What Are Emotional Triggers?


When you notice that your immediate reaction to a person or situation is overly emotional or irrational, it usually means that something has been building up or is hidden deep inside of you - such as anger, sadness, resentment, frustration, or a traumatic event.

This reaction is known as an emotional trigger. Our triggers tend to come from a few different sources.

Your reaction could be prompted by a condition that's occurring at that moment, such as: not feeling well, stress, exhaustion, feeling lonely, overwhelmed, even hungry.

Consider this: You come home from work, and you're tired, not feeling well and grumpy, and someone immediately starts talking to you about a potentially hot button topic. Chances are, the conversation won't end well because your coping resources aren't at full capacity, and you're more vulnerable to having that disagreement.

Other emotional triggers are connected to your feelings about a person or situation. These kinds of triggers are usually attached in some way to your personal history, insecurities, past traumatic events and more.

For example, you were bullied as a child, and now when someone is attempting to joke playfully with you, you might get extremely upset with them. This occurs because your current, upset reaction (which is exaggerated given the circumstances) is more closely related to your past traumatic event than your present-day interaction. Your brain somehow connected the joking of today with the teasing you endured in your early years.

Also, you may be stuffing down your feelings to avoid a confrontation. Then one day you blow up over something small because of those overwhelming, negative emotions that have been building up over time. Eventually, your "emotional bucket" just overflowed... all over the place! Ugh...

Everyone is triggered by something, and that’s completely normal. As you can see, triggers can also come from many different places.

The next time you notice that you’re having a stronger than expected (and most likely, irrational) emotional reaction, label it as an emotional trigger. Then take a look at your present-day situation and see if you can understand where it may have come from.

For the most part, think about the following:

  • Are there unusual conditions that currently exist (exhausted, famished, overwhelmed, etc.)?
  • Were you stuffing down your feelings, and then you exploded?
  • Was there a traumatic event in your past that's getting tripped up by something that’s happening today?

You are not crazy: you are not too emotional.  You are having an emotional trigger. Be curious about your reaction, not judgmental.

Next time, we'll talk about how to manage and prevent triggers and how they affect your relationship(s)!