Navigating Triggers

What to do when emotions are bigger than the situation


This is huge topic, so this topic keeps a simple goal.

  1. Give you context for understanding triggers.
  2. Give you words to aid communicating about triggers.

As always, the over-arching goal for us as individuals is to two-fold: to understand and to be known.

What is a trigger?

A trigger is any emotional reaction that is bigger than fits the current situation. Some triggers can hit strongly enough to turn off our thinking brain and put us into the fight-flight-or-freeze, amygdala brain. Triggers are connected to past experiences, often from our childhood.


Identify a few different scenarios where you tend to trigger, and what emotions you feel in the moment. You can use this list as a jumping off point, but think of more that are specific to you.

  • Anger in airports or traffic jams
  • Frustration at miscommunication
  • Jealousy at seeing someone’s things
  • Loneliness when seeing other friends doing fun things
  • Fear when friends/parents/siblings are in conflict

When your triggers hit

  1. Acknowledge that you are in a trigger. Can you tell? What happens to you when a trigger strikes?
  2. Follow your plan.
    • Don’t blame yourself or anyone else
    • If you need to cool down to think, do it
      • “I am triggering, let’s take a little time to cool down and reconnect in ______”
    • Seek to be known, in a safe environment. Start by connecting to yourself and also to God.
      • “The story my head was telling me is…”
      • “I felt … [emotion words]…”

When a friend's triggers hit

  1. It is not your fault. You are not responsible for their emotions.
  2. Be aware if you are starting to trigger in response.
    • Don’t react. Poker-face can help.
    • If you trigger, then you may both be in trouble. Lovingly request a cool-down time, with plan to connect afterward.
      • “I am triggering, let’s take a little time to cool down and reconnect in ______”
  3. Your goal is to understand and connect.
    • Fixing them is off limits
    • Be present
      • “I hear you”

Advanced levels (not covered here)

  1. Active listening
  2. Asking good questions
  3. Compassion and validation