Stop Emotional Triggers from Stopping You

Emotional triggers play a significant role in our lives, in how we feel, how we respond, and ultimately in our successes or failures in life. Once you know what your triggers are, you can determine how you respond to them and understand your ingrained patterns and habits. Triggers result in the creation of habits and patterns, we learn to become unconsciously competent. Triggers stimulate actions and may change emotional states. Weather can be a trigger, as weather affects our moods and elicits emotional responses, happiness, for example, on a sunny day and conversely, a sour mood when it is cloudy and cold. Words and sounds can be triggers, as you respond to your name, music, sounds, and vocal tones. Touch and physical comfort or discomfort, a favourite chair, a warm bath, a gesture, have their own triggers and smell and taste, have their own associated states, eliciting emotional responses and reactions. Smells are particularly powerful triggers as your olfactory senses elicit immediate and visceral responses.

Intense experiences and traumas can result in phobias.  These experiences combine to create our emotional and habitual responses. Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you think of certain things? Does a certain song make you happy or sad? Does a smell evoke memories or emotions? Are you overly sensitive or do you find yourself reacting out of proportion to certain things? You need to know what is triggering your emotions, what makes you feel what you feel. Not to get all “inner child” or Freudian on you, but knowing what triggers you respond to, what sparks your emotions, and why, is important.

Most of us have very little control over our emotional triggers. We may not even be entirely clear what is making us so irritable, or why we take an instant dislike to someone. They are there and they spring up unexpectedly, our reactions to triggers are almost instinctual, they are deeply rooted somewhere in our mind, body, or soul. Emotional triggers can be as simple as hating a name because someone of that same name picked on you as a child. They can be extremely complex and multi-leveled – all caught up in family relationships and self-esteem, a tangle of different triggers that can set off a machine gun effect.

In drug and alcohol treatment, triggers are discussed over and over again. What are your triggers, what makes you want to drink, do drugs or respond in a certain way? Triggers can be positive or negative, make you happy or sad, but no matter what the trigger is, chances are you will not be able to avoid it. You cannot close yourself off from the world and you cannot close yourself off from yourself, so you need to at least know what the root of your emotions is, and be aware of the signals that you may be wandering into emotional quicksand.

The subconscious uses behavior patterns that have been learned over the course of life to respond and react to events. This goes back to the very essence of our survival instincts but problems arise when our learned responses due to emotional triggers are negative. Emotional triggers can seriously affect your perspective and reactions to emotional triggers are often fully out of proportion to the actually event that is happening currently.

Exercise : What Are Your Emotional Triggers?

To get a handle on your triggers, you need to first ask yourself a few questions :

• Is there something that, every time I see, causes an unpleasant emotional reaction in me?

• Is there something that, every time I hear, causes an unpleasant emotional reaction in me?

• Is there something that, every time I smell, causes an unpleasant emotional reaction in me?

• What topics of conversation create a strong reaction in me?

• Are there words, phrases, or names that stir a particularly strong emotion in me?

• Who are the people who set me off?

• What places trigger me the most?

• Who would I like to avoid?

• What situations would I like to avoid?

• Given a chance to do it over, what people and experiences would I avoid?

This exercise is best accomplished with pen and paper at hand, and when you have time and a quiet place to think a bit. Ask yourself the questions, write down the answers, do this until you cannot think of anything else. If you don’t have many triggers on your list, go a bit deeper in yourself. Triggers can be emotional bombs and even thinking about them can be painful. You need to accept your emotional triggers for what they are. It is not an easy task.

Delving into your emotional triggers can be a dark place, where the hell did you get all this emotional baggage from? Why do you keep carrying it around? Once you determine what your triggers are, you will feel a sense of relief and peace, you know all the things that trigger your emotions, so knowing that, you can deal with them. Right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy, your triggers are part and parcel of who you are and they cannot be erased with mere knowledge of them. Here is the rub, they will come back again, and probably just when you think you have the knack of positive thinking down and have a good grip on starting to realize your dream. Just because you know what they are, doesn’t mean they still won’t affect you. This is an on-going process, part of the daily maintenance of your emotional engine.

You may, for example, determine today that you will deal with a person that triggers negative emotions in you by not speaking to him. But what happens when he calls you, or it’s his birthday? It’s an on-going, never-ending evolution, and keeping a journal and being aware of what your triggers are can help you deal with  situations now and in the future. One of the real problems with emotional triggers is that you often react disproportionately to events if there is an emotional trigger involved.

Knowing what your triggers are and why they affect you is a key step in understanding your reactions and controlling your thoughts so you can remain in a positive rather than a negative state.   The knowledge of what your triggers are is just one weapon in the arsenal of weapons against self-sabotage and negativity.