An emotional trigger can be a powerful tool or devastating mental block. Triggers can help you get through your day or even a simple task, or they can stop you dead in your tracks. Here are a few simple ways to navigate the minefield of emotional triggers.
An emotional trigger is usually an automatic and uncontrollable response to thought with a previous experience affiliated with it. In most cases, triggers are irrational shocks to your system—jolts of fear or energy that immediately conjure the extreme version of the thought’s nature. There is a way to think through them, understand them and replace the negative triggers with positive ones.
You can begin to understand what causes them and why and avoid allowing the negative triggers to get out of hand or prevent them altogether. As you will see, recognizing the trigger and taking steps to dispel their effect on your actions is a skill you will learn if you follow a few steps.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is an automatic and uncontrollable response to a thought, experience, even a dream, or some other type of stimuli that sets you into a hyper or unstable state of mind.
Have you ever heard a song and immediately felt an emotional reaction or seen someone you haven’t seen for a while and feel a slight lump in your throat? These are extreme examples of emotional triggers and usually, come and go without any lingering damage. However, all kinds of stimuli can stay with you if you are not aware of them and how they affect your life. There are also subtle and unemotional triggers that are even harder to detect because there is no immediate trauma or emotion to make you aware of their effects. Whatever triggers you are experiencing are susceptible to not only your perception but your ability to change their impact or get rid of them completely. There is a process to freeing yourself of your negative triggers, and the first step is becoming aware of them.
The first step is to become aware of them when they happen. A clue that a particular action you take or emotion you have has a trigger setting it off is whether action or emotion occurs regularly. If you are trying to lose weight, but you eat ice cream at roughly the same time every day, you might try and figure out why that is or, more specifically, what is triggering it. I mention this because I am guilty of it. I have entrenched myself into a habit of completing dinner with dessert (usually ice cream). Some people desire a coffee or cigarette; my trigger is sweets. I am fully aware of this, and that is the first step. It may seem like no big deal to realize it but believe me; it can go unnoticed for quite some time. I was finally ready to question why I had to have that sweet, and from that inquiry, I realized it was not a desire at all but an automatic response that I did without giving it a thought. It was just part of the meal. I mean, who doesn’t have a bowl of ice cream after every dinner? Once I realized it was a trigger, I could move on to dealing with it.
Change the habit first.
Once you have become aware of it, in my opinion, the hardest thing to do, you then can take steps to change it. By that, I mean to make small habit changes to reinforce control over your decisions. At first, I decided to have smaller portions or skip it altogether. When I made these small incremental habit changes, I began to feel less and less compelled to have a sweet after dinner. I remained consistent until I was at the point of only having a dessert when I made a conscious decision to do so and acting as if I was in Pavlov’s experiment. Having dinner was no longer a trigger for having an ice cream bowl.
Remember a time when you didn’t react
Inevitably over time, you developed a negative response to whatever it is that is setting off the trigger but remember there was a time when that was not the case. In the example of my ice cream, I certainly have gone without sweets as a regular practice for most of my life, so I can call on those times to realize it can be that way. For years I never even thought of dessert after dinner. I rarely had it in a restaurant. Sometimes, eating at home, but there is a relatively vast array of my life where I can recall eating dinner without sweets, reinforcing my habit change, and mentally dissolving the trigger’s automatic response.
Subtle unemotional negative triggers
The ones that deter or even debilitate your relaxed emotional state can be very subtle. So much so, you might not even realize the negative effect they are having on you. They may not even be emotional. It could be something as simple as your living or work environment.
I will give you an example. I have a decent size bay window in my home office to the left of my desk where I work. Even though I am not facing the window, I set my desk in such a way so I can glance out the window at the view that overlooks the city where I live. In the afternoons, the sun comes over my roof, and the glare, although not direct, can be annoying. I would work through it but had no idea what a trigger it was to be less productive and less creative. However, it was so subtle a trigger I barely noticed it at first. Once I realized that a curtain could help, I put one up. Now my productivity and creativity remain the same throughout the day. It has made all the difference in the world. Since the glare was not direct and I continued to work anyway, the negative trigger was subtle enough to go unnoticed for over a year. It was not emotional at all, but it affected my work, and I didn’t even realize how much until I made the change.
