Skip to main content

Identifying and Dealing with Emotional Triggers

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Have you ever been having a good day and you get a telephone call and someone mentions something that upsets you? Have you seen a person who reminds you of someone who caused you pain in the past? Have you ever heard a song and you remembered something you would rather forget?

Those are triggers because they are flashbacks to things you don't want to think about. In fact, you have probably buried them so you wouldn't have to think about them. Unfortunately, everyone gets triggers that ruin their day.

What Is a Trigger?

A trigger is something in your present that reminds you of a pain from your past. The trigger conjures up memories that remind you of your original trauma, pain, or discomfort.

No one is exempt from having emotional triggers. However, everyone has different triggers that are personal and unique only to them. A trigger for one person might not be a trigger for someone else. The red flags come about in different ways that lead to negative emotions. When confronted with triggers, some people are so strongly affected that they get panic attacks.

You know if you have a trigger if something that somebody says makes you feel bad, sad, anxious, angry, depressed, shameful, and even guilty about a past experience.

Triggers are basically caused by people, things, places, or events that remind you of something negative or unpleasant that you would rather forget. A trigger could be a song you hear in the present that reminds you of an unpleasant experience in the past such as a romantic breakup.

All triggers are not negative. For instance, the smell of food could remind you of what your mother or grandmother cooked when you were younger. In that case, the emotional trigger is a positive one that brings about pleasure instead of pain.

How Triggers Come About?

Anything can be a trigger. It can be brought on by any of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. It can be one or a combination of the senses.

Sight: Seeing an accident on the highway might trigger the trauma of a family member who was killed in a car crash.

Sound: Hearing someone talking about something that traumatized you in the past, will trigger that emotion in the present. Hearing a song that was associated with a bad experience in the past might trigger unpleasant feelings in the present.

Smell: The smell of perfume or food could trigger memories of happier or sad times in the past.

Touch: Touching a garment, a photo, or other objects might conjure up good or bad feelings.

Scroll to Continue

Taste: Tasting food could transport you back to an eating event in the past, whether it was in your family's dining room or at a restaurant with a friend that you miss.

Triggers are very personal. If you have survived a traumatic experience, then you are most likely to have some sort of triggers.

Common Triggers

Examples of common triggers include but not limited to the following:

  • anniversary dates of losses
  • reminders of trauma
  • reminders of failures
  • family arguments
  • being judged, criticized, teased, or put down
  • hearing others boast about their success
  • being yelled at
  • anything that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • seeing someone who mistreats you
  • experiencing one or more of the five senses

How to Deal with Triggers

You can avoid coming in contact with triggers if you know what they are. Look back over your life and identify those things that made you angry, sad, or depressed in the past. If there is a recurring theme, and those memories still make you angry, sad, or depressed, then those are your triggers.

You can avoid some triggers by staying away from people and places that cause you to have flashbacks of unpleasant situations. The bad thing is that it is impossible to stay away from everything and everybody such as your family, friends, co-workers, and church members. They might be the ones who caused you to have bad experiences in the past, and they continue to do so in the present.

During family gatherings, someone might reminisce and remind you of something you would rather not talk about. Sometimes they will go on and on without realizing that the conversation is making you feel uncomfortable. When that triggers unpleasant feelings, try not to engage in the conversation. Excuse yourself from the group as inconspicuously as possible.

Sometimes people will deliberately poke you just because they know you have a certain trigger. When that happens, do not engage with them. If you let the conversation continue, it will make matters worse and that is what the person wants just so he or she can get the upper hand on you.

Know what your triggers are, and also know how you can avoid causing triggers in others.


Sarah Rametsi from Bloemfontein,South Africa on June 21, 2020:

It is important to control anger because with it one might do dangerous things

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on June 21, 2020:

Great story. I love your images.

Related Articles