An emotional trigger is a strong reaction to an experience or event that can shift us into a completely different state of mind from one moment to the next. These triggers can be very upsetting to our ability to function at times because they can overwhelm us. It is very important to know what our triggers are so we can cultivate emotional stability and trust within ourselves. Many people have some sort of emotional trigger, though they can look very different from person to person. For some people, it may seem like they suddenly became blank or uninterested. For others, it could be tears or yelling. For some, it might mean that they cannot get out of bed for a week.
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Common situations that trigger intense emotions can be rejection, betrayal or unjust treatment. Some people may be very sensitive to feeling out of control in a situation. Others react very strongly to being excluded or being ignored. These situations can be reminders of unwanted memories or unresolved past situations. What is important is to become aware so we can start to understand the deeper experiences in life that brought us to have these triggers. Once we know what is in the explosive the trigger detonates, then we can start the process of defusing that bomb!
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A key step in learning to recognize your triggers is paying attention when situations generate a strong emotional response. You may have physical symptoms along with the emotional reaction, such as a pounding heart, an upset stomach, feeling shaky or dizzy, or sweaty palms. When you find yourself experiencing these things, do your best to take a breath and step back from the overwhelming feelings you are experiencing. Remove yourself from the situation if possible. Find a safe space and take a few deep belly breaths to calm yourself.
If you are continually being triggered by someone, it may be in your best interest to find space between you and them. Even though most people are not trying to make you feel bad on purpose, it may not be good for you to have to deal with your triggers regularly, until you can get a handle on them. When you are stronger, you will not have the same emotional reaction. Until that time, it is important to take care of yourself so you do not create added trauma. You have the right to be in a safe space.
After experiencing a trigger, when you are calm enough, consider what just happened and the response it activated. It is important not to ignore your feelings or try to keep them away. Do your best to look at them with curiosity so you can try to see the messages that they are bringing. The events that occurred are just the activator for old, hidden emotions that have not yet been resolved. When we can see what those emotions are, we can start to understand where they might have originated from and why they are still a part of our life. Once you have identified what sets you off and some of the feelings coming to the surface, it is very important to continue with great kindness and love for yourself. Learning how to move towards these feelings is tough work!
When you are contemplating your triggers, it is important to not try to invalidate what you are going through. All of your emotions are valid and have a message for you. Do your best to listen to what they have to tell you. You can put your hand over your heart and close your eyes to facilitate connection with your own deep knowing process. Then you can ask yourself “Beautiful, emotional self, what do you want to tell me so I may understand myself better?” Listen to the immediate response because the heart is always quick with its reply. And it never lies. You may not want to hear what it has to say, but do your best to be honest with yourself. Do not make excuses for yourself or anyone else involved. Do not deny or devalue your feelings or your heart’s response. Own your feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they may be.
During the healing process, one way to empower yourself regarding your emotions is to communicate your feelings to those around you when you sense your emotions becoming heightened. You may have come to the place in your emotional awareness where you can recognize what triggers you. If you see this starting to happen, you can do your best to tell the person involved that you can feel a trigger coming on. Stay calm and connect with your courage. Speak in I-statements to explain what is happening. For example, you can say “I feel hurt by your actions regarding …” Be careful not to say “You hurt my feelings when ….”, because this is more of a blaming statement and not taking personal responsibility for our own feelings.
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It is important to address the root causes of your emotional triggers, so they can be fully seen and acknowledged. This can be a challenging process but there are many useful tools to help guide your way. Just remember – you are not alone! There is help. There are others feeling exactly the same way as you. There are always people further along on the journey to guide you and others just beginning their journey who you might be able to give kindness or understanding to at a crucial moment.
Emotion regulation is a difficult skill to master for most people, and it is not always easy to identify triggers on your own. Your instinctive reactions to certain triggers can become so deeply ingrained in your behavior that you may not even realize how your reactions cause harm. If you are too close to your triggers to recognize them and address their effect on your interactions, there are a variety of therapies that can help. Talk therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space to identify triggering situations and explore potential reasons behind your triggers. A therapist can also help you practice using more productive communication strategies to express emotions in any situation, and offer guidance and support as you work to heal the source of your triggers. It may take some time to find the best style of therapy for you, but keep trying until you find what works for you. You will definitely thank yourself for work well done!
- Are you aware of your triggers?
- Do you identify them during or after you have been triggered?
- Do you think you can see the warning signs next time you are coming close to that situation, so you can take control of your reaction and respond thoughtfully instead of succumbing to the trigger once again?
- What situations have the greatest potential to trigger you?
- What would help you when you feel a trigger coming on? Leaving the room? Reciting a positive affirmation that calms you? Taking a deep breath? Screaming?
- Do you understand what lies below the trigger? Are you willing to do the work to look at it honestly?
- What support do you need to help you through this journey?
- When you find that place of curiosity about your reactive emotions, can you see any patterns that might stand out? Is it always related to your personal relationship? Or to your family? Is there a negative phrase that comes out from inside of you? Do you have a feeling that keeps returning over and over again?
Excerpt from Self-Love is the Key by Sarah Cura. For more information, please go to www.saracura.com or visit Sarah's Author page on Amazon to find the book in English, Spanish and French as a paper workbook or Kindle book.