Why Are We so Easily triggered – Free Ebook

If we were totally sane, we would respond
to the present only on its own terms; we would

worry or be angered or give way to anxiety
only as much as the circumstances before us

actually dictated. But we are not – of course
– most of us quite sane, as evidenced by

the way that we respond with such disproportion
to certain events in the here and now. We

have occasional tendencies to get wildly more
worried, angry and anxious than we should,

if we were simply following the facts in front
of us. What causes us difficulty is that we

are wired to feel and respond according to
precedent rather than on the basis of a dispassionate

evaluation of the present, and in particular
we follow emotional tracks laid down in the

distant past – when many of us were victims
of deeply unrepresentative and unusually painful

experiences, from which we continue to make
panicky, gloomy and unhelpful extrapolations.

In other words, we are, to use the inelegant
but useful contemporary term, easily (far

too easily) ‘triggered’. That is, situations
in the present elicit from us with undue haste

responses formed by, and frankly better suited
to, a past whose details we have forgotten

and whose distinctiveness we cannot now perceive.
A tricky but not objectively existentially

troubling email will hence convince us at
once that this is The End. An item in the

news will plunge us immediately into devastating
guilt or boundless fury. The prospect of a

party we have to go to or a speech we need
to give brings on unbudgeable, monumental

terror. The triggering happens so fast, there
is no chance to observe the process and see

the way in which we cede our powers of evaluation
from present to past. Our minds are simply

flooded with panic, we lose our bearings,
the rational faculties shut down and we are

lost, perhaps for days, in the caverns of
the mind. We get triggered because we don’t

have a direct link with objective reality:
each of us approaches the outer world through

the prism of an inner world with a more or
less tenuous connection to it. In this inner

world of ours lies a repository of expectations
formed through our unique histories; our internal

working models, or our best guesses, of what
the outer world will be like; how others will

respond to us, what they will say if we complain,
how things will turn out when there is a challenge.

Crucially, and this is what we of course miss
when we have been triggered, the inner world

isn’t the outer world. It contains generalisations
and extrapolations from a past that may be

far harder, stranger and more dangerous than
the present. Psychologists have a handy rule

of thumb to alert us to the disproportionate
side of our responses: if we experience anxiety

or anger above a five out of ten, they tell
us, our response is likely to be fuelled not

by the issue before us, but by a past we’re
overlooking. In other words, we have to believe

(contrary to our feelings) that the issue
won’t be what it seems to be about. Image

result for david hockney The best way to free
ourselves from being so eagerly triggered

is to refuse to believe in most of what overwhelmingly
and rapidly frightens or angers us. We must

learn to adopt a robust suspicion of our first
impulses. It isn’t that there is nothing

scary or worrying in the outer world whatsoever,
simply that our initial responses are liable

to be without proportion or without calculation
of adult strength, resilience, resourcefulness

or options. Another way to approach our panic
and anxiety is to remember that, despite appearances,

we are not a single person or unified ‘I’.
We are made up of an assemblage or a blend

of parts dating right back to our earliest
days. In a way we can’t easily track, different

events will engage with different parts of
us. Some of our most troubled moments are

when a difficulty in the present isn’t handled
by an adult part, but by a part formed when

we were six months or three years old. We
end up so scared because the challenge of

public speaking or of a seduction or a worry
at work has, unbeknownst to the adult part

of us, been left in the hands a very scared
toddler. In the circumstances, it can help

to ask ourselves at points not what ‘we’
are afraid of but what a ‘part’ of us

is worried about – and to learn more carefully
to differentiate the parts in question. What

might we tell a part of us in order for it
not to be so scared? Image result for david

hockney flowers It is a milestone of maturity
when we start to understand what triggers

us and why – and to take steps to mitigate
the most self-harming of our responses. Whatever

our past seems to tell us, perhaps there won’t
be a catastrophe, perhaps we’re not about

to be killed or humiliated unbearably. Perhaps
we have adult capacities for survival. Too

much of our past is inside us in a way we
don’t recognise or learn to make allowances

for. We should dare to approach many of our
triggers like a starting pistol or a fire

alarm that we will from now on, for well-grounded
reasons, refuse to listen to.

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