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Thursday, 23 Aug 2018

How To Deal With Emotional Triggers

By Dr Becky Spelman

emotional triggers

We’ve all been there before; one minute everything is fine and the next we’re at the centre of a huge blowout after receiving what seems like a harmless comment. The red mist descends, leaving us in a spin. Emotionally triggered, and acting against our better judgment.

These trigger points work on the sub-conscious level, prompting reactions based on our previous experiences. They’re learnt responses, and the result of a past trauma – most often from childhood – which we then act out in predictable patterns.

This makes identifying them a tough ask, since we don’t consciously make these decisions. It’s automatic; it just happens. But not impossible to get a handle on. By bringing awareness to how you react in certain situations, you can get to the root cause of your triggers to affect real, long-lasting change in your life.

Let’s talk about ‘Monica.’

From a young age, her father was often away on business, leading to the divorce of parents early in her childhood. Both were authoritarian, her Mother especially, who she continued to live with. She was conservative and often critical, making for a turbulent relationship growing up.

Fast-forward to her early twenties, and these events from Monica’s past began subtly dictating her actions – in her professional life in particular. Whenever she found herself being questioned, it would register in the same way her Mother’s criticism would. She would become incensed.

However, she wouldn’t react in the face of her colleagues, but instead become resentful of them ‘mistreating’ her for the rest of the day. This feeling of ill will would accumulate over time, making it increasingly difficult for her to see past these criticisms. She became overly righteous, withdrawn, and found it difficult to fit in.

The through-line of her past circumstances re-surfacing after being triggered is clear.

Through being raised by such a dominant and critical figure as her mother, Monica developed a strong aversion to authority – the root cause. When she felt that she experienced this later in life, it served as the trigger, as she subconsciously recognised the same ‘threat.’ Her emotional response was to become angry, and her habit pattern was to become withdrawn.

Acknowledging these root causes can be hard; it forces us to confront truths about our past that we’d sometimes rather not remember. But by doing so, we build a better relationship with our inner-child and cultivate a more capable and grounded version of self.

If you’re someone who is prone to recurring cycles of negative behaviour, keep a journal. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive, but note down any turning points during the day, which might be potential triggers. What was it? How did you feel? How did you react? Once you’ve established a link, then you can start asking yourself why. How long have I been doing this? When did it begin?

Some of the most common responses to emotionally triggers include:

  • Alcohol
  • Binge Eating
  • Getting Angry
  • Redrawing
  • Insecurity

Over time, these responses form habit patterns that are hard-wired into our brains. But if we recognise this, we can replace these with more constructive ways of dealing with our challenges. We break the cycle and take back control of our life.

**The client’s names and any details which may identify them have been changed in order to protect privacy. We take confidentiality of our clients very seriously, and do not openly share cases where someone can be identified. 


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

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