What Is an Emotional Trigger?

Medically Reviewed on 4/7/2022
What Is an Emotional Trigger
Emotional triggers are events, experiences, or memories that cause an intense emotional reaction regardless of the circumstances or your current mood

Emotional triggers are events, experiences, or memories that cause an intense emotional reaction regardless of the circumstances or your current mood.

Emotional triggers are often linked to past trauma, especially in childhood. Situations that remind you of unpleasant events or uncomfortable memories can cause pain or anxiety. Identifying your particular emotional triggers and why you respond to them a certain way can help you take steps to manage and cope with them more effectively.

What are common emotional triggers?

Situations that can trigger intense emotions include:

  • Rejection or betrayal
  • Unjust treatment
  • Loss of control
  • Loss of independence
  • Challenged beliefs
  • Being excluded or ignored
  • Disapproval or criticism
  • Feeling unwanted or unneeded
  • Feeling smothered
  • Insecurity

What are different types of emotional triggers?

Depending on your symptoms, emotional triggers can be divided into several types: 

  • Anxiety triggers: An anxiety trigger can cause panic that appears suddenly and out of nowhere. In most cases, anxiety triggers are related to anxiety disorder.
  • Trauma triggers: A trauma trigger is often linked to post-traumatic stress and can cause avoidance behavior, which is when you intentionally or unintentionally avoid situations that might trigger you.
  • Anger triggers: An anger trigger can cause you to feel irrational rage about something and make you lose control.

What are signs that can help you identify triggers?

Emotional triggers vary from person to person. However, common physical reactions to emotional triggers include:

How to cope with emotional triggers

When you notice signs that you have been triggered by something, take a moment to think about what happened and why you responded the way you did. Instead of ignoring or avoiding your feelings, try to gain insight into patterns or signs that can help you better understand your triggers.

Remind yourself that it is OK to feel what you are feeling and give yourself time and space to acknowledge your emotions. This can help you see the situation with a clearer head and choose a healthier way to calm yourself down. 

If you are finding it difficult to identify triggers or manage your responses on your own, seek the help of a therapist. Therapy can help you explore your emotions and equip you with effective coping strategies.


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Medically Reviewed on 4/7/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Gass R, Ansara J. Managing Your Triggers Toolkit: A practice for being resilient in challenging circumstances. Available at: https://mediatorsbeyondborders.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/managing-your-triggers-toolkit.pdf

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. How to Recognize & Deal With Emotional Triggers. https://www.eomega.org/article/how-to-recognize-deal-with-emotional-triggers