Getting to the root of why we get triggered and how to minimise the impact 

In this article we’ll look at what happens when we get triggered and some of the reasons why: particularly those rooted in the quality of our attachment with our main caregivers in childhood. We’ll explore what makes for positive caregiver relationships and how they can help. We’ll also look at how well intentioned caregivers can miss the mark and hinder our capacity to stay calm and measured in difficult situations and build healthy relationships as we move in to adulthood. After a look at some of the science behind this, we’ll focus on what we can do to repair childhood attachment wounds and finish by taking an overview of specific pathways to healing and recovery. If you’re interested in finding out more or looking at how therapy might help and want to know more about these different approaches, email me at

Introduction – setting the scene

This article may be interesting for those who are troubled or curious about why they find themselves repeatedly responding to adverse situations and experiences in ways that they’d prefer not to but which they don’t seem to be able to stop. It’s as if something programs them to react and they have limited control over their responses. What we’ll look at here may not be the only possible explanation for why this happens, but it is a common one. It is rooted in our experiences of being cared for by important people, especially parents, from childhood onwards. We are going to look at how the quality of our attachment with our primary caregivers, and how well or not they attune to our wants and needs and meet those needs appropriately, will help or hinder our ability to navigate life, adverse experiences, and especially relationships, in adulthood.

Life doesn’t always go smoothly and can deliver experiences which really throw us off balance. If you keep reacting to difficult situations in ways you don’t want and you can’t understand why, then step 1 toward doing something more positive starts with understanding why it’s happening, the root causes. This insight, let’s call it evidence, is a powerful tool for making positive, sustainable change because it’s up to date rather than a re-run of an old loop from the past. This frees up our brain to interpret experiences in the here and now so we can regulate emotions, re-group and make more clear-thinking choices in the moment rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

It takes practice. However, the good news is that you don’t have to stay stuck in your particular version of a reactive vicious cycle. There are ways of working with our unwanted beliefs and behaviours to develop mastery and choice in the moment. To increase our understanding of the root causes of our unwanted responses we’ll focus on how attachment styles are created during our childhood and how they affect us in adulthood. Toward the end of this article we shall look at how therapy can help and we’ll highlight some specific therapeutic approaches which focus on healing from relational trauma and emotional wounding. In a follow up article we’ll look in more detail at those options.

Before we move on, a word about the difference between non-relational trauma and relational trauma. We can suffer non-relational trauma as a result of single life events/experiences eg. an accident, a house fire.  Relational trauma, which is the focus of this article, is trauma resulting from the negative behaviours/actions of those we are in relationship with eg parents, siblings. Both types of trauma are emotionally wounding. However, the former is tangible, easier to recognise, and, with the support of specialist treatments that deal with post-traumatic stress such as EMDR, we can recover and soften the impact and get emotional distance from the event or put it behind us. The latter, relational trauma, is different. It’s less tangible, and generally the result of a repeated pattern of wounding behaviours which becomes the norm. That’s why it’s harder to spot and recover from. Relational trauma and the emotional wounding it causes becomes embedded into our psyche and leads to us getting stuck in unwanted beliefs, attitudes and behaviours – the ones that trouble us.

Link to Part 2 (Cornerstones of what we need…)

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