Triggers and Set Points

In the most recent issue of Energy Psychology (vol 8, no 2), Dawson Church, PhD, presents research that identifies the link between our triggers – those events that signal our defense mechanisms including the autonomic “fight/flight/freeze” response and bring them into play – and the “set points” that make those triggers more or less easily activated.

Our set points for almost any emotion or cluster of emotions are learned and shaped by deep experience and continual reinforcement. And what starts as a behavioral adaption becomes translated into an automatic biological/neurological function. Church draws an analogy between the presets on your radio in the car; each of those stations have a particular level at which they are activated. Under stress certain stress points become obvious. And they vary from person to person.

For example, the same event is received very differently by different persons. A lamp unexpectedly falls over and crashes to the floor and one person is mildly interested, the next irritated, and the next diving under the chair. Their set points are located very differently and automatically so. Over time the set points become habitual. Some people have very low set points for sadness, anger and fear and they are triggered easily while others have much higher set points and it takes much more intensity to affect them. The same can be said of pain and what is experienced with or without great suffering; people have different set points for the experience of pain.

Initially set points served as part of the evolutionary survival instinct. They keep us alive. But when activated too easily in settings that are not representing real threat they become maladaptive.

Thankfully, it is possible to reset these set point presets. This is where energy psychology comes in. The practice of tapping on meridians – the body’s energy points – while imagining or experiencing triggers actually soothes and helps reset the triggering intensity. In clinical trials EFT and EMDR have been shown to have high effectiveness in decreasing Beta brain waves and increasing Alpha waves. Of special importance is the way that coupling tapping or eye desensitization with verbalizing, imagining and experiencing those triggers soothes the amygdala, seat of the fight and flight response which releases cortisol into our system to mobilize our defenses. Persistent and constant cortisol presence is destructive to the brain, resulting in decaying quality of life. Tapping on body meridians while exposing troubling images, memories and emotions reverses the stress response and resets the set points.

The good news is that set points can be changed. We can actually shift our habitual set points from terrible emotions to the set points of greater relaxation, peace and happiness. It is what the great spiritual traditions have taught and practiced for centuries. Now we call it mindfulness. But in the past it was simply called prayer, contemplation or meditation. Coupled with the ritualized behavior of tapping which stimulates the meridians of our natural energy network healing is more possible than ever before.