What are emotional triggers? Do you ever overreact to a comment by a friend or family member that really isn’t meant to upset you?

At the same time, you feel like the rug has been whipped away from under your feet? Chances are you have certain emotional triggers and have experienced one of those.

Most of us will undergo negative experiences in our life, and emotional triggers stem from these. They are sudden and painful reminders of a negative incident in the past that stirs up powerful emotions. They come to the surface when you are faced with a similar position and if not dealt with can overwhelm and control you.

My own emotional triggers stemmed from an abusive partner, who took his anger at me out on our dog at the time. Even 20 years after we split up, and despite the fact that my dog has passed away, if anyone is even the slightest bit derogatory about my two dogs, I feel that lack of control and sense of desperation.

Now when that situation arises, I understand that the person knows nothing of my past, they are not trying to upset me. They might just have simply said something rude about my dog and I am not instantly transported back to that time with my ex-partner.

How are emotional triggers formed?

How emotional triggers are formed is not fully understood, but it is thought that the senses play a huge part. Smells, sights, sounds and tastes are powerful elements when it comes to forming memories, particularly when associated with negative ones.

When a sense is linked to a traumatic experience, just the repetition of this sense is enough to produce the same reaction in the present as experienced in the past. The reaction, in this case, the emotional trigger, will start to happen before the person is even aware of what has upset them.

Knowing what emotional triggers you have and how they affect you is the first step into conquering them and taking back control over your life.

Here are some typical emotional triggers, see which one you most identify with:

  • You feel anxious when someone leaves you.
  • You think that a person is not listening to you.
  • You feel helpless over situations where you have no control.
  • You do not feel valued or appreciated.
  • You feel that you are not good enough.
  • You think that you are being judged all the time.
  • You feel belittled and worthless.
  • You feel controlled by someone.
  • Someone is making you feel guilty about leaving them.
  • Someone is never happy to see you.
  • Someone is harassing you sexually.
  • Someone is being too needy and wants to cling to you.

If you can identify your emotional triggers, you can then try and work out where these negative feelings came from. Look back to your childhood and see whether some of the feelings you are experiencing now can be related back to events when you were younger.

The worst thing you can do is to avoid the things that trigger emotional outbursts, you have to deal with them head-on.

So just how do emotional triggers secretly influence our life?

Someone who was attacked whilst a certain song was playing in the background could immediately feel panicky whenever they hear that song again. A child who was punished by a parent who always wore a particular scent would have an aversion to that perfume. Someone suffering from bulimia might feel compelled to start making themselves sick again if they viewed pictures of overly skinny models.

Emotions, of course, are not bad per se, but recognizing what they are for and how we use them in everyday life will help to resolve emotional triggers.

For instance, we use emotions to communicate, whether it be through love, anger, happiness or fear. Think about how your body reacts to each emotion and learn to spot the signs that it is gearing up in order to produce an emotional response.

So when we get angry we often tense up and feel hot, if we feel fear we typically experience a faster heartbeat and sweaty palms. Learn to recognize your body’s emotions and you can stop the emotional trigger progressing.

When you experience an emotional trigger, think of the following:

  1. Recognize that this is an emotional trigger and do not overreact.
  2. Try and think what caused the emotional trigger before reacting.
  3. Decide how you are going to feel, instead of your usual response to this trigger.
  4. Concentrate on changing your emotional state into the one you want to feel.

Instead of reacting and trying to manage your emotional triggers, getting ahead of them and choosing how you are going to feel is how you can stop them exerting a secret influence on your life.


  1. https://www.goodtherapy.org
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Julie

    Thank you Janey. Helpful.

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