Identifying Emotional Triggers

Our emotions form the basis for all of our externally expressed behaviors. How do we identify emotional triggers? When faced with a given event or situation which then triggers an emotional response, some of those triggered emotional responses are desirable as in the case of a sports fan reacting to a close call.

Some emotions have to be regulated because our reactions become irrational or unreasonable in a given situation — understanding how stimuli affect us is key to identifying those emotional triggers.

Your BaselineIdentify Emotional Triggers

Since these triggers are our emotional triggers, the first place to start is with mindful meditation. You want to start with a baseline of your emotional equilibrium. How do you feel day to day when stimuli don’t trigger your emotions?

Each day take a few moments to reflect on your body’s physiological reaction to your daily routine and life events. Your response is the baseline. Here is the point from which you will feel a change when your emotions are triggered.

Your Story

Our emotional responses have been patterned from our experiences over a long period. How you tell your self-story, and pattern your self-talk is going to play a significant role in your emotional triggers.

  • Go back through your story.
  • Look at your life.
  • Which parts of it have had the most impact on you and how.

Some of these emotional responses will be buried in the grief you felt over the loss of a loved one, fear from your parents being evicted from your home when you were a child or anger and resentment from witnessing some form of hatred or bigotry in action as it pertained to your life.


Emotional triggers can be good and bad, but either way, they serve a purpose in helping us navigate our way through life. When you were a child, if your family was evicted from the safety of your home, your emotional triggers may drive you to make choices centered on that not happening again, or they can lead you to become violently angry if this happens to you as an adult. Understanding your emotional triggers is essential to working through rational and irrational behavior.

Childhood events play a more significant role in developing emotional triggers because these events happened during the years of our lives when we are the most impressionable when we are still developing and growing in mental capacity and clarity. So, take a look at your personal story.

Working from your baseline,

  • Which parts of your story have an effect?
  • What events in your past cause your heart rate to increase or decrease from your baseline?

Bear in mind that emotions have a variety of effects on us. They can cause our hearts to race, or to calm. From one extreme to the other- calmness to panic- emotions are our reactions to our environment, so don’t just look for triggers that upset you. Look for triggers that bring you joy, happiness, or calmness.

Starting with the triggers that bring you some happiness, you can then make your way to the triggers that bring you panic or anger. Do this so that you can calm yourself in case you trigger a state of panic by addressing a particularly painful moment from your past.

Once you’ve identified which triggers make you happy, ask yourself this: “How would I feel if this were taken away?”

Take note of how answering that question makes you feel, and where it takes your mind.

Your emotional triggers can be any number of things:


  • Happiness in general
  • Leaving the relative safety of your home
  • A dog peeing on your Iris’s
  • Your neighbor purposely walking his dog through your yard rather than on the sidewalk
  • Your child spilling her juice all over the table
  • Seeing a car similar to your first car
  • A knock at the door
  • The neighborhood kids hitting a ball into your yard
  • A friend getting married
  • Your mother-in-law being late
  • Your spouse leaving their socks in the living room
  • The dog insisting it’s time for a walk when all you need is three more minutes with a large project

You identify your emotional triggers by understanding your baseline equilibrium. Then you focus on what causes an unbalance either positively or negatively. You ask yourself why a specific event triggered an imbalance, and you have your emotional trigger.

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