What Are Emotional Triggers?

An emotional trigger is an event or person that awakens an emotion with us.

Naming the trigger and the associated emotion is the first step of the investigation to release negative emotion called Question-Connect-Choose which you can review by clicking on the page tab.

The key understanding in this first step is that the trigger is not the cause of the emotion as we may have been conditioned to believe. The emotion or propensity for that emotion is already within us.

What we want to accomplish is the separation of the trigger from the emotion by applying a space between the two. Then we have the opportunity to make a conscious choice as to whether we will experience that emotion or the degree to which we will experience it.

This will train us to consciously choose our emotional state and replace the automatic or habitual process of blaming our emotions on outside events or people which renders us helpless victims or enraged avengers rather than master of our lives.

Remember our earlier story:

I was sitting and eating a delightful lunch at my favorite outdoor café when this woman with a little dog in a pouch demanded that the hostess immediately clear a dirty table so she could sit there apparently not interested in the several other clean tables nearby.  Her irritated tone of voice intimidated the inexperienced young hostess who called the manager for assistance. He quickly directed a waiter to drop what he was doing to clean the table. In the rush, the waiter backed into a busboy with a tray of glasses that shattered to the floor which started the dog barking incessantly. 

All I could think of at this moment was how selfish this woman was! It was all about her! She made me so angry! How dare she ruin the lovely atmosphere of a perfectly nice day just because she had to have what she wanted without a care about how it affected anyone else!

The emotional trigger process takes less than a split second to occur and has a sequence similar to this:

  • Something happens.
  • We perceive it in a certain way.
  • We give that perception  meaning.
  • That meaning results from a hidden belief we hold in our unconscious.
  • The frustration or validation of that belief awakens an emotion within us. (negative or    positive emotion)
  • We feel the emotion and assume it was caused by the trigger, rather than coming from the meaning  we give it from our hidden belief.

The storyteller assumes that the woman with the dog caused the anger and makes assumptions about the woman’s selfish nature and the storyteller’s resulting inability to enjoy the moment. The storyteller believes he/she is a victim and has no control over the experience which deepens the initial anger at being disturbed.

But the truth is more likely that the storyteller already had anger brewing inside (from an unknown source at this moment) and the trigger was merely the “excuse or permission” to express that anger.

How many times have we been is a situation where something occurred and we had a huge emotional rise and sometime later, the same situation happens and we are not bothered at all?  What was the difference? The trigger or us?

We perceive and give meaning to triggers according to what is already stirring within us.

While we may not be familiar with taking responsibility for our emotions and how they alter the way we view the world, we can choose to acknowledge this power in us and learn to be master rather than victim of the events around us.

Additionally, it is interesting to note that the reverse is equally empowering with positive emotions. Others do not make us feel good, loving, happy or confident as we may be comfortable believing. When a trigger occurs, such as a smile or compliment, we automatically tap into positive emotions already within us if we believe it is genuine.

Again, we create the good feeling according to what we believe.

However, there are times when people have smiled or given us a compliment and it led to anger, resentment or mistrust because our belief about the trigger was that it was not genuinely offered.

How interesting. The same action; smile or compliment but a very different emotion resonated.

Again, what changed; the trigger or us?

By naming the trigger and the emotion within us we take the first step towards emotional responsibility and the resulting mastery over our lives rather than being a victim of triggers. We can change the pattern that most of the world operates on and learn to be free to choose the quality of the life experience that we want, moment by moment.

Next time, we will work on step two in the investigation, My Reality (vs. Actuality).

Looking forward to sharing with you,


2 thoughts on “What Are Emotional Triggers?

  1. Pingback: ConTroll « A Kiss Of Bliss

  2. Pingback: The bottom of the barrel « onbeingmindful

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