Conditioned Emotional Patterns are formed early in life in all kinds of ways about all kinds of things. They become the basis for the ‘life themes’ we develop, which then becomes the way we live our lives. It is difficult to tell when we are living life in the ‘present moment’ and when we are living out of a ‘conditioned pattern’ – but it is safe to say that we live out of our emotional patterns a lot. And, that is where ‘problems’ come in; that is, we live out of our conditioning (habits from the past) rather than in our current life as it is unfolding.
EMDR theory suggests that when we experience a ‘trauma’ the feelings and emotions that are happening during the event are being stored in a certain way that can cause them to be unresolved and, therefore, easily triggered. When they are triggered, we can have feelings, thoughts, and reactions related much more to what happened in the past than what is happening currently, during the instance of being triggered.
One example of that is combat stress and the ‘startle response.’ A soldier develops a ‘conditioned emotional response’ to loud noises. The ‘emotional conditioning’ includes ‘memories’ of the sound, feelings of fear and anxiety and tension throughout the body. Later, when back in the US, a loud sound will trigger the ‘conditioned emotional pattern’ and the accompanying feelings, fears and body tensions will also be triggered causing a reaction that while it feels very real is more related to the past than the present.
Actually, this same type of thing happens to us all the time, only it is much more subtle and difficult to discern. When we move away from ‘trauma’ to ‘life events’ that happened that were chronically unpleasant, but that became “what we’re used to,” we see that we’re constantly being triggered and living in reactivity to our conditioned emotional patterns.