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BEING AWARE: Emotional Triggers 

Addiction or other disordered behaviors are learned responses to emotional triggers


Everyone has emotional triggers, but WHY do we all have triggers? Briefly, because as children we likely experienced pain or suffering that we could not readily manage at that time. As adults, we typically become triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of these old feelings. In response, we turn to a disordered or addictive way of trying to manage the painful feelings.

Becoming aware of your emotional triggers and responses will help you retrain yourself to respond in a new healthier way. It can be challenging to identify what exactly your triggers are. Once you know your triggers and can recognize when they are occurring, you can begin to implement new responses.  Below is a list of possible triggers to help you become more aware:

  • You feel rejected
  • Abandonment
  • Helplessness
  • Someone has discounted you
  • Unavailability of others
  • A disapproving look
  • Being blamed or shamed
  • You feel as though no one misses you
  • No one seems happy to see you
  • Sexual advances
  • Being out of control/needing control
  • Being needy/being needed

Now, begin to consider the origins of your triggers. Ask yourself what childhood experiences may relate to these triggers. Also, pay attention to how you react to these triggers. Do you get angry? Do you withdraw? Do you blame someone else? Do you turn to an addiction or other disordered behavior? You will begin to realize that your responses to try to avoid the pain were not successful.

“Awareness is the birthplace of possibility. Everything you want to do, everything you want to be, starts here.” ~Deepak Chopra

Once you recognize your triggers and responses, you can begin teaching yourself to respond in new ways that are rational, healthy and useful. A good tool to use is a New Response Journal. Write down your trigger, your current reaction and your new response.

Here is an example:

Trigger: Being Overwhelmed

Current Reaction: I turn to drugs or alcohol

New Response: I will pause, take a deep breath and practice meditation

Becoming aware and writing these down is essential, but you must also make these new responses habitual. Keep the journal with you; you can add new triggers and new responses as you become more aware. Be compassionate and patient with yourself and remember you do have the power to make changes and choices in the way you respond to people, places and events.