The word “triggered” has become super common language as of late. Even teenagers are using it to communicate they are feeling a strong emotional response to their circumstances. When it’s used like this, the trigger is the situation the “caused” the emotion.
In the case of triggers that relate to things that are actually important—like our motivations and our identity—the strong emotional response can result in a need to cope with our feelings.
For example, type threes on the Enneagram are driven by achievement. Anything that gets in the way of that achievement is a trigger—be it lack of cooperation, lack of resources, or pure exhaustion. Depending on how severe and persistent the trigger is, it could lead to coping behaviors like binge eating, over-sleeping, or even risky sexual behaviors.
I’m a 9, and I am super motivated to keep the peace. If other people are happy and peaceful, I’m happy and peaceful. A lack of peace is a trigger for me. Just this week, I was approached about splitting the cost of a birthday gift for a family member, and I hated the gift idea. It immediately created internal conflict between my desire to keep the peace and my distaste for the gift idea.
If this had happened five years ago, I would have gone along with the gift as to not make anyone uncomfortable, and I would have resented it. That resentment would have left me wanting to feel better which would have probably led to me shoveling a candy bar down—because, hey, I deserved it.
Alternatively, I may have stood up for myself in the name of better boundaries. I would have declined the offer to split the cost of this gift, but the experience of doing so would have seriously disrupted my inner peace—even more so than going with the flow. This also would have led to coping behaviors like emotional eating or shopping.
These days, I’m more aware of my triggers and my coping behaviors. An awareness of my triggers has helped me make decisions that are in line with my true self instead of making decisions driven by my subconscious motivation to keep the peace. Awareness of my triggers also empowers me to be on the lookout for my coping behaviors so I can choose to cope in ways that actually serve me instead of sabotaging my health and wellness.
I do want to confess that even though I am aware of my triggers, and—most of the time—I choose different behaviors now, the motivation to keep the peace is still very strong. It’s something I work very hard to be aware of so I can make conscious decisions.
Triggers and coping behaviors are inextricably linked. Most of my clients come to me because they have a coping behavior they want to change. They may not recognize binge eating or emotional eating as a coping behavior, but they know they want to change it. We then work backwards from the behavior to the trigger.
Without noticing a behavior and the circumstances that trigger it, there’s little hope for changing it.
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been using the Enneagram as a tool for helping my clients learn more about their coping behaviors, triggers, and the unconscious patterns that prevent them from getting what they want in life. While you will certainly have triggers that are specific to you, your Enneagram type can provide a lot of insight into potential triggers.
No matter your Enneagram type, your triggers are going to be things that cause you stress.
Here’s a list of common stressors—or triggers—for each Enneagram type. Keep an eye out for those that look familiar to you. (If you haven’t read my post on Enneagram archetypes, you may want to take a peek before digging into this list)
Trying to be perfect, fatigue, lack of structure, chaos (literal or metaphorical)
Feeling obligated to care for others, lack of appreciation, feeling excluded or pushed away
People wanting their time and energy, feeling vulnerable, feeling unsuccessful or like a failure
Feeling misunderstood, unmet emotional expectations, feeling disappointed or abandoned
When others make demands of them, feeling depleted, feeling like they are lacking in resources
Being overcommitted, feeling unprepared for a decision, feeling rushed
Feeling trapped, being overcommitted, feeling overwhelmed
Loss of control, vulnerability, a perceived lack of self-sufficiency
Perceived conflict, when the people around them are not ok, harboring unvoiced expectations or desires
If you read my previous post about coping behaviors, you can use that work backward from the behavior to identify your triggers. Use the questions below to help you start making connections between your coping behaviors and the situations and emotions that trigger them.
What are your common coping behaviors?
What are you usually doing or what is usually happening before the behavior?
What are you thinking before the behavior?
What are you feeling? Why?