The simplest way to recognise if we have been triggered is to become aware of our internal reactions to situations. Being triggered is a natural reaction for all human beings as we perceive physical or emotional threats to our well-being. It is an automatic response in the body that keeps us safe.
When we recognise our own triggers and learn to ‘de-trigger’ ourselves we are able to stay present in the situation as a rational adult who can make appropriate responses and decisions rather than reacting from a child ego state and as a result reacting in childlike ways.
The theory of Transactional Analysis (TA) developed by Eric Berne (1961) explains that there are three ego states – Parent, Adult and Child – each with an important function.
- The Parent Ego State is a state in which people think, feel and behave, in an unconscious way that mimics how their parents acted. For example, a boss may shout in frustration at a staff member because they learned from their parental figures that shouting gets people to comply with their wishes.
- The Adult Ego State takes in information from the environment, assesses what’s best and responds accordingly. When in Adult state, we can work rationally with others towards a common goal. This is the most appropriate and helpful ego state for making decisions and daily functioning.
- The Child Ego State is a state in which people behave, feel and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a staff member who receives poor feedback may respond by looking at the floor, crying or getting angry, as they used to when scolded as a child. The Child Ego state is the source of emotions, creativity, recreation, spontaneity and intimacy.
When we find ourselves in conflict with others, we may find we are triggered and reacting out of a Child or Parent ego state rather than an Adult. Recognising this is important, so we can return to our adult state as soon as possible in situations and therefore respond appropriately.
If we speak to another person as a Parent figure it’s likely that their response will come from their Child Ego state. This encourages dependence as well as disempowerment, however, if we respond from the Adult Ego state, this helps keep others in their Adult Ego state and life is much more manageable.