Emotional Triggers Examples (6 Types + Worksheets)

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Page last updated: 24/09/2022

In this blog, we are going to describe six types of emotional triggers along with their examples. First, readers will learn about what an emotional trigger is. Then, we will look at these six types, their examples, and useful worksheets that’ll help you understand what your triggers are.

What are some Emotional Triggers Examples

Here is a quick list of some examples of emotional triggers. Each of these become triggering if they remind you of some past painful memories:

  • People
  • Places
  • Situations
  • Activities
  • Thoughts
  • Things

What is an Emotional Trigger?

Any stimulus can qualify as an emotional trigger if it causes someone to have unwanted thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. A lot of times triggers ignite the memory of something painful from the past. This can happen consciously, when the person is aware of the memory being triggered, or subconsciously when they have no idea what got triggered.

Either way, the trigger will evoke a strong emotional response regardless of what your mood was before you got triggered. Typically, emotional triggers are associated with trauma-related issues.

You can tell that you have been triggered by checking for these signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightened muscles
  • Urge to cry
  • Anger outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Numbness
  • Inability to speak
  • Feeling frozen
  • Urge to do something impulsive
  • Uncontrollable thoughts

6 Emotional Triggers Examples

Always remember that triggers are not permanent. They can be dealt with in healthy ways and even overcome with time and effort. Here is a worksheet to help you identify your triggers and one to work on your trigger coping skills

Now that we have understood what emotional triggers are, let’s deepen that understanding by talking about categories of triggers and their examples. 

Emotionally Triggering People

If you went through something traumatic or painful that was either caused or witnessed by someone, seeing that person again can bring back the memories. Sometimes, even a person who resembles the individual involved can act as a trigger.

This resemblance can be in terms of their appearance, personality, or unique habits. The exposure need not be in real life, even a virtual reminder can trigger people. For example, a survivor of domestic violence may get triggered if they come across their violent spouse’s Facebook account.

Another example is if the survivor sees a stranger wearing similar clothes like the ex, they might feel threatened in their presence. Now, if the survivor lost custody of a child, seeing other children bond with their parents can be a trigger too.

Emotional Triggers Examples (6 Types + Worksheets)

Emotionally Triggering Places

Often, when something tragic happens, we tend to associate the pain of that event with the place where it occurred. For example, if you had an embarrassing experience at a theatre, you’ll avoid going to that theatre ever again.

This avoidance occurs because simply being in or around that theatre brings back the humiliation you felt when the incident happened. As a consequence, you might never go back even if you had great tickets to a show you always wanted to see just because it’s at the same venue.

After breakups, many people stop going to the restaurants or cafes they spent hours with their ex in. It’s too heartbreaking to sit there and order the same food without remembering things that evoke strong emotions.

Emotionally Triggering Situations

Situations can be triggering too, especially if you’ve found yourself in similar ones over and over again. Such triggers are more common when someone has been through emotional abuse or parental neglect.

Both these sources of trauma aren’t singular events but rather a collection of small, recurrent negative experiences. For instance, if you were always excessively yelled at whenever you did something wrong, you might get triggered when you hear anyone raise their voice.

It doesn’t even have to be directed at you. Even the sound of strangers verbally abusing each other might make you scared or restless. Another similar example is if you were always made fun of for getting answers wrong in school. In that case, you’ll probably find it hard to accept criticism even when it’s constructive as it’s too triggering for you.

Emotionally Triggering Activities

It’s very common to find certain activities triggering if they hit too close to home. If the activity requires you to do a particular motion or hold a pose that reminds you of something traumatic, it will be extremely triggering. 

Our body’s muscle memory can’t help but fire the neural pathways in the brain that got formed during the traumatic event. For example, a survivor of sexual trauma may find some yoga positions to be triggering.

Similarly, if you have humiliating memories of speaking on stage, any occasion of public speaking might set off your nerves. Though it happened a long time ago, you still find it nerve-wracking to speak in front of an audience.

Emotionally Triggering Thoughts

Anyone who has experience with depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem can tell you that thoughts can be triggering too. Just one small external event can start an entire cascade of thoughts that lead to uncomfortable feelings and unwanted behaviours.

For example, let’s say you’re a little conscious about your weight and you attend a social gathering where almost everyone else is fitter than you. Now, even if no one even hints at your different shape, you might find yourself constantly thinking about how different you look.

Later in the day, this might transform into endless cycles of negative thoughts about your self-worth, leading to excessive exercise or dieting. Sometimes, triggering thoughts are implanted in our minds by manipulative people.

Take, for example, the same weight concern. Maybe you haven’t noticed any disparity in weight and are just having a good time. But the same consequences can happen if someone who wants you to feel bad points out that you look fatter than everyone else.

Emotionally Triggering Objects

Last on our list is emotionally triggering objects; things you have associated with past painful memories. Much like all other types of triggers, these are items that were somehow involved in whatever hurt you in the past.

Let’s say one of your parents hurt you in an unforgivable way. They used to carry a distinct Zippo lighter everywhere they went. Seeing that object may bring back painful memories of your parent so the lighter becomes a trigger for you.

Absolutely any object can become a trigger. Even if it’s something most people adore. For instance, suppose that a partner you were deeply in love with dumped you during a ‘Minions’ movie. Now, even though the characters from the film are super adorable, any kind of Minions merchandise triggers you a lot.

Conclusion

In this blog, we described six types of emotional triggers along with their examples. First, readers learned about what an emotional trigger is. Then, we looked at these six types, their examples, and useful worksheets that’ll help you understand what your triggers are.

The categories of examples of emotional triggers mentioned here were People, Places, Situations, Activities, Thoughts, and Things.

FAQs (Emotional Triggers Examples)

What are emotional trigger words?

Emotional trigger words are specific words, phrases, or sentences that a person has associated with a painful memory from their past. Hearing anyone mention these words can bring about an emotional reaction that the person would rather avoid.

How do you recognize emotional triggers?

One can learn to recognise their emotional triggers by paying attention to what’s happening in their body. An increased heart rate, shorter breaths, tightened muscles, restlessness, an urge to cry, impulsiveness; are all signs of being triggered. Mindfulness is key in identifying one’s triggers.

What are mental triggers?

The term ‘mental trigger’ is used in psychology to refer to a stimulus that causes an unwanted emotional reaction in someone. It can feel overwhelming, distressing, upsetting, and even annoying to encounter a mental trigger. Anything can be a trigger if it is associated with a painful memory of the past.

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