Understanding and Coping With Emotional Triggers

by | Jul 23, 2021 | Mental Health


Experiencing emotions is normal, but there are situations where an emotional response can be disproportional or distressing. In some cases, emotional triggers can result in neutral or positive actions. However, much of the time, experiencing an emotional trigger can cause impulsive and reactive behavior that harms an individual’s well-being, relationships, etc.

Understanding emotional triggers can help individuals recognize what causes severe emotional reactions and cope with these experiences. By understanding what emotional triggers are, identifying your own, and striving to implement productive methods of addressing them, you can give yourself more emotional stability and self-control.


How to Identify Your Triggers

Emotional triggers are events or circumstances that cause a reactive emotional response. Emotional triggers can be harmful long-term because the response elicited by a trigger tends to be inappropriate, ineffective, and impulsive. In other words, a triggered emotional response can be volatile and disruptive, making the individual experiencing the response feel like they have no control while also jeopardizing relationships and overall wellness.

Even if you are in an objectively safe place or situation, an emotional trigger can quickly convince your mind that you are in danger. This response typically stems from traumatic experiences, oppositional viewpoints that challenge your values, and an instinct for self-preservation, contributing to a subconscious desire to avoid similar situations and prioritize safety, comfort, or escape. Having a triggered response means you may react without thinking through your options, leading to a high potential of regret and remorse later.

The way you respond to your emotional triggers can be physical as well as emotional and verbal. Some individuals experience symptoms akin to anxiety attacks, including heart palpitations, stomachaches, and sweaty palms. You may also find yourself lashing out verbally, crying without warning, or experiencing intense emotions like anger, sadness, and grief. These symptoms can help you determine when you have been triggered if you feel that your emotional response is inappropriate or disproportionate to the situation you are in.

Recognizing your triggers can be a difficult task, as everyone’s triggers will vary. Some individuals may find that their triggers are hyper-specific, occurring only when certain criteria are met, while others have emotional triggers that are more common with fewer limitations. Documenting instances of heightened emotions and any relevant surrounding situations can help you identify what triggers you, giving you a better idea of what to watch for and combat.


Common Emotional Triggers

If you are struggling to identify what causes automatic emotional responses, looking at common triggers may help give you a better idea of what affects your emotional state. Some examples of emotional triggers include:

  • Someone blaming you for something you didn’t do
  • Feeling rejected, excluded, or ignored
  • Someone failing to meet your expectations
  • Listening to painful criticism of something you did or did not do
  • Someone attempting to control you
  • Someone expressing disappointment verbally or with their facial expressions
  • Someone appearing angry, frustrated, or otherwise upset with you
  • Feelings of being unwanted and unnecessary or too-needed and smothered by attention
  • Feelings of isolation, insecurity, and helplessness

Generally speaking, most emotional triggers tend to come from other individuals, their behavior, and your perception of their actions or reactions. Learning to recognize how you interact with and respond to others can help you identify any emotional triggers that affect you, giving you a better foundation for effectively managing and coping with triggered responses.


Coping With and Healing From Triggers

Identifying and coping with emotional triggers can be challenging, but learning to mitigate the distress such situations can cause will help you better manage your emotions and find peace. When you can recognize what triggers you, making informed decisions to avoid pain becomes easier. If you are in a situation and determine that an emotional trigger is present, you can take a few productive courses of action, including:

  • Leaving the situation
  • Changing the situation to bypass the trigger
  • Adjusting your attitude, thoughts, and behavior to reduce the intensity of an impending emotional response

To manage your triggers, keeping track of what triggers you, when you have been triggered in the past, how you reacted in those situations, and what was effective are all productive methods of working toward more emotional stability and control. You may find that journaling is an effective practice for this pursuit.

Additionally, challenging yourself to face your triggers (preferably in controlled environments) to expose yourself and improve your reactions can help you overcome the negative impact over time. When attempting this course of action, keep your limits in mind, but remember the importance of change and growth in your journey.

Instead of allowing your triggers to command your emotional response, plan alternative behaviors to provide a template for future situations, giving yourself a reference to inform what you do. If you know something triggers an intense emotional response, do what you can to avoid or subvert the trigger. Doing so will grant you more control and satisfaction.


Whether the result of childhood trauma, relationship struggles, workplace stress, or something else entirely, emotional triggers can wreak havoc on your well-being, your personal and professional relationships, and your life in general. Making an effort to identify what triggers you can help you better manage your emotions and avoid exhausting outbursts that may threaten your stability. While identifying specific emotional triggers can be a challenge if you don’t know what to look for, putting in the effort and keeping track of your emotions may give you more insight into what you need and what you should avoid. Managing your emotions is never easy, especially if you have trauma or mental health concerns. At Sober Life, we want to help you learn more about yourself and improve the way you approach your emotional needs. If you want to learn how to identify, cope with, and heal from your emotional triggers, call Sober Life at (619) 542-9542.

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