Do you ever feel like your emotions are on a roller coaster ride that you didn’t sign up for? One minute you’re cruising through your day, and the next you’re triggered by something that sends you spiraling.
Emotional triggers are those pesky things that can derail us in a heartbeat. But there are ways to keep them in line.
And as you get better at knowing how to handle your triggers, there’s so much more happiness waiting on the other side.
What Are Emotional Triggers?
A trigger is something that sparks an emotional response. Simply put, it’s “a throwback to an archaic trauma that feels like it’s happening in the present,” Rhea Lalla, conscious parenting and relationship coach, explains on The Mindvalley Show.
When someone cuts in front of you without so much as an apology, you may react in rage. Or when your child is crying, you may angrily tell them to “stop being a baby.” Or when your coworker can’t stop yapping while you’re on a deadline, you may go all “Karen” on them.
These are all examples of emotional triggers. And the unfortunate thing is, they all come with dire consequences.
Where Do They Come From?
Emotional triggers are like little landmines that we’re often unaware of until they explode in our faces. But why do they happen, and what impact do they have on us?
Generally speaking, they can be caused by anything from past traumas to present stressors. They can take many different forms, including words, actions, or even smells. When triggered, we may experience different types of emotions, from anger to sadness to fear.
And studies say it too: when a traumatic or disturbing event occurs in our lives, our psyche gets triggered by certain external stimuli. Further on in life, an outside “stressor” that may resemble a moment of trauma from the past can activate parts of our mind that haven’t been healed.
Examples of Triggers
Triggers can take many shapes and forms. They can fire you up immediately or just appear as background noise.
Here’s a list of emotional triggers that are common for most people:
- Rejection of any kind
- Speaking in a louder tone of voice
- Loud noise
- Feeling blamed
- Criticism of any kind
- Feeling abandoned
- Not feeling heard and seen
- Not feeling good enough
For example, think of someone who grew up with emotionally unavailable parents. They can grow up to be highly successful and put together, but get triggered when their partner doesn’t return their calls.
In situations like these, it’s never about the actual gravity of the moment but rather the fundamental familiar feeling that’s being reactivated.
Common triggers for parents
While each parent is unique in their reactions to certain situations, some triggers seem common for most parents:
- Relentless crying
- Constant whining
- Incessant tantrums
- Passive resistance or disobedience
- Fighting among siblings
In the podcast episode, Rhea explains, “Any time we withdraw, we feel hurt, we feel angry, we feel unsafe or insecure—it tells us that we have a wound that needs to be healed.”
Parents tend to forget that children are still figuring out their big emotions. (Heck, we, as adults, often have that problem, too.)
So instead of being calm and supportive, they sometimes respond with irritation, exasperation, anger, or rage.
More than likely, these reactions are their defense mechanisms to lessen our emotional discomfort.
Are Emotional Triggers Important?
The sense of self-regulation isn’t innate; it’s a learned skill. And being able to pick up on them gives you the opportunity to deal with them early, which then brings about good emotional health.
Take Vishen, for example. He shared a time when there was a particularly scary situation, and he was told not to cry. “An older person in my family yelled at me for crying and told me that I was behaving like a baby,” he recollects.
That childhood trauma planted the notion in his mind that crying equals weakness. “Every time I cried, even if it was something worth crying for, like a death of a loved one, as an adult male, I felt that I wasn’t being a man,” he adds. “So I suppressed my emotions for the longest time.”
Traumatic events, unfortunately, are not uncommon. A 2019 report on childhood trauma by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 60% of American adults experienced at least one adverse childhood experience—abuse, neglect, and all other potentially traumatic experiences—in their youth.
Now, while being triggered emotionally may not be ideal, it gives you cues that something has rocked the boat.
As a result, it can help you better understand how to:
- Cut through generational trauma,
- Create healthy, authentic connections with people around you, and
- What you need to do to lead a healthy and happy life.
How to Identify Your Own Emotional Triggers
As the saying goes, “knowing is half the battle.” When you’re open to identifying your triggers, you’re in a much better position to bring your consciousness to the present moment instead of reverting back to the traumatic event.
Rhea suggests writing down your top three emotional triggers. What things make you most upset and throw you off balance?
Once you get a good insight into those triggers, you can use them as a springboard to understand yourself better and choose a conscious response.
5 Tips on How to Deal With Emotional Triggers
Here’s the thing: It’s not the situation that causes our emotional triggers. It’s our thoughts about the situation that do so.
In fact, intrusive thoughts and memories can come flooding in at any given trigger, according to the trauma-informed care protocol of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The good news is, Rhea, in her conversation with Vishen, shares how to manage emotional triggers with some powerful self-regulating practices you can do. Here’s a brief summary of that:
1. Notice your body’s reactions
Our body has a defense mechanism when it senses that we may be or are in danger—it’s known as the “fight or flight response.” It causes us to shut down and conserve energy.
So with trauma, our bodies can react in physical ways, such as with muscle tension, headaches, an upset stomach, or even fatigue.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Your body is going to give you an indicator that ‘I’m feeling triggered right now.’ And you want to be able to catch it before you say a whole bunch of things that create a whole bunch of mess that you have to clean up.”
