We’re designed in our mammalian brain to pick up on reactions of those closest to us. That, uhhh, isn’t always helpful.

I hadn’t heard the term co-triggering… but I’d certainly been in situations where that was happening!

The PAUSE – practicing it, making it a part of our We-Space Agreements – gives me/we a chance to self- and co-regulate.

It’s not a “defect” that one person’s triggers set off a cascade of triggers in another. It is, I believe, a situation ripe for a fresh approach.

@Rick (can you tell I take a lot from Susan Campbell’s books?)


Here are some of my thoughts on the idea/experience of co-triggering and triggering in general I don’t mean this to sound preachy or teachy…I’m really just thinking out loud for the most part and I am so grateful that this online resource exists where I can feel safe doing this and also know that I will get a polite and thoughtful response that will hopefully challenge and add to my current thinking.

I think so much unwanted experience is a matter of metaphorical confusion and why I think an understanding of how metaphor works and how to determine when metaphor is occurring is a fundamental skill. The way I’ve sorted this out for myself is probably largely a result of my NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) background. As a result I’m always interested in modelling how things work…the underlying structure or mechanics of an experience. I also think there is a huge opportunity to include facets of what Rick has described as our ‘Energetic Blueprint’ in all this. I haven’t included that but I’m inserting that understanding into a lot of different experiences in my life now and getting a lot out of it.

My sense is we run on a very simple ‘program’ as mammals. I think the fundamental mammalian OS is basically ‘Safe/Not Safe’. We have asked a lot of that simple program given the complexity that we’ve developed over the last 250,000 years or so. The complexity of our relationships with our environment and with other beings (communities, cities, countries) is no longer obvious or simple. For reasons of survival physical safety is the prime concern of the 'Safe/Not Safe OS. Emotional/psychological safety is secondary to physical safety in terms of survival for obvious reasons. If we no longer physically exist then there is no need to be concerned about our emotional/psychological state. Physical safety is primary.

So here’s where I think the ‘Safe/Not Safe’ OS meets it’s limitations…when physical safety gets confused with emotional safety. I think it plays out something like this: if someone hits me with a shovel and wounds me I can quite rightly and accurately say that I was injured by that person’s actions. There is a very obvious and demonstrable ‘cause/effect’ in play. I can point to my injury…I can touch it. However, if someone aims words at me or a look (instead of a shovel) and I feel ’ hit ’ (or ‘wounded’ or ‘injured’) by those words (or that look) an important distinction becomes necessary IMO. ’ Hit ’ becomes metaphorical and not literal. The experience of being ’ hit ’ is not the same thing as being hit. That can be proven very easily and quickly if you want to fetch me a shovel… :slight_smile:

But because we feel it in our body (uncomfortable emotional sensations) our very simple primitive OS gets triggered ’ as if ‘’ (the metaphor appears!) we’d been actually hit and the physical survival program kicks us into our primitive survival brain/responses. All the physiological stuff kicks in…the cortisol…the adrenaline for fight/flight…etc. Except there’s nothing physical to battle. The enemy is invisible and essentially non-physical…it’s conceptual…it’s only words which are sound waves that hit our eardrums (a true physical impact of sorts, not metaphorical) or a facial expression that triggers us which is simply a pattern of light impacting our retinas…not really a physical threat. So to keep congruent with the primitive OS, which can only perceive in terms of a physical threat, we attribute that threat to the person that spoke the words or cast the glance. Now we have something physical to battle which is congruent with our primitive OS. We behave and react as if the metaphor was literal.

As a result of feeling uncomfortable sensations in the body being emotionally ’ hit ’ is interpreted as being essentially the same thing as physically hit by our very simplistic OS. This is the state I observe that many if not most people live in a lot of the time. They haven’t acquired the skill to be able to separate a metaphorical experience from a literal experience. So to my mind that’s a HUGE area to sort out in order to find emotional freedom. To recognize the metaphorical experience as opposed to literal. In fact, maybe the difference between living in survival/primal brain vs thrival/emotional freedom is the capacity to sort actual threat from perceived/metaphorical threat.

