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Understanding Psychological Triggers: The Basics

In psychology, a trigger is an event that sets off a psychological memory. Triggers are usually personal and can cause flashbacks. These flashbacks can generate memories from years previous, but the psycho-physiology often means that we feel the same level of pain, or react in the same way as we would all those years before. Our memories are stored in the Hippocampus and the Amygdala. They are situated within our Limbic system, an area of the brain that supports memory, emotion, and behaviour.

Triggers can be activated through our senses- seeing someone, a reminder of a previous event that causes us difficulty, or even the way someone speaks to us. These events can lead us to act out in uncharacteristic ways. For instance, you may have been humiliated publicly as a child. You are reminded of this event when someone dismisses something you say in a meeting. Triggers can also lead to repetitive behaviour that can be overcome through self-awareness.

Recognising a trigger is important, and can be done by taking a step back during heightened emotions. We can recognise a pattern when we take an objective stance. Taking a step back to respond and not react is key. Build a picture in your head and evaluate the situation, seeing all sides before responding. Is this a common occurrence for you? Could you have misinterpreted the other person’s actions? Are there any patterns? Responding in a neutral emotional state breeds healthy behavioural responses.


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