Understanding and managing your emotional triggers

​When you react badly to an event, it is common to blame the event for your reaction e.g. your boss asks you to work overtime and you get angry. Your natural reaction may be to blame your boss for your anger. However, you may notice that other people, when asked to work overtime, do not always react angrily. In fact, some just accept and get on with it while others, if it is not convenient, inform their boss that they will not be able to work overtime.

For just about every possible event, you have your own beliefs, feelings or views. In the example above, you may feel that you cannot say ‘No’ to your boss. Alternatively, you may feel that your boss should not be asking you to work overtime as you work long enough hours. Can you see how either of these beliefs would cause you to react angrily when your boss asks you to work overtime?

Now imagine if rather than these beliefs, you believed that you had the right to say ‘No’ to your boss or; you just accepted that from to time you would have to work overtime. Can you see how these beliefs would lead to you feeling differently about the situation? As a result, you would be less likely to get angry.

Your beliefs about a situation are just one way that emotional triggers can influence your behaviour. Sometimes, emotional triggers can lead to positive behaviour; however, emotional triggers often lie behind some of our worst behaviour. If you are unaware of your emotional triggers, these negative behaviours can seem automatic and out of your control. Fortunately, as you become aware of your emotional triggers and start to monitor them, you realise that you have the opportunity to intervene in the space between the event and your response, thus creating a more desirable situation.

​Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

​Inability to control your emotional triggers can be one of the main causes of Passive Aggressive Behaviour. You can learn more with my Free Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour.


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Taking control of your emotional triggers

​You can implement the following steps to help you take control of your emotional triggers by increasing your awareness and developing new ways of responding. These steps are divided in to 2 phases – understanding your emotional triggers and, managing your emotional triggers.

Understanding your emotional triggers

1. Identify your emotional triggers

acquire emotional triggers

A trigger is an experience that draws us back into the past and causes old feelings and behaviors to arise. It is important to note that the emotional trigger is not always the specific situation e.g. in the example given earlier the emotional trigger is probably not the fact that you have being asked to work overtime. The following are just some of the emotional triggers which are more likely to be the issue in that particular example:

  • ​Being asked to do something you do not want to do
  • ​Taking orders from authority figures
  • Having somebody else control your time
  • Lacking the confidence or assertiveness to say ‘No
  • ​Thinking errors – e.g. you may believe that the boss always expects you to be the one to work overtime and never asks anybody else

​As you can see, each of these emotional triggers is different and would have to be dealt with a different approach. That is why it so important to observe your feelings and emotions to find the exact emotional triggers which are leading to your undesired behaviour.

​Key point

​​As with any problem, it is important to treat the cause rather than the symptom. So take your time to identify the actual emotional trigger as this will save you more time and effort in the long run.


2. Spot external stimuli

best most emotional triggers

​Some triggers are situational and social. Take note of the situations where you behave in the undesired manner. Include the people who were there, what was happening etc. In time, you will begin to see a pattern which will better enable you to identify the root cause of the issue.

The better you understand your emotional triggers, the easier it is to make the necessary changes to ensure that you don’t get triggered again in the future. Too often, when people realise that an external situation is triggering their negative emotional response, they assume that there is nothing they can do so, they don’t even try to change things.

However, you have 3 main changes you can make to ensure that any unwanted, negative emotional triggers don’t happen:

  • ​Adapt the situation so that the emotional trigger no longer occurs
  • ​Adapt you’re your thinking / behaviour to mitigate the emotional response
  • ​Remove yourself from the situation

​You just need to determine the best course of action and, implement it.

​Key point

​Social anxiety is an example of where the situation can make a massive difference. Some people with social anxiety are fine in certain social situations e.g. business settings, but struggle with other social situations e.g. communicating with the opposite sex. Different situations may require different remedies.


3. Identify internal causes

dedication emotional triggers

​When you find yourself behaving in the undesired manner, take note of your thoughts and feelings. Your thoughts and feelings about situations, and people, heavily influence your behaviour. In many cases, these thoughts and feeling are inaccurate, unhelpful or no longer relevant. When you become aware of them, you are in a position to challenge them.

Your emotional triggers and responses will have developed over time. Some of them may have been warranted due to people or circumstances in your life. But, over time, your life will have changed and you will find that you have many emotional triggers which don’t server your current life.

Taking the time to understand your thoughts and feelings when you experience an emotional trigger will allow you to identify any changes you may need to make. For example, I had an incredibly difficult time during my school days.

