Emotions Revealed: Taming Your Triggers II


This is a process I've developed based on Ekman's and other's research on emotions. Taming triggers begins with reflecting on triggered moments.

Step One: What triggered you?  

It's important to reflect on the particular moment of flipping your lid and losing control. What pushed you over the edge? Was it a look, a tone, a movement, a phrase, something physical like getting pushed or touched. Or was it an environment, a situation that you didn't expect.  

It is also important to learn to tune into the signals your body is sending you before the trigger happens. This is similar to why we want the longest possible warning time with dangerous storms and tornadoes, it gives us time to make a plan and increase our chance of not being caught in a storm.  

Step Two: What body sensations were you experiencing leading up to and during the initial moments of being triggered? 

Was your stomach qeezy? Was your chest tight or did your throat have a lump in it? Did your head hurt? Were you ansty, heavy feeling or short of breath? What about your thoughts: were they ruminating? Creating anticipated situations and playing out how you will defensively respond?  

Another crucial factor in taming your triggers is also understanding what you were feeling.

 Step Three: What were you feeling?

Were you feeling: sadness/hurt, fear, shame, loneliness, excitement/joy, disgust? Because feelings are like colors it's most helpful to not stop at frustrated or angry. Those are secondary feelings. The most power is found in discovering the primary feelings (which are listed in this paragraph although you might have your own words for these experiences).  

Feelings are huge puzzle pieces for taming your triggers because they become the road map to what you were needing.

 Step Four: What were you needing?

Each emotion has a theme or need associated with it. Like we have found out some of those themes/needs are pre-programmed in us and some are learned along the way. For example, shame tends to feel something like: "no one cares about me" or "I am only worth what I do for you" or "I am unwanted" or "I'm a screwup". These are powerful stories that require responses from others in order to be soothed and re-written. Responses that leave one feeling accepted and loved. Using the list* below as a starting point, what were you needing?

Sadness/Anguish - Comfort

Shame - Validation/Acceptance

Loneliness - Connection/Company

Disgust - Delight

Fear - Safety/Security/Free

Excitement/Joy - Celebration

Finally, it's important to understand the potential history of that state of mind or experience so that you have a better chance at deciphering if what you're experiencing is the past or the present. After all, when you experience a current moment through the past (an act that Ekman calls, importing a script) you are feeling both the weight of the current moment as well as the entire length of the past. That's overwhelming for anyone. Separating the past from the present is a huge help. 

Step Five: What associations, memories, feelings or thoughts come up as you reflect on this triggered moment/set of feelings and body sensations? 

This is best done, when on your own, through writing. I suggest writing in long hand if possible. Let yourself simply list all the things that come up with reflecting. Try not to judge what comes up. Don't create meaning out of your associations right away. Rather come back a little later and see what you can make of it.  


These activities are not a magic trick, they are a continual effort and are not guaranteed. But they do offer possible help for slowing and taming some of our most difficult triggers.


*This list was begun by my former supervisor, Beth Russell.