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What are Emotional Triggers and How Can You Respond?

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What’s Going on When You Feel Emotionally Triggered?

Maybe you’ve heard the term before, or maybe it’s a new concept to you. But one thing is certain, we all have emotional triggers.

You’re having a casual conversation with a friend or family member, and suddenly—BAM! Your heart rate skyrockets, your muscles tense, and you feel overwhelmed with anger or with some other heavy emotion. It might have been a simple passing comment that threw you into this tailspin, but here you are in this unexpected emotional place, and now it’s your turn to respond or react.

What you choose to do or say next often feels instinctual, as though you barely have control over your reactions. That’s because these situations send signals to your brain which release a cascade of chemicals that are known as your fight or flight hormonesBecause their goal is pure survival, once released, these hormones begin to cloud any reasonable judgment you might have had prior to being triggered.

So instead of acting like a civilized person, you resemble an angry mama bear or a scared forest mouse. And You’re left wondering how you got there and why your internal world has disintegrated.

What Are Emotional Triggers?

Our internal worlds are not as clearly mapped out to us as we would like to think. What’s usually happening when you feel emotionally triggered is that unhealed pain or suffering you experienced in the past is being touched on in the moment.

Often these triggers signify fear that a current need won’t be met, or fear that a need will not be met in the future. We have many needs and this is only a partial list, but some of these needs are:

  • Acceptance
  • Respect
  • Attention
  • Comfort
  • Freedom
  • Peacefulness
  • Consistency
  • To be liked
  • To be understood
  • To be in control
  • To be right
  • To be treated fairly
  • To feel included


As soon as we feel these things are in danger of being taken away from us we might feel rage, anxiety, sadness, or fear. So what is the best way forward?

3 Steps to Managing Your Emotional Triggers in the Moment

The first step is to recognize that when your body reacts, you are actually having an emotional response. As we mentioned before, the release of fight or flight hormones will produce clear signs in your body (heart rate, muscle tension, etc…) that indicate you’re being triggered. Cultivating this awareness will help you move on to the next steps.

The next step is to recognize the need you have in the present moment. Remember, it’s the fear of that need not being met that is triggering your emotional response. The threat of these needs not being met is sometimes real and sometimes not real. Once you acknowledge the need that is feeling threatened, you can assess what you want to do next.

If the threat is real, you can choose to ask clarifying questions and ask for that need to be met. If the threat is not real—for example you are taking the situation too personally—you can choose to let it go in the moment and move on.

A Few Other Important Pieces to the Puzzle

The steps mentioned above require practice and won’t produce fruitful outcomes overnight. But with time and a few other key ingredients, you can slowly begin to master and overcome your emotional triggers.

One thing you can work on in yourself is engaging with the world around you in a powerful way instead of as a victim. The more you assume responsibility for how you respond/react in a moment, the more objectively you can look at a situation. If a person is disrespecting you, you still have the choice to respond in a productive way, or react defensively.

If you live in Gilbert, Chandler or Mesa Arizona, another action you can take is to set an appointment for a Sozo Ministry session at Agave Sozo. Sozo helps to heal our inner being and uses the amazing Bethel Sozo tools to reach a greater inner freedom and peace. If you are unfamiliar with Sozo, visit this website for a more in-depth description and schedule your appointment today! 


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/11/2019) Pixabay