2. Name the trigger
More often than not, those who have trouble making sense of their emotions end up being slaves to them. Naming your trigger is about understanding what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. It’ll help you make sense of the emotion you’re feeling.
There is scientific evidence that supports labeling your emotions as well. This 2018 study suggests that turning your feelings and emotions into words will decrease the emotional charge surrounding the experience itself.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “The mere fact of naming [your trigger] takes you out of your amygdala-hijack reptile brain and into the here-now. So you’re literally going from your earliest brain to your higher-thinking brain simply by naming it.”
3. Own your feelings
Our minds have a way of rejecting uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, or fear. But suppressing your emotions may lead you down a dark alley.
Instead, practice accepting your feelings without judgment. It’ll help improve your emotional regulation and balance as well as lead to fewer mood swings.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Make sure that you’re not doing any shame, blame, or make wrong for whatever feeling you’re feeling.”
4. Give yourself some space
Reactive responses can get out of control and turn destructive, possibly leading to tension in your relationship with your children. Regardless of what causes you to be emotionally triggered, it’s how you handle it that matters most.
One of the tips the American Psychological Association recommends, particularly when you get angry, is to give yourself a break. It suggests scheduling some personal time, especially when you’re stressed out.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “You might want to take a little time out for yourself so that you can be able to regroup and go through the completion of that sine wave of the feeling.”
5. Regulate your nervous system
We can’t really control our feelings or the thoughts that pop into our heads. However, we can control what we do with them. That’s the basis of self-regulation—it allows you to manage your emotions and behaviors before acting on them.
But as previously mentioned, self-regulation isn’t an innate skill. It’s something that we learn (or should learn) from our own parents.
If we got hurt in any way, they’d help us calm our nervous system and make sense of the confusing, baffling experience. And as we move into adulthood, we’ll have that skill to understand what to do when we get hurt and how to calm ourselves down.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “You want to be able to regulate your nervous system, so this is where you’re using all the tools that you’ve amassed. And if you don’t feel you have good tools, then now’s the time to start building them on.”
7. Be aware of your self-talk
Self-talk is your internal monologue, made up of a combination of your conscious thoughts and your beliefs and biases. The words you use have a powerful impact on your mind and can change the way you feel about anything, including yourself.
Talking to yourself as you’d talk to your best friend is one simple practice you can incorporate into your life. What kind of words would you tell your best friend about their looks, reactions, or feelings? Would these words be critical and condescending? Or rather kind and supportive?
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Make sure you have a very supportive inner voice that is advocating for you, that is reminding you of your magnificence, that is reaffirming to you.”
8. Look at things from different perspectives
While self-talk is about the internal, perspective is about the external.
Looking at things from the perspective of other people challenges you to respond rationally and calmly. And understanding their perspective reduces the chance of conflict.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Perspective taking can allow [you] to look at what this person’s intentions are and then, now, recognize, ‘Okay, I got triggered by what they said, but I’m bringing something to this story. I’m creating a story here.’”
9. Seek the source of the trigger
Like getting medicine to treat a physical symptom, it will only solve what’s on the surface. It’s possible for those symptoms to arise again or get worse.
But the problem derives from somewhere. So to solve it, first find its source. Ask yourself where the trigger comes from, what story you’re telling yourself, and what belief you’re holding on to.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Seek the source, like track the trigger’s origin. My advice to everybody would be to know yourself.”
10. Seek help from a coach or therapist
A professional coach or therapist can help guide you down a path of healing. Using coping tools and strategies, they’ll help you address your traumas and emotional triggers with a greater degree of awareness so that you’ll be more resilient to future challenges.
Learning emotional regulation tools may be incredibly helpful on your journey, but professional guidance may just be what you need to speed up the process and process any unresolved emotional issues.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “If there’s some particular trauma that you want to work through, seek some coaching with a therapist or a coach so that you can work through these feelings.”
Learn more about how to master your emotional triggers by listening to the full Mindvalley Show episode:
Emotional Mastery Starts With You
Triggers can throw you off balance and make you feel out of control. And even when it feels like a never-ending ride to sail the waters of your emotional world, know that you don’t have to be alone along the way.
If you’re looking for a little guidance on your journey, Mindvalley may hold the answers you’re looking for. You can find transformational quests packed full of wisdom and powerful insights.
And by claiming your free access today, you can explore a bit of this magic and see how it changes your life with Quests such as:
- Tapping Into Emotional Mastery with Jennifer Partridge. You can explore how to use the emotional freedom technique (EFT) to tap away your triggers.
- Conscious Parenting Mastery with Dr. Shefali Tsbary. Learn how to deal with your emotional triggers effectively as a parent.
- Magical Living with Tim Storey. Create your conscious life by understanding the “magic” tools behind making your dreams come true.
And besides impactful programs to transform your life, you’ll find daily selected meditations to inspire your growth and help release any mental tension and blockages.
The change you’ve been expecting might be just around the corner. Don’t be afraid to start looking for it.
Images generated on Midjourney.