What are emotional triggers?
They are those super reactive places inside of us that become activated by someone else’s behavior or comments.
When triggered, we may either withdraw emotionally and simply feel hurt or angry or respond in an aggressive way that we will probably regret later. Our reaction is so intense because we’re defending against a painful feeling that has surfaced.
For instance, if a coworker says, “You’re not smart enough to apply for that job,” or a relative says, “You’re too old to find a mate,” we become triggered. We get upset, doubt ourselves, and feel inferior, or even wrongly think that we’re “over the hill” (there is no actual hill to be over).
On the other hand, if we think, “That’s ridiculous. Of course I’m qualified for the job,” or, “No matter my age, I can find a wonderful mate,” we’re not in a triggered state because we recognize our true worth.
Our emotional triggers are wounds that need to heal. These beliefs are based on fears—they are not reality. We don’t want to be frequently triggered. It is exhausting and painful, especially for highly sensitive and empathic people.
To heal emotional triggers, begin to compassionately examine and shift any beliefs that you’ve carried around from your family or society, such as “I am not smart enough” or “I’m too sensitive.”
You need to gently address the parts of yourself that feel flawed or have self-doubts about your body image or your worthiness to find a partner. When you heal the initial trauma or false belief, you set yourself emotionally free. Then you won’t become as easily triggered or drained.
Use these strategies to start healing your emotional triggers:
1. Be aware.
In your journal, identify your top three emotional triggers that cause you to be most upset and thrown off balance. For instance, maybe it’s when someone criticizes your weight or appearance, or points out that you don’t earn a certain income? Or perhaps you feel unlovable and undeserving of a healthy relationship? Write these down to clarify the aspects of yourself that you need to heal.
2. Track the trigger’s origin.
Journal about where these triggers originated. For example, did your parents say that you were too fat or unattractive? Did a teacher tell you that you didn’t have what it takes to succeed in school? Or were you neglected by your family, so you grew up feeling unlovable? Knowing where your triggers come from allows you to know yourself better.
3. Reprogram negative beliefs.
Start with one trigger that has the least emotional charge and begin to compassionately reprogram it. Tell yourself, “This is not reality.” What’s actually true is, “I am loveable, capable, and smart.” Substitute the negative belief with a positive, more realistic one.
4. Act “as if.”
At the start of the healing process, you might need to act “as if” when you haven’t fully integrated a new positive belief. That’s okay. For instance, simply saying to someone, “I disagree. I deserve this job,” (even when you don’t fully believe that) paves the way for a deeper belief later on. Sometimes you need to practice a more enlightened behavior for it to sink in and become real.
5. Work with a therapist or coach.
It’s often useful to seek guidance to help you find the root of the trigger and process the feelings involved. You may feel tremendous rage or sadness that your family never believed in you so you never learned to believe in yourself. Expressing and releasing the feelings allows you to heal the trigger and move on to embrace your true power.
Healing your triggers is liberating because you won’t be thrown off or drained by people’s inappropriate comments. They may still be annoying, but they won’t have the power to zap you.
The more you heal your emotional triggers, the more emotionally free you will be.
Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD.