Triggers: Someone Pushed Your Buttons?

© Tanya Constantine/Blend Images/Corbis

There are times when we react to situations which we find unacceptable. Those situations trigger a response in us. Why do we react the way we do? Would someone else react differently?

Anyone can trigger a reaction in us by something they say or do. If we have had some personal bad experience – from abuse, loss, disappointment, fear, etc. – someone can easily trigger a response in us. We might react angrily with a verbal or physical attack. Why?

Because it ‘hit a nerve’. It uncovers some hurt or experience we have blocked out, tried to forget or closed down. The reality is that when we are triggered, the issue is ours.

Actually those hurts, fears and blockages are issues we can choose to bring to the surface to deal with. If we  don’t, we will always carry those “volcanoes waiting to explode” or negative reactions about someone or something.

For example, we may still have desires and feelings for someone we loved but do not have access to any more. A photo of happier times together can be a trigger for exposing emotions we have not dealt with or grieving we did not do.

As long as we blame others for our reactions, we are diverted from dealing with the real cause, which is the hurt we have not let go of.

Our painful emotions are really emanating from ourselves – our unhealed wounds  from long ago. Once we accept responsibility for our reactions, it becomes possible to avoid destructive outbursts of emotions and anger towards people around us who suffer when they feel the backlash of our reactions.

It’s true that other people affect us but if it did not touch a sore within ourselves we would not have the same reaction.

From the other perspective, we can trigger an unexpected, or even expected, reaction in someone else. We often think it is our fault when someone reacts to us. Indeed we can look at what we did or said and consider if it might have been handled better. At the same time, it is good to be aware that the person reacting has his/her own issues which s/he may not recognise or realise that they need to be resolved.

Understanding this leads us to compassion for ourselves and towards the other.