When people give you poison, it’s your choice to accept it or not.
It’s not what a person is saying to you that is hurting you, it’s what you have as unresolved wounds that they happen to touch on by what they said.
You are hurting yourself.
I know that is us taking a whole lot of responsibility right there, and sometimes it is so much easier to blame others.
BUT … No one can make you feel anything unless you allow them to.
If you can become aware of your emotional triggers, you can better understand why you do what you do. Then you can take action towards change.
In preparation for ridding ourselves of these unwanted triggers, it is helpful to break them down into bite-sized chunks.
We need to understand the drivers of these emotional triggers, as well as how and why they impact our lives the way they do.
It is only then that we can get to the root cause of all that holds us back and reverse engineer the whole process.
Emotions make us human
Emotions are usually caused by triggers, particularly those that appear to us as ‘instinctive’ and which are often negative.
A trigger is anything that sets you off emotionally and activates memories.
Let’s look at some common examples of emotional triggers:
- Opinions of others
- Environments (e.g. a hospital, an airport, a negative work environment)
For instance, let’s take someone who has a memory bank full of idyllic childhood moments spent at the beach. The association with the word ‘beach’ will be much more positive than it is likely to be for someone in the same context who got badly stung by a jellyfish, lost in a crowd or pulled under by a big wave.
I once had a student who was triggered by UGG boots. Some other students were triggered by chewing gum, and others chewing with your mouth open or making noise while eating. Even the tone of someone’s voice can set someone on fire.
There is no right nor wrong.
Emotional triggers are personal and unique to you.
Values are like fingerprints
When you really unpack the trigger, it’s often a comprise of your value system or beliefs.
Values are what drives our thinking, feelings, attitudes, decisions and behaviours.
They are profoundly ingrained into that deeper part of our unconscious mind from the time we are born.
Values are one-of-a-kind and exceptional to each and every one of us.
This is why when we come across an individual that has opposing values, we will automatically feel agitated without really understanding why.
Values are what we hold as sacred, important and are our foundation in all that we are, do or have.
Beliefs are pretty much assumptions, hypotheses and presumptions that we make about the world around us.
Beliefs give us a sense of safety and a feeling of ease. Just like values, they are profoundly ingrained into that deeper part of the mind.
Therefore, you can imagine how someone could absolutely lose their cool when there are conflicting thoughts, feelings and actions that are driven by values and beliefs.
The ego wants quantity
You know when it’s your ego that is standing in the way of you and others when the driver is very external.
Let’s pretend you are at work and you are with your team, brainstorming and collaborating on a project. All of a sudden, one of your team members corrects you in front of everyone.
Yep. In public.
In their eyes, they may see it as helping you use the correct word or language for this particular project. However, you feel attacked, offended, vexed and even angry, to the point where you shut down and take it as an insult.
Now, that’s a perfect example of how your ego has the problem. It’s not you!
When you allow your ego to control your thoughts, feeling and actions, it creates confusion, deception and delusion.
Osho once said, ‘the ego is happy when it is able to take something’. In other words, if you feel that someone is taking something away from you, most likely that is your ego that has stepped in and taken over.
The ego is an imitation, a fake version of you. It’s not your identity.
Nevertheless, it does have its own collection of thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs. Your ego has developed and accumulated them over time as a way to fit in with your community, culture, company or world around you.
Essentially, the ego really only has one purpose – to protect us.
Yes, I know it sounds contradicting, but it is here to keep us safe from our fears.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you
Another trigger is trauma, which can be major or even minor.
For example, if you were a single parent and you had to leave your child with someone, maybe even a stranger, that could be traumatic for you and your child.
If your boss yelled at you and you have never ever had anyone raise their tone of voice in your presence, it could become a traumatic experience.
On the other hand, if you had a verbally abusive parent, every time someone raised their tone at you, it might take you back to a troublesome childhood.
Whatever personal situations you encountered in your past, they stimulate your senses and it’s like you are re-experiencing that trauma all over again.
What can we do with our triggers?
We have the power to choose what type of response we will have to an emotional trigger.
And in our response lies our growth and freedom.
To do so, first you need to identify your triggers.
The best way to identify them is to take a notebook with you and write them down as they happen. It is the most effective way to capture them in the moment.
The next step is to understand how and why your emotional triggers have such an impact on your life. Here is where you can challenge your triggers.
From there, focus on becoming the observer of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Simply ask yourself, ‘what needs of mine are not met?’
Awareness is the key
It’s imperative to our physical and emotional health that we learn to understand, decipher, embrace and manage our negative emotions.
The process gives us greater insight into recognising and understanding our own moods, triggers, emotions and other drivers that can affect our relationships.
The more cognizant, conscious and mindful you are of your emotional triggers, the better equipped you are at reacting, responding and making better decisions because you now understand where they come from.
Anger is a sign that something needs to change. When you feel the emotional triggers, it could be a desire to be acknowledged, accepted or valued.
Be kind to yourself, have patience and unpack your triggers one step at a time.