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Identifying Your Emotional Triggers

Our emotions form the basis for all of our externally expressed behaviors. We are faced with a given event, a discussion or situation which then triggers an emotional response. Some of those triggered emotional responses are desirable as in the case of crying when a baby is born or feeling pride when a family member accomplishes their personal goal. Some emotions have to be regulated because our reactions could be over-the-top or unwarranted based on a given situation.

Either way, it is good practice to be aware of and acknowledge our emotions and the triggers that pushed our proverbial buttons. Understanding which stimuli affect us and how is key to identifying those emotional triggers.

Your Baseline

Since these buttons are our emotional triggers the first place to start is with mindful meditation and biofeedback. You want to start with a baseline of your emotional equilibrium.

How do you feel day to day when your emotions aren’t triggered by stimuli?

Take a few moments each day to check-in with your body. By recognising if you are well-rested or overtired, centred or stressed, or healthy or under the weather helps you to establish a baseline. Then work to become conscious of how you react to your daily routine under these various physiological conditions. Doing so can give you insight into your emotional triggers.

Your Story

Our emotional responses have been patterned from our experiences over a long period of time. How you tell your self-story, and the patterns of your self-talk are going to play a big role in your emotional triggers.

  • Go back through your story.

  • Look at your life.

  • Notice which parts of it have had the most impact on you and how.

Some of these emotional responses will be buried. Examples could be the grief you felt over the loss of a loved one, the fear from your parents being evicted from your home when you were a child, or the anger and resentment from witnessing some form of hatred or bigotry in action as it pertained to your life.


Emotional triggers can be positive and negative, but either way, they serve a purpose in helping us navigate our way through life. When you were a child, if your family were evicted from the safety of your home, your emotional triggers may drive you to make choices centred on physical security, or they can lead you to become violently angry if you feel threatened to you as an adult. Understanding your emotional triggers is important to working through rational and over-the-top behavior.

Childhood events also play a large role in developing emotional triggers because these events happened during the years of our lives when we are the most impressionable and when we are still developing and growing in mental capacity and clarity. So, take a look at your personal story.

Working from your baseline,

  • Which parts of your story have an effect and in what types of situations?

  • What events in your past cause your heart rate to increase or decrease from your baseline?

Bear in mind that emotions have a variety of effects on us. They can cause our hearts to race, or to calm. From one extreme to the other- calmness to panic- emotions are our reactions to our environment so don’t just look for triggers that upset you, look for triggers that bring you joy, elation, or calmness.

Starting with the triggers that bring you some sort of happiness, you can then make your way to the triggers that bring you panic or anger. Do this so that you can calm yourself in case you trigger a state of panic by addressing a particularly harmful moment from your past.

Once you’ve identified which triggers make you happy, ask yourself this: “How would I feel if this were taken away?”

Take note of how answering that question makes you feel, and where it takes your mind.

Your emotional triggers can be any number of things:

· Happiness in general

· The relative safety of your home

· A dog peeing on your Iris’s

· Your neighbor purposely walking his dog though your yard rather than on the sidewalk

· Your child spilling her juice all over the table

· A knock at the door

· The neighborhood kids ding-dong-dashing your house

· Your friend getting married

· Your mother in law repeatedly banging a metal spoon on a porcelain bowl

· Your spouse leaving their socks in the living room

· Your dog insisting it’s time for a walk when you’re nearly done with a large project and all you need is 3 more minutes

Basically, you identify your emotional triggers by understanding your baseline equilibrium. Then you focus on what causes an unbalance either positively or negatively. You ask yourself why a specific event triggered an imbalance, and you have your emotional trigger.

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