And this is why ‘the pause’ is of critical importance. It’s the opportunity to perceive from a different OS, a more evolved and more recent system that has the capacity to understand metaphorical experience and distinguish it from literal experience. It can distinguish between ’ hit ’ and hit. It’s an OS that is not so primal and not so insistent that everything is life or death…that there are other experiences and therefore other responses beyond the physiological reactions of adrenaline and fight/flight/freeze…there is thriving. The breath and the pause provides that opportunity.

I try my best to be aware of how I function and am affected in a world of potential triggers and how I quite often allow myself to get pulled into the survival OS. I’ve had a lifetime of practice! But there always remains the opportunity for the pause and the breath.

Interesting. You’re bringing out an aspect of harm discernment.

What if the ’ hit ’ is coming from a parent? “I hate you and wish you were never born!” I do think that the primal operating system includes mammalian threats that are visual-only and auditory-only and combined and body postures.

While there isn’t a physical hit, there is a threat that isn’t necessarily even acted upon. Still, when I watch monkeys who have been treated to such displays of aggression, they CHANGE. The way they move, where they move, how they hold their eyes… there is a LOT that happens even without the physical hit.

And I’m not even including pheromones and other primal scents that indicate threat/dominance and warning… aspects of non-physical violence that are still behavior changing.

The Pause and The Breath

As you noted, regardless of the mix of primal signals our primitive OS detects and starts reflexively acting upon, we see there are pathways that send this information to the Thrival OS for discernment. If something isn’t really a reactive threat, there’s the potential for upgrades… and the removal of triggers.

That gives me a LOT of hope for our emotional freedom. The more we make the truth of triggers part of our awareness and conscious exploration, and use tools like Tapping to help craft Responses rather than Reactions, our life and relating really can change for ease and safer connection.

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I realized when I was writing out my thoughts that I was, at times, painting in broad strokes and I did have some niggling thoughts concerning what you’re mentioning regarding the quote below.

Of course I’m not discounting what you’re describing. I’m wondering about the mechanics of it…how does that work? How do words, voice tone and posturing create an ‘as if’ response? How do those things feel like an actual hit. I think it’s the primacy and intelligence of the physical survival OS that turns any sign or sense of threat (verbal, postural etc) into the sensation of physical contact…which makes complete sense to me. The sensation aspect is what is critical in this I think. In order to get the organism to take action (fight/flight/freeze) having only a conceptual interpretation of ‘threat’ is not enough…the primitive OS creates the physical sensation of it…it’s as if it moves the threat forward in time to include an actual physical contact…? Survival strategy wise that makes more sense than waiting for actual contact to be made to determine a physical threat is present I think. It also presents some complexities when dealing with sensations of threat when there really isn’t a survival threat. That takes a lot of threat discrimination skills!! Sometimes a ‘pause and a breath’ might be enough of a gap to get you physically hurt. What criteria do we employ to make an accurate discrimination? Just thinking out loud here.

Do they feel like an actual hit?

My understanding of primitive brain and reactions related to threat do not necessarily link a stimulus to a specific experience. Unless perhaps there is past trauma?

For example, a loud angry vocalization is generally interpreted as a threat. It activates us, perhaps more to run and get away, avoid the threat.

What we can see is if a vocal threat has been followed by a physical hit, the two become associated. If running away failed last time, and resulted in physical violence (or intense emotional violence), now a loud vocalization would more likely to result in freeze or fawning.

Not actual hits physically are required. And my sense and memory of studies is not that we imagine being chomped on by the tiger – we just “know” or learn about predators and how to respond to them. And yes, activation chemicals and sensations can be hard to discern the difference.

And since we’re physical beings, as you noted, the primitive OS has to create physical sensations through chemical release, nerve pathways, breathing, muscle reactions, the whole works.

I suspect we’re on the same wavelength here. Perhaps some different entry points into what and how and where the sensory inputs (which are at least primarily physical including vision) lead to physical reactions and cascades of impacts.

