What are Emotional Triggers and How To Handle Them | Reclaiming Zen

What are Emotional Triggers and How To Handle Them

Do you ever wonder why you may react in the same way over and over again. There are many types of emotional triggers and they can impact on our daily lives. So it is important for us to learn what they are, how we can recognise them and what to do about them.

We all get overwhelmed sometimes, furious with anger, and agitated within seconds. We all have emotional triggers. That feeling when someone says something or does something that might not be a huge deal to another person, but strikes right through your core and stays sizzling within you all day. So often we can suddenly feel anger, rage, anxiety, depression or guilt and many others.A trigger is simply any stimulus that evokes an upsetting feeling and this can then lead to different reactions and behaviours.

Where do Emotional triggers come from?

An emotional trigger can happen quickly because it resonates deep within us and sometimes on an unconscious level. As we grow up we often experience some form of emotional pain or suffering that we could not adequately acknowledge and/or deal with at the time.

Our emotionally triggers can often be linked to these childhood experiences and these old feelings, and because of this they are readily available. As adults we can often turn to an addictive way of trying to manage these feelings such as turning to food or alcohol.


Why is recognising our triggers important?

It can be hard and quite difficult emotionally to open and be honest with yourself. In order to recognize your emotional triggers you need to first accept responsibility for your reactions. When we begin to discover our triggers and recognize them in the moment we are allowing ourselves to feel differently about them. It can be difficult and take practice but it will give you the power to have more clarity about what you need to do and how to proceed in order to change your circumstance. Would you like to be more clearly in control of your reactions? How about being able to live your life by choice? If these questions inspire you to want to put the work in to harnessing
your emotional triggers then read on.

How do we recognize our triggers?

Sometimes it is very clear as to why we feel this way, or is it? You may think you know the reason you are reacting a certain way but so often we do not pause and question what we are feeling and why we may be feeling this way.


The first step is perhaps the easiest. This is recognising that an emotional reaction is happening as soon as it begins to appear in your body. We all react differently but often you may notice that you begin to breath more heavily, or not at all. You may get tearful or being to get knots in your stomach.

It is important not to judge or fear your emotions. In order to change these reactions you must first accept what you are feeling and recognise it.

So the harder step is actually getting to grips with why you have been emotionally triggered. Think back to what you think you lost or what did you not get that you expected or desired?

Not all emotions are negative and it can be our strengths that have helped us in life that also create the biggest emotional triggers. When we feel that someone is not honouring one of these strengths it can get to us. If we perceive that someone has taken or plans to take these things away from us we can become triggered. Once we are able to recognize our triggers we will be able to discover whether the threat is real or not.

Below is list of some common emotional triggers. This means that you may react when you feel as though you are not getting or will not get one of these needs met. Try to think objectively, take a step back and look at the list. Have you ever felt emotionally triggered by the thought of not getting one or more of these things? I know I have.

Being right 
Being treated fairly
Being understood
Being needed 
Being in control
Being liked
Feeling included
Being valued
Being liked 
New challenges

Here are a few examples of some emotional triggers:

  • A person who had distant or emotionally unavailable parents may get emotionally triggered whenever they feel that someone is not giving them attention, love or not being there for them.
  • A person who felt controlled in the past might get angry when they think someone is telling them what to do.
  • A person who felt hopeless in the past might panic or become anxious when they feel they have no control.

So take another look at the list above. Choose three items that set off your emotions when you don’t get these needs met. Be honest and really think about which three are likely to be an emotional trigger for you. This can be painful but identify those that you hold onto most.
If it is not something on the list that is fine make a note of it and keep that in mind. Some of the needs on the list will be strongly important to you whilst others will hold no emotional charge what so ever. Some might overlap but this is also fine just pick the word that you feel best describes what it is that you react to when it is not met. 


So we have learnt so far that why we have emotional triggers. Due to their connections with previous experiences it is important to not feel
negatively about having these triggers or shameful. Next we need to notice our bodies when we go through these emotional trigger so that
we can notice them. We have managed to identify or triggers and hopefully understand the past experiences that they may be associated with.

So now what can we do about them?

Well triggers can often lead to problematic reactions or behaviours. Often, we may become overly emotional or we may shut down and become avoidant. Both of these reactions are common and you may react one way to one trigger and the other way to another. Do any of these techniques seem familiar to you  

-I get over emotional

-I get needy

– I comply and become a people pleaser

-I get angry

-I shutdown and withdraw from the other person or situation 

-I turn to addiction

-I blame others for my pain 

-I am in denial and I block out all emotions and feelings

You may not relate to any of these responses and that is fine. Just think about how you feel, how you react and what happens after you are triggered.

So once we have mastered the ability to recognize our triggers and sense when they are being triggered the next step is choosing what you want to feel and do. When you feel emotionally triggered remember then trigger and where it has come from. Now you must judge the truth of the situation. Are you really losing this need? Is the person actively denying your need or are you taking the situation personally? If they are really causing this need to be blocked or ignored are you able to ask them for this need, or if it doesn’t really matter are you able to let it go for now? 

The present moment of emotional triggers

Now you are able to harness this new way of thinking you can shift your emotional state. Once you have recognized the emotional state and thought through your triggers you may want to shift how you are feeling.


Firstly you will want to

RELAX, breathing deeply try to release all tension from your body. Next DETACH yourself and clear your mind of all thoughts. Let your awareness fall into the CENTER of your body and FOCUS on how you want to feel right in that moment. Breathe in this word and allow yourself to shift your emotions. Instead of fighting to manage your emotions choose to feel something different.

This may be difficult and it can bring about a lot of unwanted feelings but in the long run it allows you to harness you reactions. This will allow you to better control your emotional triggers in relationships, your emotional triggers in the workplace and your emotional triggers throughout life. We cannot change the past, we can recognize our feelings, learn from them and control our reactions. Over time this level of insight into your own self will help you grow and develop and live balanced and peaceful life.

Let me know how you get on and how you all feel about this idea.



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