For a long time afterwards, I was experiencing emotional triggers which had developed to help me during those times. They were no longer useful and, it took some time to remove them, but it was worth the effort in the end.

​Key point

​​There is a lot of truth in the old saying that you are who you think you are.  Your emotional triggers cause you to think about yourself in a certain way and then you behave accordingly. Thus, what you think of yourself on the inside dictates how you behave and, are perceived, on the outside.

The better you understand yourself, the easier it is to identify the changes you need to make; to foster greater emotional control.

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4.  Accept that we all have emotional triggers

emotion emotional triggers

​We are all human and as such, we are all fallible. Having emotional triggers which cause you to behave in a negative way does not make you a bad person. Instead, view them as an opportunity to grow and develop into an even better person.

Emotional triggers are a little like habits. They are little shortcuts you develop over time to help you deal with particular situations. Nobody ever intends to develop a bad emotional trigger or a bad habit. So, you must never beat yourself up about it. Stop thinking about whether they are good or bad and instead think of whether something is useful or not.

In life, if something isn’t useful, you work to get rid of it. If it is useful, you work to maintain it. It is a far more effective way of dealing with things.

​Key point

​​When you think of things as useful or not, rather than good or bad, you develop a more positive, proactive approach to self-improvement. This will always bring better results.

​Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

​Inability to control your emotional triggers can be one of the main causes of Passive Aggressive Behaviour. You can learn more with my Free Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour.


Get Your FREE Copy


Managing your emotional triggers

5.  Keep a journal

hold onto heart emotional triggers

The best and simplest way to monitor your behaviour is to keep a journal. Whenever you behave in the undesired manner, make a record of your thoughts, feelings, emotions and the situation you were in when the behaviour took place. Note what's going on in your head and in your surroundings at the time. Be as detailed as you can be.

Tracking your triggers is the first step in mastering them. It allows you to identify patterns and pinpoint the causes of your behaviour. When you can do this, you are then in a position to make changes.

Understanding yourself is the key to all self-improvement. But, you don’t develop this understanding by accident. You need to be proactive about it. Keeping a journal is an enjoyable and simple way to get a better understanding of yourself.

​Key point

​​​Journalling works best when you write from a stream of consciousness. Don't allow yourself to edit as you go along becasue something you edit out could be crucial to idenitfying your emotional triggers. Allow yourself to write uninhibited.


6.  Challenge yourself

human emotional triggers

​The key to change is placing yourself in difficult positions and being open to doing something new and more constructive. Many people avoid their problems but avoidance is not an effective problem solving strategy. If you want to change your behaviour, you must challenge yourself. It is not always easy but the rewards are always worth it.

Nobody else is going to come along and make the changes for you. If others are upset or offended by your emotional responses, they are unlikely to try to help you change. They are more likely to walk away and start to distance you.

When you know that there is something in your life which needs to be fixed, you have a duty to yourself to fix it. When it also impacts negatively on others, you have a duty to fix it for them too. But you won’t fix it unless you step up, take responsibility and, take action.

Challenge yourself to be the best you can be and, strive to meet that challenge.

​Key point

Don't allow yourself to use the excuse that change is too difficult. You know that you need to change so; you know that your current situation is already difficult.

If you are going to suffer anyway, ensure that there is some benefit to your suffering. Take the challenge.


 7.  Come up with alternatives

like water emotional triggers

If you want to change your behaviour, it is not enough to simply stop behaving that way. That approach is rarely effective. You need to substitute a new behaviour. Brainstorm new strategies you can use instead of the old behaviour e.g. if you do not want to do the overtime, commit yourself to becoming more assertive so that you can tell your boss that you will not be available.

You may need to develop and implement new skills.

I have a relative with whom I have always had regular arguments. He is passive aggressive and was always trying to push my buttons. For a long time, I fell for it and I would keep giving him the response that he was looking for. I would overreact, and he would then pin the blame for everything on me; making me look like the bad guy.

So, I came up with an alternative response. Nowadays, as soon as I know that he is trying to push my buttons; I just walk away. I leave the building and go do something else. As I walk away, I can see him become visibly upset by the fact that I didn’t respond as he wished.

Now that people notice my response, they have started paying more attention to his behaviour and everybody can see what he is up to. By simply choosing an alternative, I have ruined his game, improved my relationships and made myself a lot happier in the process.

​Key point

​​View your alternative strategies as a new adventure and remember that whatever alternative behaviour you choose is going to benefit you in numerous areas of your life.

