Emotions are a wonderful thing, right? We experience so many varying emotions every single day, and they are all unique to us. No-one feels happiness in exactly the same way, and it’s triggered by any number of different events or situations. Our ability to feel things, good or bad, creates for us the rollercoaster that is our lives. What happens then, when our emotions take over and we lose control? These moments of irrational behaviour are instigated by emotional triggers.
An emotional trigger is when we react extremely towards a given situation based upon a past event, experience, or memory. Our reaction, sparked by the trigger, can have nothing to do with your current mood. So powerful is the emotional trigger, we are swept up and find it impossible, oftentimes, to control.
Emotional triggers, unsurprisingly, are therefore related to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is of course a more extreme level of an emotional trigger, but they come in many forms and strengths.
We must therefore learn to recognise them and how to control or even overcome them in our lives.
How to recognise your emotional triggers
Triggers can be anything but fall into two main categories: internal and external triggers. Furthermore, it’s important to realise that no one person will have precisely the same emotional triggers as someone else. Our lives are so unique and we each have our own particular set of life experiences, so we mustn’t compare ourselves to others.
Based upon these unique life experiences, our triggers can include memories from our past, a person, a specific place, scent, or sound. It could also be one of our own behaviours.
Here are some triggers that you may have experienced:
Emotions like sadness, anger, joy
A specific place
An event or occasion
A song, book, or news article
A specific violent incident i.e. a car crash
Certain smells, tastes or sounds
When you are faced with your trigger you will of course experience an outward expression of intense emotion. But it is also worth being aware that you may experience other symptoms common with anxiety: a pounding heart, dizziness, upset stomach, or sweaty palms. These types of indicators are important to recognise if you are to learn to control your triggers and gain higher ground emotionally.
They’re your feelings. Own them!
In order for you to gain control of your emotional triggers, you have to accept what is. You have a past event, experience, or memory that triggers an emotional response within you. Those emotions are normal and totally natural. But you have to acknowledge how you are feeling before you will be able to move past it. Acceptance is key. Ignoring how you feel will only dig a deeper wound. We must face what is, in order to choose what we want to be.
Go back to the source
In order to overcome or control your triggers, it is important that you figure out their source. By that I mean work out what the original incident was that created your trigger. Some are obvious, for example, if you were in a car accident, you may be triggered by certain things to do with car journeys. If however, your trigger is more subtle, for example, you get angry at your partner because of a certain behaviour you find irritating or unhelpful, you may have to look a little harder for the source in order to deal with it.
It’s important to look!
When you feel your body reacting to a trigger and you feel your emotions rearing up it is important to use that moment wisely. Look back and try to trace the origins of your trigger. Don’t ignore or fight what you’re feeling, instead, approach cautiously and with curiosity and see if you can find your source.
I say to be cautious because it is a difficult thing to do. Looking back into painful or sensitive areas of our past can be traumatic. Take time afterward to look after and comfort yourself.
You are powerful, not a victim.
When you seek to figure out what causes your trigger, you also give yourself the power to feel something different. You will bring clarity to your situation and a path will create itself to help you out. It gives you a glimmer of hope that there is life beyond what you feel in that moment and that you can actually have control over your emotions and reactions to them. It’s all to do with choice. We can choose to be a victim, or we can fight and find healing.
Real? Or not real?
The sooner you recognise an emotion has been triggered within you, the more easily you will be able to deal with it and determine if the threat is real or not. So often, the emotional triggers we experience are based upon things that we hold value in. For example, if you hold value in the idea of if you’re going to do a job, do it well and not halfway, you may be triggered when you see someone doing a job you’ve asked them to do with little effort. This may stem from behaviour that was instilled in you as a youngster, that if you didn’t do it a certain way, you were somehow failing.
When you see your emotions being triggered, you need to ascertain if you are somehow being threatened or are losing control somehow. Are you going to be treated as you once were? Why is your need for control here so important? The more you are attached to having control, the more your brain will be on the lookout for circumstances that deny you this. This unmet need for control or threat of certain behaviours becomes an emotional trigger.
Choices that work for your triggers
The chances are that you will need to manage your emotional triggers for the rest of your life. But through practice, you can become really good at recognising them and therefore choose what to feel and what to do about them when they should arise.
