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What triggers you?

Trigger has become a commonly used word for when someone becomes angry or upset. I’ll hear something like; that is when mom got triggered, or my dad was triggered and then there was no talking to him or my kids trigger me. Typically, when most people hear the word trigger, they think of a gun and the mechanism required for it to be fired. Pulling the trigger causes the gun to fire. Trigger means to activate, to cause, to generate. This is also a very good description of what happens in the brain as one thought and then another result in a trigger, or an activation of a response known as behavior.

Response is a reaction to something. Mechanical and electrical devices are programmed to respond to a stimulus or range of stimuli. Biologically, in humans and animals, response is an excitation of a nerve impulse caused by a change or event, a physical reaction to a specific stimulus or situation. The brain is both biological and mechanical, operating as such with the precision of finely tuned trigger/response instrumentation.

For humans, a trigger could be words spoken, a smell, a certain look, volume, sight of an object, a memory, or a sound. There are thousands of possible triggers for responsive behavior. To begin to understand behavior, therefore, is to begin to grasp that the brain’s mechanism operates in much the same way as the trigger of a gun ignites a response, an electrifying release of a thought as neurotransmitters interact in the brain. This is called synaptic activity and it is occurring a billion times in the brain at any given millisecond in time. To simplify understanding the synaptic series involved in all human behavior, I like this simple, catchy list: trigger, response, reward.

Scriptures encourage us to take responsibility for each of the three dynamics of the synaptic series.

Trigger - … as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another. (Romans 12:18)

Response - Speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. (Philippians 2:3)

Reward - Honor your father and mother, the only command with a promise: that you may live long and do well. (Deuteronomy 5:16 and Mark 7:10)

Many Proverbs illustrate the trigger/response/reward sequence. As you read and think on this, you begin to see this pattern everywhere! You will also note the dynamics of discipline and consequences and begin to understand how motivation to do what is right is weighed in a child’s mind with the temptation to do what is wrong. One of my goals in writing is to present discipline and consequences as positive, loving tools that assist parents with training a child’s mind to make good decisions.

Angela is the owner of Maximum Child Learning Center, LLC and is the lead counselor for Intentional Intervention, Inc. For more information about her e-book and other parenting resources, contact her at Information about counseling resources at

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