Emotional triggers can be severe, but they can’t hide from you
On the one hand, an emotional trigger can be tough to confront. Triggers that cause and sustain or recall a terrible relationship, job experience, harrowing, life-threatening accident, or an addiction that is destroying your life and those who love you are all emotional ones that you can’t just quickly eliminate from your existence. The one positive aspect is they are in your face, and unless you are in total denial, you are aware you have to deal with them. Sometimes the only or at least immediate action to take is to physically remove yourself from the person or thing causing the trigger. Unfortunately, attacking the problem does not end there. There is a saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It means that whatever emotional trauma has been done to you still exists, and removing the cause or half the reason is only the first step.
Why is a negative trigger possibly devastating
If this is the case, then it is conceivable you could go through the rest of your life with these negative triggers causing ongoing destruction. You may give up the job or the relationship, but if you don’t address the root of why you got involved in the first place, chances are you will make the same mistake with the next job or relationship. You may stop using your addictive vice, but if you don’t address the triggers that mentally steered you in the direction of that destruction, you will most likely do it again. The key to losing these devastating mental enemies is to replace them with inspiring allies.
Finding positive replacement triggers reverses the course
I deal with anxiety. I have no idea where it comes from, I do not trigger it by some emotion, worry, or physical defect that I am aware of, yet it is there every morning without fail. To the core of my soul, I physically feel anxious every morning when I wake up. I don’t manifest traumatic physical symptoms such as sweating or shaking or heart palpitations, but the energy burst in throughout my body is tremendous.
Since this has begun, I have searched for a reason or underlying habit that might be causing this condition, but I have yet to find one. I have no overt worries in my life, personally or financially. I am a recovered alcoholic, but I have been so for enough years that it most likely is not a physical contributor. Nonetheless, I deal with this condition every morning. I deal with it in two ways.
First, mentally, I lay with the feeling in bed until it dissipates, usually only a few minutes. Instead of this being negative energy, I consider that it is merely a compelling one. One so powerful and positive my human has to learn how to endure it. Each day I feel what any rational person would consider anxiety, and I have understood it for the supernatural experience I believe it to be. A source runs through all of us, which most of us will never recognize, but I am lucky enough to feel it run through my whole body every morning.
The second thing I do is follow the reception of that gift with my morning routine. I have long been a proponent of the morning routine and have written about it time and again here on Cognitive Momentum. I discovered and practiced it before I experienced this energy blast, but it has evolved into a dedicated focus of gratitude and inspiration every morning of my life. Together these two practices have entirely turned a potentially debilitating condition into an encounter that is the cornerstone of growth, inspiration, and my life’s purpose.
Internally we all know we can choose to be anything
Even the Vicky or Victor Victims of this world know deep down they can pull themselves up out of despair and get through whatever they are facing. We know this because we have all done it at one time or another. All we have to do is recall those times to do it once again. Sometimes it is challenging, but the triumphs over those times make the lasting effects of positivity worth the effort.
When bad things or good things occur in our lives on an emotionally elevated level, we tend to react. There has never been better advice in dealing with situations such as these with the idea of waiting until you return to a rational, emotional state before making any decisions regarding your next step. When you are calm and not purely reacting, you can almost always see the best-intended action and take it. It is often best to make no effort and let time resolve it. I know this sounds cliche, but useful information like take your time and think it through is sometimes disguised by seemingly over-simplistic and romantic sayings. When I take the time to get through all aspects of any drama that occurs in my life and honestly assess my options, the path is almost always entirely clear. It may not be the path I would choose, but the decision is not hard.
Be aware and don’t be afraid
Confronting the truth in your life, like realizing negative triggers that you have allowed to carry on, can be daunting, but it is the thought of it that is scarier than the reality. Replacing them is so rewarding that once you get in the habit of doing this, the fear will disappear forever. I am so blessed to have had my parents and my children. Each inspired me, supported me, and loved me unconditionally. That didn’t stop me from the self-destruction that ensued. However, I always had that strength to call on when I needed it, which I didn’t know I had until I called on it. It’s there for you too.