Here are some options that may help you:
Often when we are in a situation that creates an emotional trigger within us, the best thing we can do is to remove ourselves from that physical space. By doing so we can refocus our thoughts onto another emotion that we’d rather be feeling. We can breathe and calm our nervous system and give ourselves some perspective on what has just happened. We will have the space to ask ourselves if we are honestly feeling threatened or if we are taking the situation too personally.
Giving yourself physical space will give you mental space too. By taking a moment to calm yourself down you can establish what has happened externally and internally and you can choose what you want to feel and do next.
How often do we think about other people’s perspectives when we’re in the heat of heightened emotional moments? Probably not very often. We are too consumed by how we feel that we don’t stop to consider what the other person is thinking or feeling. This means that our reactions to any given situation are often (not always) inaccurate.
People, generally speaking, don’t try to make you feel bad deliberately. Oftentimes their behaviour is a result of their own experiences that day and is not intentionally directed at you. They are probably dealing with their own emotional triggers too. Unless they tell you what is going on with them, you will have no idea what is actually happening in their minds.
Behaviour is incredibly easy to misinterpret, so above all, be kind. To others and to yourself. We’re all dealing with something.
We need to talk more
Naturally, this leads to the need to communicate better with each other. Especially those we are closest to. I’m bad at this. Always have been, but I’ve married a talker who is emotionally available and I need to be better at that too.
Healthy communication in the moment of your trigger can help you stem the flow of emotion too. If we choose to be open and deal with it there, we can avoid a whole world of pain later. Passive-aggressive behaviour helps no-one, so instead, try and adopt healthier approaches through I statements; I feel frustrated when… or I find it hurtful when you…
If we approach the issue more productively, honestly, and respectfully, we will find greater peace and success.
In the longer term, dealing with your emotional triggers may need some further work. To help us identify the core issues that spark our emotional triggers, adopting certain practices can be helpful.
The practice of mindfulness channels your focus inwards and makes you pay better attention to what you are feeling at any given moment. By building our awareness, we can be more attuned to how we feel, identify our triggers, how to cope with them, and choose to feel a different way.
Practicing deep breathing exercises regularly can help you in times of emotionally triggered need. We can centre our thoughts and emotions, breathe out slowly what we are feeling, and channel our thoughts in a more positive and productive manner.
Furthermore, if we are more in-tune with our emotions, we can keep track of them by writing them in a journal. We may begin to notice patterns that help us to control our triggers and be proactive in our healing.
Identify toxic people
We cannot control what the people around us will say or do, but we can control our proximity to them. everyone is responsible for their own actions and unfortunately, certain people are just not good for us. If you find that you have someone in your life who is doing you no good and triggers you emotionally and seems not to notice, then it’s time you did something about it. Try speaking to them and asking them to keep clear of certain topics of conversation, not to do a particular thing, or whatever it may be. If they are willing and want to help you, fabulous. You have a true friend. If they persist, however, then you may have to consider their presence in your life.
This can be very difficult, especially with family members. It may be you just need to limit your interactions with them, see them less often until you can work it out together. But sometimes we need to close the door on certain relationships. Don’t do this lightly or rashly. Always consider big decisions carefully and with respect for all those involved.
Don’t try and tackle your emotional triggers on your own. So often we need help to dig deeper and work our way through, especially if we can’t recognise what our triggers are, to begin with. Sometimes they are so embedded in our behaviours or psyche that it takes another to help us identify and work them out.
Speaking to a trusted friend or relative can be a good place to start as they often know us the best. If you would rather speak to someone impartial there are many services available to you. Don’t work through it alone if you need accountability and support.
We also have a great course available to you today, Become Master of your Emotions. If you are struggling to master your emotions, control your feelings want tools to overcome them, then this is a fantastic course for you. Available for a limited time at the price of £19.99/$27. If this sounds like something you’d like to know more about, click here now.
The future is bright!
Nothing worth doing, or of value, is easy. Learning to control your emotional triggers is not easy. But it’s worth doing. The freedom you will feel, the clarity of mind, and your ability to take on life will be your reward. You will always encounter difficulty in life, but if you can handle your emotional triggers, you’ll find you can cope all the better, no matter what life throws your way.
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