​Related

​If passive aggressive behaviour is a problem in your life, check out ​Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour.


8.  Know your capacity

slaves emotional triggers

​Proceed at your own pace. To continue with the previous example; if you want to be more assertive, you can start out by being more assertive with your spouse and friends if you need to practice before talking with your boss. This will build your confidence and, as you see that the world does not end when you say ‘No’, you will build a greater resolve to stand your ground.

Just because you need to make some changes, it does not mean that all the changes need to be made rapidly. If you are lacking a little confidence or, you are anxious about the changes, you may need to start off at a slower pace. Then you can ramp up the pace as you get used to the new changes.

Success in any area of life is achieved one step at a time. It is up to you to determine how big the steps need to be. So long as you keep moving forward, you will be making improvements in your life and; you will soon be able to experience the benefits.

​Key point

View your personal improvement like a car journey. If you try to drive at a speed where you are not in control, you may get there quicker or; you may never get there at all!

Trying to go too fast can put you under too much pressure and may activate more emotional triggers.


9.  Make time to relax

strange beast emotional triggers

​Taking the time to manage your stress levels will help you to manage your emotions better. Identify the behaviours which help you to de-stress and fit them into your schedule on a daily basis. As you begin to de-stress and unwind, you will find that you become more resilient and more determined.

An often-overlooked benefit of managing your stress levels is that when you reduce stress, you improve the quality of your thinking. You think clearer, free from anxiety and worry. It allows you to view any problems from more than one angle and; develop more than one effective solution.

Improving the quality of your thinking and your decision making is one of the most powerful changes you can make in your life.

So, work to reduce your stress levels, get a better understanding of your problems and find better solutions.

​Key point

​​Don't claim that you don't have the time to relax. While leading the United Kingdom through World War II, Winston Churchll insisted on taking his afternoon nap each day. He knew that relaxation was essential for good judgement in the face of a wide variety of emotional triggers.


10.  Live healthy

understand emotional triggers

​Another way to make yourself more resilient is to take good care of your body and mind. Eat right, sleep well and exercise regularly. You'll be better prepared to bounce back from any obstacles that may arise.

When we talk about reducing stress, we normally think of eliminating the things which are leading to the stress. It is just as important to implement positive habits to improve your overall health and wellbeing, thus making you more resilient and protecting you from the onset of stress.

When you strive to maintain the best physical and mental health, you find it easier to identify the things you need to remove from your life.

Poor health puts a strain on every area of your life, including your emotions so, maintaining good health makes it easier to manage your emotions.

​Key point

​There is great truth in the old saying that prevention is better than cure. When you seek to get the best from yourself, you soon identify the things which are weighing you down and holding you back; allowing you to remove them from your life.

​Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour

​Inability to control your emotional triggers can be one of the main causes of Passive Aggressive Behaviour. You can learn more with my Free Flash Guide to Passive Aggressive Behaviour.


Get Your FREE Copy


11.  Develop a strong support network

unjust emotional triggers

​When you're dealing with stubborn issues, it's good to know you have people who care about you and want to help. By telling people whom you can trust about your desire to change, you will have a support network whom you can turn to during your tough times and, with whom you can celebrate your progress. The knowledge that you are not alone upon your journey can be enough to give you the courage to keep going.

As a human being, you are a social being. You were meant to build and maintain relationships. You were not meant to go through life alone; particularly when things get tough.

While other people may not be able to understand the exact nature of your problems / challenges in life; they do know what it is like to have problems / challenges of their own. They will be able to offer support so, don’t ever think that you must go through it alone.

​Key point

​​Professional help can be a wonderful part of your support network, if required. There is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help when you are trying to improve your life.

​Related

​Failure to understand and manage your emotions is one of the leading factors behind Passive Aggressive Behaviour. To help you mange this problem, check out Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour.


​Conclusion

​When you behave in an unacceptable manner, it is easy to blame others or to blame events for your behaviour. When you blame outside factors it may make you feel better in the short-term but in the long-term you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life. If you are behaving in an inappropriate or undesirable way, the problem may well be due to emotional triggers. We all have our own unique emotional triggers. Learning to handle them constructively enables us to fix the issues that get in our way and move ahead in life. So, rather than blame outside factors for your unwanted behaviour; take it on the chin, accept that you need to make some changes and get to work. When you implement the steps outlined above, you will be well on the way to taming your emotional triggers and enjoying a happy and healthier life.