Have you encountered any road rage lately? What about supermarket rage—when you accidentally collide with someone else’s trolley and they go off the deep end? Or office rage—a colleague letting you know in emotionally loaded terms that they are right and you are wrong. Or, worst of all, home rage, when an argument erupts out of nowhere and often over something trivial.

Welcome to the world of triggered people.

A triggered person is someone whose basic survival programming has been activated. This is the classic ‘fight or flight’ behaviour.

A triggered person is someone whose basic survival programming has been activated. This is the classic ‘fight or flight’ behaviour. If we observe a triggered person closely, we can see that all their behaviour relates to either fight or flight.

1. Body

The body tenses from head to foot. The feet are tense, ready to spring (flight). The back straightens to create the impression of greater height and strength (fight). The fists clench (fight). The chin is up and the jaw juts out (fight and flight). The facial muscles tense, furrowing the brow.

2. Eyes

The eyes narrow and sharpen. Peripheral vision (through the rods in the eye) is abandoned for centralised, focused vision using the cones. This is how the body operates in hunter-killer mode. A dark, dangerous, “don’t mess with me” look glitters in the eyes.

3. Words

A triggered person speaks both more and faster than usual. There are two reasons for this: firstly, to rationalise their own emotionally immature behaviour and, secondly, to fill the aural space with noise so that no one else can jump in and say something sensible that punctures that rationalisation.

The words, heavily polarised, are often a mixture of accusatory and defensive. Blame is externalised; innocence proclaimed. You’ll see this a lot if you encounter a triggered person on social media—some snappy, polarised posts followed by silence as they disappear.

4. Emotions

Everything about a triggered person is freighted with feeling: their physical posture, the look in their eyes, their words, gestures and actions. The air around them is thick with the feeling of ‘treading on eggshells’. Say the wrong thing and you may lose a friendship, even a longstanding one.

5. Actions

In today’s world, public fighting is relatively rare. Words are our chief weapons, along with the emotions associated with them. A triggered person will generally make a speech that places them firmly on the moral high ground and then they will look for a quick exit. Expect fast paces, slamming doors and squealing tyres.

Let them go. There’s no point trying to drag them back to apologise, have a reasonable discussion or, even worse, pointing out the fallacies in their one-eyed, ‘me, myself and I’ perspective. When someone is triggered they are in a basically unreachable state. That’s because unconscious, fear-based survival programming is overriding their conscious, rational and reasonable awareness. By being aware of the signs of a triggered person you can manage the situation as well as can be.

Of course, the real skill lies in recognising when we are the one who’s triggered. I wrote about that in Our lives are constant feedback loops. Have you encountered any triggered people recently—or been triggered yourself?

Image: Trigger Happy by Wendy on Flickr.