Triggers - the Psychological Shotgun

Triggers - Resolved Wellness & Behaviour Centre

Triggered; a word we hear so often, yet from a psychological perspective, the definition still fails to connect with us. What does it really mean to be "triggered"?

For my clients to really get a grasp on how impactful a "trigger" is, I like to use a metaphor for its explanation - I call it "The Psychological Shotgun".

Without discussing the long-standing and serious issues of gun control, a shotgun has its uses. For farmers, a shotgun helps to protect their flock. Other types of firearms serve a purpose also, however for this metaphor, we will stick with the shotgun.

In order for the shotgun to work, it requires ammunition. A shotgun can't load itself; an individual must load that ammunition into the shotgun. Once the target has been sighted, the safety is removed, and the trigger is then depressed for the weapon to fire. The result is loud, effective, and destructive.

Now, imagine, if you will, that your mind is a shotgun.

At some stage in your life, your psychological shotgun has been loaded with ammunition. It could be yourself who loaded it, a parent, a friend, a teacher, or even a stranger.

The mental ammunition (the bullet), is usually a result of something you have believed about yourself.

For example; perhaps growing up, you felt as though you weren't important enough to your Father. You felt as though he prioritised everything else above you, or that he did not protect you, or give you affection. You grew up subconsciously believing that your Father didn't think you were good enough, and therefore as a result, you feel as though you are never good enough.

This "belief" you hold about your worth becomes the ammunition.

So now, your psychological shotgun is loaded; the bullet is in the chamber, however, at this point, you still have the safety on.

Fast forward a few years.

Imagine now, that you are in your late-twenties and have decided that you want to pursue your dream of being a business owner.

You study and study, so that you can be sure you know what you are doing, and to feel that you are competent and capable to take on this new venture.

Being the perfectionist you are, you never quite feel "ready" to start taking on clients. "Maybe if I study one more subject, I will feel more ready?" you say to yourself, and you enrol in the next course that is touted as the one you need for business success.

And when you have successfully completed that course, you still don't feel like you know enough, so you take on another area of study, or you may completely change direction altogether - giving up on the idea of being your own boss, and returning to the job you despise, but know it pays the bills.

Essentially, you are procrastinating, because there is a part of you who never seems to feel as though you are good enough. You doubt your worth, ability, and competence.

In this instance, your belief about your worth (the bullet) has been sitting in the chamber, waiting to fire. Unbeknownst to you (as it occurs on a subconscious level), your fear of not being good enough has grown so strong, that it pulls the "trigger" of your psychological shotgun, casting it to fire.

You may be asking at this point who the target is?

Who is the target?

It's you. You are the target.

By procrastinating and sabotaging your dreams because of a fear of not being good enough, you have metaphorically shot yourself in the foot.

You have turned your psychological shotgun toward yourself, pulled the "trigger", and fired.

So what was the trigger?

The thought of stepping out of your comfort zone, and doing something that if it failed would reinforce your belief of not being good enough, was the trigger. In an earlier post ( I discussed how our core beliefs drive our behaviours and our actions - we live out our lives doing what we can to AVOID any situation which may reinforce our core belief.

If our belief is that we are not good enough, we will avoid any activities which may prove that belief to be true. In this instance, going out on a limb to start a business (which like all businesses, has the potential to fail) might not work out as planned; so instead of taking an educated risk, you procrastinated or quit, and went back to the safety of employment.

The TRIGGER was the potential of a core belief being reinforced.

As soon as there is a chance that what we believe about ourselves may be proven to be true, we look to avoid it. This fear of our inner truth being realised, is the trigger.

What happens when the target is not ourselves?

Here is another example.

Taking the scenario from the previous example, imagine that you have managed to successfully overcome your procrastination, and your business has started to gain traction. You are regularly seeing clients, however, not as steadily as you would have liked.

You meet with a new client, but struggle to create rapport with them. Your interaction with them has left you feeling insecure, and full of self doubt. At one point during your meeting, they gave you a "look" - and you remember from your childhood that you had seen that look before, from your father, and that type of look meant disapproval.

Did the client think you weren't knowledgeable enough? Did they assume you didn't know what you were talking about? Didn't they like you? They must think you're useless and don't think you're capable of doing what you say you can.

These thought processes are the ammunition.

You decide that you are in fact, knowledgeable enough, and you are good at what you do, so it must mean that this particular client is just an ass. They don't know you, so they have no right to judge you - how dare they make you feel incompetent? How dare they make you feel like you're not good enough?

That thought process is the trigger.

The next time you meet with the client, you have the mindset of "I know what I am talking about, this client is just arrogant and pigheaded."

You decide that you don't care if the client continues seeing you, or not, because they can't be a very nice person if they are so judgemental and rude.

As a result of your mindset, you speak quite abruptly and poorly to the client, and in your efforts to let them know how wrong they are about you (even though they never said anything about you, it was just your assumption of their thoughts, based on a perceived "look" they gave you) you offend them. The client decides that you aren't the right person for them to do business with, and they plan on letting all their friends know about your poor attitude and lack of customer service.

Shots fired.

In this example, not only is the target the client (which is incredibly unprofessional and inappropriate), your reputation and business will catch some shrapnel from the fallout.

Hopefully, you can see how your core beliefs (the ammunition), the fear of proving those beliefs to be true (the Trigger), and your ability to keep the safety switched to the "on" position on your psychological shotgun can impact your personal and business life.

Psychologically speaking, a trigger is anything that initiates a feeling/thought/behaviour pattern, based on a belief you hold about yourself (or others, or the world around you).

Sadly, in some instances, instead of a psychological shotgun, some people carry a Mental Machine Gun.

If you would like some guidance in ensuring your safety remains switched on for your psychological shotgun, please, get in touch. At Resolved Wellness & Behaviour Centre, we can help you to discover what your ammunition is, who loaded it into your shotgun (if necessary), what pulls the trigger, and how you can control your psychological shotgun for maximum benefit.

Kelly Brealey - Clinical Hypno-psychotherapist, NLP practitioner.

Resolved Wellness & Behaviour Centre