I’m using the word ‘hit’ in a very broad way. What I’m meaning is that words or a look can feel like some kind of negative, unwanted physical contact or even physical harm. Our language contains numerous metaphors that describe that experience…of emotions feeling like unpleasant physical contact. “When she said that to me it was like a punch in the gut” “When I heard the news it was like the ceiling came crashing down on me.”It was like being stabbed in the back.” “I had my heart broken/ripped out.” “Hearing that was like having the wind knocked out of me.” “If you don’t stop talking my head’s going to explode.”…and on and on. Those metaphors aren’t just fanciful, poetic language…it’s describing a sensory experience by the speaker. Words and looks don’t literally hurt us in the way a punch or kick does. It’s a completely different mechanism at work. Some part of that process is metaphorical…‘as if’ physical contact was made. What is that process and why is it? What I’m pondering is this: is this the primitive OS communicating to us in it’s only language…the language of physical survival…creating the sensations of physical danger or physical suffering from non-physical interaction with things like words and looks for the intended purpose of alerting us to pay attention to our safety/survival?

What I’m suggesting is more in the realm of an energetic blueprint I would say. You don’t need past experience in your personal history to act out of an EB it seems to me. I’m suggesting and considering that perhaps the intelligence of this particular blueprint (the primitive OS) is that any perceived non-physical threat, such as angry words, is felt in the body as an unsafe and dangerous physical contact. Since that primitive OS/blueprint thinks and acts strictly in the realm of physical safety/survival it makes sense to me that it would communicate it’s message to us (danger!!) using/creating unpleasant physical sensations (labelled as emotions) which are then communicated verbally by someone through physical contact/harm metaphors even if no physical contact was made as in responding to a threatening word or a look, like in the above metaphors…???

Again, I’m thinking out loud here…wondering about the structure of experience…I appreciate your thoughts… :slight_smile:

Absolutely. Thank you.

I’m getting this image of the road that carries both people out for a Sunday drive, smiling and seeing trees and skies and wonder. And then the same road carrying emergency vehicles racing to a place where trauma is happening (or could).

Images, metaphors… and even the language you share above activates mirroring in my body, helps me appreciate and understand (empathize) with the experience of another human.

And indeed all those descriptions feel accurate, the As If being so close to true to what the physical action might feel like that they are useful in shared understanding (and self-awareness).

Indeed, with tapping I’d be drawn to saying “Even though I was stabbed in the back…” and going with the sensation and feelings that flowed from that, even though physically the person wasn’t stabbed in the back. (And even writing that I wonder… if we’re energetically stabbed in the back, isn’t that physical ? Hmmm…

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I like your road metaphor. That’s good.

Yes, I would say it is…in some shadow realm sort of way…?? The mechanism (for lack of a better word) of injury is different than a direct physical wounding but the result is something similar…(I can’t get myself to type that the result is the same) and it’s certainly well documented and understood that an energetic/emotional wounding has negative physical consequences that can ultimately be as deadly and devastating as an actual physical wounding.

I’ve learned that the metaphors we live by have a primary influence on our experience of ourselves and the world at large…they are largely responsible for how we make meaning out of ‘everything’ it would seem. I’m aware of a lot of written research on metaphor these days and much interesting work being done in that realm therapeutically…exploring and altering ‘client generated’ metaphor…where the metaphor is acted upon as if it is literal and not fanciful or imaginary as you’ve noted…because energetically it is experienced as real.

My current thinking is that all of our experience is metaphorical. Beginning with our senses. We know that our sensory organs filter out far more information than they permit to enter. We are aware of only a minute portion of the frequency spectrum that brings us sound and vision for example. So already we act from a severely impoverished map of the world…a metaphorical map. And then language is completely metaphorical…it doesn’t just contain metaphors. Every word is simply a symbolic representation of the actual ‘thing’. A sort of place holder.

It makes me think that metaphor is our most fundamental experience…we’re immersed in metaphor. It could drive a person barking mad to go down that rabbit hole for too long!! :slight_smile:

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Or it could be really comforting. The relating of language to metaphor makes a lot of sense, especially when one parses differences between words use to express feelings in different languages…

Te quiero - I love you in Spanish, literally “I want you.”

Interesting, eh, when we also explore feelings of being “unwanted” and “unloved” to bring that awareness in…