The feeling of being triggered or overwhelmed by your emotions is not nice. Emotions pour out of you like irrepressible waves. Before you realize it, you take actions that you may regret in the future. People who get triggered by their emotions on a regular basis often lash out at other people. They also display various other self-destructive behaviors.
The best way to stop an irrepressible wave of feelings is to shut it down, right? Wrong. Humans are born to have emotions and thoughts. A recent study revealed that the average person has 6000+ thoughts in a single day. Of course, some of these thoughts/emotions will be negative.
According to Jonah Engler, trying to shut down these thoughts and having no emotions at all isn’t healthy. Many people try this technique. It doesn’t teach them how to control their emotions in the long run. It’s only a matter of time before this technique fails and your feeling of being triggered becomes strong again.
Engler advises people struggling with such issues to improve their emotional intelligence. Before that, they need to understand their emotional triggers so that they can respond (not react) appropriately.
What are Emotional Triggers?
Emotional triggers are powerful emotional reactions that come from traumatic memories or experiences. One emotional trigger from the past can ruin your mood. Do these types of thoughts/emotions sound familiar to you? Don’t worry; we all have emotional triggers. Some know how to deal with their emotional triggers; others don’t.
Why are Emotional Triggers Hard to Control?
Emotional triggers are powerful emotional reactions that stem from thought patterns that are deeply rooted in our minds. Let’s say there’s a child who constantly gets beaten by his father with a stick. He grows up fearing the stick. Once the child reaches adulthood, his need to fear the stick goes away.
But, the same child may get emotionally triggered at the sight of a stick. That’s because this emotional trigger is the abused child’s survival response. Having such frantic emotional responses at the sight of a stick was normal for the child growing up. In his adulthood, this type of reaction isn’t necessary.
But, for the child, these emotional responses were akin to survival responses. Without them, he wouldn’t be able to prepare his mind for the beating. That’s why many people with post-traumatic stress disorder struggle to handle their emotional triggers.
- They get triggered by seemingly mundane things in their lives, not understanding why they behave the way they do.
- Unless they recognize and understand these triggers, they’ll keep “misbehaving.”
- Even worse, they’ll blame themselves for their “misbehaviors” without understanding the reasons behind them.
These factors make emotional triggers very hard to understand, let alone control for the average citizen. However, every adult has the responsibility of controlling their conscious responses in public settings. Similarly, adults must also bear the responsibility of controlling their unconscious mental responses in private or public settings.
Recognize Your Triggers
Emotional triggers are unique to the person that’s experiencing them. Different people grow up with different types of uncomfortable memories or experiences. In the previous example, the abused child’s emotional trigger was the visual of a stick.
The stick represents the following feelings in the child’s mind – betrayal, insecurity, and injustice. All uncomfortable memories or experiences are rooted in similar emotions. Here are the emotions most people experience when they feel triggered –
- Being unnoticed and disapproved
- Feeling unwelcome
- Feeling of insecurity
- Loss of control
- Loss of independence
- Unjust treatment
If you’ve experienced these types of emotions growing up, you probably have some inexplicable emotional triggers that set you off. Don’t worry. These negative feelings are temporary. Yes, you may feel cheated or rejected today.
But, that negative feeling won’t last forever. Similarly, your emotional triggers aren’t permanent. According to Jonah Engler, you can learn to control and eventually get rid of them. Here’s how.
Understand Why You Have Certain Emotions
Our emotions are designed to maximize our survival chances. For example, fear is one of the most important emotions. It helps us survive in hostile environments. If humans didn’t feel fear, we’d probably be extinct by today. So, experiencing emotions is completely natural.
Yes, the way some people experience emotions may be warped. For instance, an abuse victim may relate to “normal” circumstances with irrational fears. However, trying to squash down these unpleasant thoughts/emotions is never the right answer.
Instead, whenever people feel such emotions, they should try to understand them. Why do certain things trigger you? Think about this question whenever you feel triggered or overwhelmed.
Practice the ABCDE Technique Whenever You Feel Triggered
The ABCDE technique is a great way for people to learn how to cultivate their emotional intelligence. If you ever feel emotionally triggered, use this technique to recognize and understand your feelings –
- A: Identify the Activating trigger. What event or experience lead to an emotional surge in your mind? Take note of whatever’s bothering you.
- B: Behavior analysis. Identify what preconceived beliefs, knee-jerk reactions, and behaviors that followed the emotional trigger.
- C: Consequence analysis. As your mind gives out hundreds of emotional responses and triggers, try to analyze them one at a time. Reflect on the consequences of having those beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. Do you find yourself being untruthful over a matter? Does your mind immediately resort to self-criticism? Whatever the immediate consequences of your knee-jerk reactions are, try to understand them.
- D: Dispute every thought, belief, or emotion that leads to unhelpful or illogical consequences.
- E: Engage with positive emotions as soon as you get off the emotional rollercoaster.
The next time something triggers you, go through this ABCDE process. Finish this process by substituting your unhealthy reactions with healthy ones. For instance, instead of feeling self-critical, sitting and stewing in your self-loathing, go for a walk.
Get Comfortable with Discussing Your Emotions
Don’t say “everything’s fine” the next time you feel emotionally triggered. If everything isn’t fine inside your mind, recognize what’s wrong. Normalize having discussions (preferably with mental health experts) about your emotions. Get comfortable with the practice of understanding and processing emotions.