van de Kolk) – our subconscious mind seems to mark time and when it gets close to the anniversary date, presents us with a series of reminders

Reacting Responding
  • Knee-Jerk
  • Defensive
  • Exhausting
  • Measured
  • Authoritative
  • Empowering

“Response-ability “. is the capacity to face any situation and make powerful choices that are consistent with who you say you are.

Danny Silk

Making sense of triggers


External Triggers

External Triggers can be:

  1. Words – what someone says
  2. Tone – the way they say it
  3. Behaviours – particular activities (like leaving the top off the toothpaste tube)
  4. Noises – e.g. a particular noise, or general ones such as traffic
  5. Smell
  6. Events
  7. Pictures

An external trigger will ‘rubber band’ back to an event, rule belief, or value. We may jump to conclusions on the situation and jump to an automatic response. (“I had to hit him”). It may well have a physiological result such as a change in breathing, skin tone, posture etc.

Internal Triggers

(Dryden, 1990)

These are often based on thoughts, or memories popping into the head. They may be flashbacks to phrases or rules you grew up with.

Internal Triggers

  • Your Demands on Yourself
    • I’m not lovable
    • I need to do the best
    • I need to be on time
    • I don’t get others to do what I want to do
    • I don’t like being taken for a ride
    • Others should live up to their promises
    • Be on time
  • Your demands on others
    • I don’t like to be let down
    • Think things through
    • Don’t do one thing without considering alternatives
    • Don’t act out of pure emotion
  • Your demands on words
    • Do what you say
    • Don’t be dumb
    • Don’t use ‘the rules’ to do dumb things
    • Don’t just tell’

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Reactive Response

Changing Your Reactions to Triggers