Recognizing Triggers and How To Work Through Your Reactivity

By Jennifer Elizabeth Masters

A trigger is when a stimulus sets off a memory or flashback to the original event of trauma. We may have an emotional outburst that is inappropriate for the event. Our emotions are our internal guidance system setting of a warning siren in our brain when we are in an unconscious state. 


In a moment we are standing in our parent’s kitchen as a four-year-old child. When someone crosses a boundary or pushes an internal button, we react. Our emotions can be the only way that we recognize an unconscious trigger. Triggers, charges or pushing buttons is what we do to those who are closest to us, especially during family celebrations. Often we are on the receiving end and it doesn’t feel very good at all.

People will constantly push your limits looking for the place where you draw the line in the sand. When you don’t set limits and boundaries in a healthy way others will push you until you do. Often without healthy boundaries, we keep getting pushed until we react negatively and explode with heated emotions all over the person who has been pushing those buttons. You, however, will be the bad guy when you explode, no matter who pushed your button.
Triggers or buttons are a warning sign

Our spouses, partners, friends, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and even our children will push our most tender places causing emotional reactions. As long as there is a button to push, you can guarantee that someone will find that tender place within you and push hard.

Healing our past stories and letting go of programming, pain and suffering is a great place to begin. Here are some of the buttons people have:

  • sights that trigger an emotion from an old trauma
  • sounds that remind you of an event where you were traumatized or abused.
  • smells that remind you of an event that is unpleasant, powerfully traumatic or caused you panic or deep fear.
  • touch that reminds you of an incident
How To Work Through Old Triggers And Buttons
  1. Do your best to set healthy boundaries.
  2. Recognize early signs that you are being triggered.
  3. Put a stop to the pushing before you explode.
  4. Know that you are reacting to something from the past. Ask yourself, “When have I felt like this before?” Was it your mother, father, sister, brother, abuser, spouse, babysitter?
  5. Avoid alcohol and drugs as they can cause you to be more volatile with little or no control.
  6. Forgive yourself for your reaction.
  7. Forgive the other person for causing your reaction.
  8. Have compassion for both of you.
  9. Know if you are the one yelling, you are the one with the issue.
  10. Blame doesn’t support you. You aren’t a victim.
  11. Look at the triggered reaction as a chance to heal the old wound and put it to rest
  12. Recognize when your emotions are rising.
  13. Breathe slowly and deeply. Focus on your breath.
  14. Tell the people around you that you need a moment.
  15. Talk about what just happened, calmly.
  16. Apologize if necessary for any emotions that were out of control. People who can’t apologize for wrong-doing will soon be found out to be those with the biggest ego.
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