Like many of us, you were probably never taught as a child how to recognize your emotional triggers. You may not have been taught how to deal with intense emotional feelings when they occur either.

As adults we take these things for granted and we forget that learning how to rationalize and calm ourselves after and during an emotionally intense experience is a learned behavior. Whatever response we learn at a young age tends to carry through to our adult life.

Emotional triggers happen regularly throughout the day and unless someone helps point out what a trigger is and how to recognize it, you will likely keep experiencing them and responding with the same learned response. Regardless of the destructive outcome, you continue to respond with the same knee-jerk reaction, time and time again.

Have you ever noticed that when you experience guilt, or shame, or fear, anger, or frustration or when do something you regret, your mind quickly comes up with some reason to justify how you feel or what you did? In truth, you reacted based on a learned response, a gut instinct or knee-jerk response. When you respond with an emotional charge, you may find yourself losing trust in the person or situation at hand. You might also lose courage to say what you want to say or you may react in such a way that future relationships are in jeopardy.

In these moments of emotionally triggered responses, your reaction isn’t based on a calm and composed decision. Your ego recognized a pattern and without much more than a moment of hesitation, it brought up feelings from a previous experience for you to feel in this instance as well. Your ego more or less reacted for you, and it covers it up quickly by creating an excuse to justify your actions. You’ll have thoughts of blaming the person or situation for how you currently feel. Your thoughts will focus on things from the past, convincing you that they all lead up to this moment and perhaps that this person had it coming.

What you experienced was an emotional trigger and just that. And in that brief moment, before you reacted, before the emotional trigger exploded, you still had the ability to CHOOSE how you would respond.

The Key is to catch yourself in the moment before you react and your emotions are triggered. In that moment, you can decide if the threat is real or not. In that moment you can pause and choose how to respond. And even if you miss the moment, there is still time to choose. It gets exponentially more difficult to pause once you allow yourself to be consumed by your irrational emotions, but it is still possible.

The First Step to Conquering Your Mind is Learning How to Recognize Your Emotional Triggers

There are a number of common triggers for people. Learning to recognize your own as well as triggers for your spouse or children or coworkers will help to increase that moment in your mind when the choice for how you will respond is still easily yours to make. Instead of just recognizing the pattern from your own past experiences, your mind will also recognize the pattern of a triggered emotional response in yourself as well as others.

Often times our strengths – the things that we feel are keys to our success in life – are the things that create the largest emotional triggers. Anytime someone says something or does something that appears to threaten the value we place on these strengths or makes us feel like our strengths are not being honored, we can become caught in an emotional trigger.

Our ego believes that these strengths are part of what makes us who we are. So when anyone threatens to take those things away, our emotions become triggered.

Picture taking a toy away from a child. A tantrum and possibly even screaming ensue. You have taken something away that their ego has identified as part of them. That toy, whether you want to recognize it or not, has become part of their definition of self. We do this without realizing we’re doing it. So trying to rationalize and explain to the child that they’ll get the toy back, isn’t usually very successful once they have been emotionally triggered.

The same type of situation occurs when you try to rationalize and calmly explain something to an adult after they’ve become emotionally triggered. The conversation is difficult, filled with blame, judgment and anger, and doesn’t always end well. In fact one emotionally charged person tends to lead to more than one emotionally charged person because it’s hard to control and contain emotional triggers for an extended period of time. Well, unless you’re Buddha or someone else who has extensive training on inner peace.

But learning how to recognize your emotional triggers is key breaking the habit of allowing your ego and your emotions to control your reactions. You do have a choice.

Some of the Most Common Triggers

The following is a list of some of the most common triggers. In other words, you feel an emotional charge or trigger because your ego sees a pattern based on past experiences that says you may not get one or several of these things that are important to you. Whether or not that is true in that moment is irrelevant to your ego. It assumes it to be true based on the past.

Being AcceptedBeing RespectedBeing Liked
Being UnderstoodFeeling NeededBeing Valued
Being in ControlBeing RightBeing Treated Fairly
Getting AttentionExperiencing ComfortHaving Freedom
Feeling PeacefulnessFeeling BalancedHaving Consistency
Having OrderHaving VarietyBeing Loved
Feeling SafeExperiencing PredictabilityBeing Included
Experiencing FunExperiencing New ChallengesHaving Autonomy

Some of the things listed above will feel important to you while others may not hold any emotional charge for you.

Think through your day or your week or to emotionally charged conversations or situations you’ve experienced lately. Find two to three things from the list that triggered your emotional response to the various situations. It may be that all three were triggered in a single instance, or during two to three separate instances. But start with a list of two to three. You may have more triggers with which you can associate but start with two to three.

Keep in mind, that your triggers aren’t bad things. They don’t make you weak, or a bad person. At some point, the belief served you and the emotional trigger or charge created by it felt necessary.

For example, your past experiences may have taught you that a successful career requires a balanced lifestyle, where your experience and thoughts are valued at work, you’re liked and accepted by everyone on your team. So if someone threatens what you consider a healthy balance between work and personal life by asking you to work late, or your ideas are brushed off, or someone gets mad at you during a project, it’s no surprise that you feel emotionally triggered as a response.

The longer we have these beliefs about what our lives should look like or what success really means, the more attached we become to the ideas and emotional triggers are created. Knee-jerk reactions surface quickly and without much thought.

Here’s an Example of One of My Triggers

I really dislike being told 'No'I really dislike being told “no.” My husband knows this and thankfully he generally supports my ideas and dreams. He may need some time to adjust to the ideas, but in general, he supports my freedom to express and try new things. When I’m told no, however, a whole slew of needs feel threatened. I feel as though my freedom is being stifled and like my right to experience variety and new challenges is being hampered. I don’t feel like my ideas are being valued or like I’m understood. And above all, I feel like I don’t have control. There is some feeling within me that runs pretty deep when I feel like my wings are being clipped or I’m stuffed in a box.

With that single situation of being told “no,” I can feel emotionally charged on at least 6 different needs: freedom, variety, new challenge, valued, understood, control. And there may be more needs that I haven’t even listed.

As you can probably imagine, if I don’t realize what is happening, my emotions will quickly overtake me and any rational thought or discussion that might have taken place, is long gone. That ship will have sailed until sometime later, when I’ve calmed down and am ready to try again. Of course, that’s assuming the other person in the conversation is willing to also, try again.

I’m better at preparing my mind and my emotions these days than I have been in the past. So when I want to present a new idea to someone, I can accept a difference in opinion and not blow up through an emotional charge.

Give Yourself an Extra Moment of Pause

The first step to conquering your mind and your emotions is learning how to recognize your emotional triggers. When you do that you can use that moment to pause and choose your response. Your ego will continue to suggest a response, but you have the choice. Your ego is not You.

Good or bad, right or wrong, many of our reactions are simply gut reactions without much thought. But first, you must recognize them so that you can give yourself that added moment to decide what to do.


In my next article, I will dive a bit deeper into steps you can take to release an emotional charge after it is triggered and before it consumes you.

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