Emotional Triggers

November 14, 2011

Have you ever been driving down the street and suddenly you begin to remember a person, or event, or setting from your past.  You may be thinking of a college roommate, or a childhood friend, or even the chairs in your parent's dining room when you were growing up.  As soon as you realize what it is that you are thinking, you may think "Why am I thinking about this?" Or "How did I remember that?"

Often we can be triggered by things in the present that relate back to events from the past.  One thought leads to another, which leads to another and before you know it you are thinking about something that happened years before.  I call this "thought cycling" behavior.  In most cases, these thoughts are linked to emotions.  Sometimes the emotions can be positive and sometimes they can make us feel sad or depressed.  This often happens in couples.  Sometimes our partners can trigger an event or emotion from our past that we find very painful and we become extremely emotional, angry or irrational and may not even know why.   Often this is the result of some "thought cycling" behavior that has triggered difficult and painful incidents or emotions from our past.  We may think that our partner is treating us in a manner that someone from our past has treated us and the emotions of that prior relationship get triggered and argument ensues.

The way to work with this is by using self awareness skills to able to ask ourselves what we are really upset, angry, emotional, or irrational about. By getting in touch with the root emotion we can often realize that we are being triggered by an emotion or event from our past.  Secondly, we should communicate with our partners about the triggers and maybe seek couple's counseling surrounding our emotional triggers so that they can be handled by both partners without damage.  Once we work towards self awarness and understanding our own triggers, it becomes easier to manage them and mitigate the outcomes.