What triggers a person to get upset?

This is a question I was recently asked by a podcast host from the United States. My short answer at the time was “it doesn’t matter what the triggers are. What you need to do when someone is upset is to acknowledge their distress. This is what is likely to help them calm down”.

You can hear the full interview of about 30 minutes at the following link, here.

I have thought further about the question and could well have said that most likely the trigger to someone getting upset is something unwelcome that has happened in the present that may well be connected to distressing incidents in the person’s past. This is why seemingly simple events can cause strong reactions in a person. They may not be consciously aware of the connection with past events but their emotional reaction might suggest unconscious connections.

There needs to be a high level of trust for a person to reveal hurts from the past, especially for the first time. Such memories can be associated with feelings of shame and embarrassment. This is not something that everyone can manage easily.

What you can do when someone is upset and distressed is simply to acknowledge their distress. It takes courage and generosity to be with another person when they are upset, especially when they come across as angry or demanding. And yet, we know that acknowledging another’s pain and distress is a gift that leads to healing and self-acceptance.