Why DO You Get Triggered?

Maybe you get triggered and freak out because you are more sensitive than other people. Perhaps you smell, hear, feel and taste things that other people don’t pick up because you have a more finely-tuned sensory filter. This sensitivity is sometimes known as “atypical sensory filtering.”  Sensory sensitivities can intensify as we grow older. And we may develop new sensitivities.

Our Biological Protection System

The critical factor in sensory sensitivity is whether or not you have a biological reaction when you’re exposed to a sound, smell, facial expression, body language, texture, air movement or image. We get habituated to some sensory things and learn to tune them out. Other things we can’t ignore, our body begins to react and we freak out. Our Adrenal Stress Response (ASR) kicks in and we suddenly begin to experience things such as:

  • palpitations/ pounding heart or racing heart
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • feeling of choking or trouble breathing
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • feelings of unreality or of being detached from oneself
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling
  • chills or hot flushes

These are all signs that we’re being triggered–our brain and nervous system have identified something in our environment as “dangerous” and is physically mobilizing our body so we can go into protection mode.  In the big picture, ASR reactions are good, they’re just a nuisance because we can’t control them.

Why Do You Get Triggered??

tip of the iceberg

Most sensory triggers are connected to past experiences, some of which we might consciously remember . . . . or not.  Sensory awareness is the most highly developed during the first year of life, which is contrary to common beliefs that children’s brains and nervous systems aren’t hooked up and don’t go “online” until about age three or four. Nothing could be further from the truth!



Because infants and young children lack language, they operate primarily though their sensory system. Smells, sounds, facial expressions, body language and touch help them navigate their first year of life. Research shows that these early sensory experiences leave deep imprints in children’s nervous system that influence the development of their brains and nervous systems. Traumatic experiences with children’s first caregivers shape the rest of their lives. So there’s a possibility the things that trigger you as adult are related to traumas or adverse childhood experiences that your conscious mind doesn’t remember. But your BODY does. And that’s why you get triggered.

How To Get Freaked Out No More

One way to stop being freaked out by sensory triggers is by doing a “reframe.” This involves changing your perspective about getting triggered because you have a sensitive sensory filter. Reframing allows you to change the meaning of your triggering experiences.  Rather than getting upset, becoming angry or self-judging, you define these experiences in a way that’s more kind, supportive, nurturing and positive. You might think of episodes of getting triggered as “information from your inner child.” You wouldn’t be mean or critical of a child who was trembling or afraid, right? So . . .  what is your inner child trying saying to you? Where does this sensitivity come from in your childhood? What might have happened during the first year or two of life that left you with a sensory sensitivity . . . a trigger?

Finding the answers to these kinds of questions is important. Nothing changes a triggering situation like understanding why you’re having an ASR reaction. Being able to see what’s “right” about your reaction helps connect the dots between present time and the past. This understanding not only soothes your nervous system, it also helps to integrate the different parts of your brain. And THIS is what trains your nervous system ignore a sensory cue that once upset you. Eventually, the cue joins other habituated sensory messages and you no longer get triggered.

Comments are closed.