How to apply the safety to your Emotional Triggers

How to apply the safety to your Emotional Triggers March 19, 2015

    • Centering Awareness on the mind and body

    • Grounding through Relaxation or Mindfulness

    • Flip the switch to more Helpful Self-Talk

    • Reconciling the trigger with Communication


Who doesn’t have emotional triggers? I know I get bent out of shape when someone on the freeway doesn’t let me in and when someone is driving too slow and when I feel disrespected or undervalued. Awareness of our emotional triggers can be helpful in order to gain an increased internal locus of control and in applying the safety to our triggers. Emotional triggers are also known as our “hot buttons” that other people push or what provokes us and activates a strong emotional reaction that is most notably associated with anger. Without awareness of the root to what sets us off and as we allow these triggers to hijack us we give up control and hand the proverbial gun -locked and loaded- over to others… Many people accept their emotional triggers as part of who they are and that they are set in stone. But what triggers us can be viewed as an opportunity to empower ourselves as opposed to falling prey to our long held beliefs that in certain situations, when we are “made” to feel a certain way, the locus of control lies outside of us and is the result of others behaviors or communications.

Being emotionally triggered while driving might be a bad example but it’s mine and I’m sticking with it, at least for the purposes of proving my point and choosing a place to start to gain more control over our triggers. While driving, I can sit in my upset daily if I allow… but I don’t. That does not make me special but it does provide me with a choice as to how far I will go in my upset. The moment I find myself in the car saying aloud or silently “YOU SON OF A %@#$*!!!!; WHY CAN’T YOU GET THE #*%$ OUT OF MY WAY!!!!” my blood begins to boil as the adrenaline pumps to my extremities. At this moment I could slam my foot on the gas and swerve recklessly in front of other drivers but it is now where choice enters my mind based on my negative self-talk and the accompanying emotionally visceral surge. Over time, I have learned that remaining unconscious to my triggers, even while driving, feels awful and does not lead to any positive conclusion for me or anyone else. In fact it can be extremely dangerous to act out based on being emotionally triggered. With that, I can choose not to take the negative feeling experience or any negative behaviors further. After having practiced the first three steps above, instead I now automatically center my awareness within my mind and body, take a deep breath, relax the tension, then recognize (even say to myself) “I am not the only person in a hurry” or “I am not the king of the universe”, and suddenly I am able to let it go. Centering awareness on the mind and body followed by grounding with relaxation techniques or mindfulness along with helpful self-talk can become a habit with practice. In turn, our emotional reactions and physical sensations subside, we feel more in control of ourselves, our emotions, and our behaviors. Feeling more in control is what we are actually desiring in these situation anyway, isn’t it?

So how do we manage emotional triggers when they are in our face or closer to home? Being in the car we at least have the “protection” of our vehicles to mouth off. For example, a superior or spouse berates an employee or their other half for a mistake they made causing them to feel disrespected, treated unfairly, and suddenly charged with anger, frustration, and guilt. The likely outcome from this frustration and anger conjures up a flash to lash out. Again, we know it’s an emotional trigger that has been pulled when we feel the surge of adrenaline and the root feeling is most likely related to something we need to work through or reconcile from past experiences, hence an opportunity… Management of these types of emotional triggers start in the same way with supporting ourselves by way of centering awareness on the mind and body, grounding through relaxation techniques or mindfulness, flipping the switch to helpful self-talk, and the addition of reconciling the trigger with communication. Believe it or not, that which we shy away from or are afraid of communicating is what most needs to be communicated. Albeit in a tactful way where others can actually hear us rather than when we engage from positions of offense and simultaneous defense that can lead to disaster.

Communication is a skill and an art that empowers us. Communication frees us from bottled up emotions that can contribute to all kinds of negative behaviors and self-defeating beliefs over time such as our emotional triggers. In fact, part of the reason we allow ourselves to continue to fall prey to our emotional triggers is because it’s the only time we allow ourselves to feel and express what might otherwise be unsafe feelings that are most often rooted from some other experience, which is why we tend to “accept” them or consider them to be “set in stone”. In reality, the trigger is a reminder of something we have not accepted about someone or something and we don’t like it. Rest assured you will continue to have those experiences that you don’t like because you are actually trying to work something out. Or not if you choose.

A great way to begin the process of learning how to communicate more self-supportively is to start with ourselves. When we personally understand what helpful self-talk sounds and feels like. When we successfully make a choice to go the other way such as my example while driving –we are on our way toward increasing our skill base, self-esteem, and self-confidence. We are overcoming our emotional triggers. With continued practice we will find that we diffuse our triggers in real time, or shortly thereafter, and are able to communicate more assertively what we need to with others or with whomever has triggered us.

So what are your emotional triggers? Start to notice when you tense up and why, then take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for the 1st step of simply noticing! Then see if you can make a new choice to keep the safety on the trigger.

Aaron Foster

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