Most of us have encountered moments where we’ve reacted strongly to a situation, comment, or gesture, often leaving us puzzled about our own reactions. These bursts of emotions, commonly known as ‘triggers,’ can vary in intensity but often trace back to unresolved past experiences or emotions. Instead of asking ourelves “How can I communicate my triggers?”, we often unintentionally offload our emotions onto those around us in the form of aggression or passive behaviors.
The key lies in recognizing and understanding our triggers. Instead or projecting our emotions onto others, we should work on self-awareness and communication. Open dialogue about what we’re feeling not only diminishes the emotional spike but also cultivates understanding and empathy.
In this article I will share with you 3 tips that will help you communicate your triggers to others. I’ve gone through an extensive journey of dealing with my own triggers in the last 3 years, so I’ve got a ton to share.. 😉
Table of Contents
Understanding Your Triggers
Before we can effectively convey our triggers to others, it’s paramount to first recognize and comprehend them ourselves. Every time we find ourselves in a heightened state of emotion—whether it’s anger, sadness, or frustration—it’s a cue to delve deeper.
Often, these strong reactions aren’t just about the present moment but are linked to past experiences, beliefs, or unresolved feelings. Recognizing this pattern is the first step in gaining a true understanding of our triggers.
Self-reflection plays a crucial role in this journey. Techniques such as journaling can be invaluable, allowing us to capture our feelings and thoughts in the aftermath of a triggering event.
Over time, patterns may emerge, offering insights into specific situations, words, or actions that consistently evoke strong reactions. With these insights, we can approach our triggers with more clarity and intention. (p.s. My journaling class can help you with self-awareness).
Mindfulness and meditation practices also offer a way to become more attuned to our internal emotional landscape. By cultivating a practice of staying present, we become more aware of our immediate reactions and can pause before being swept up in them.
This pause is not only therapeutic but also offers a space where we can question the origin of our feelings and whether they’re proportional to the current situation.
Lastly, for some, professional therapy can provide a structured environment to explore and understand triggers. Therapists offer tools, perspectives, and guidance, assisting individuals in connecting current reactions to past events or traumas.
By unpacking these connections, we become better equipped to manage and communicate our triggers to those around us.
I was in therapy for 2.5 years and I did a looot of trigger work. I would get triggered by a variety of things on a daily-basis and the main emotion I was struggling with was anger.
My work in therapy helped me connect the dots and have many ‘a-ha!’ moments. I understood where from my past these strong reactions were coming form.
The Impact of Triggers on Relationships
Unaddressed triggers can quietly erode the foundation of our relationships. When we react strongly to certain stimuli without understanding or explaining why, it can lead to confusion and hurt for those around us. Our loved ones may feel like they’re walking on eggshells, unsure of what might set off another intense reaction. Over time, this tension can lead to distance, misunderstandings, and unresolved conflicts.
On the flip side, when we communicate our triggers, it creates an opportunity for growth and understanding. By sharing our vulnerabilities, we give others a chance to support and empathize with us.
This act of opening up can fortify trust, allowing both parties to navigate challenges more collaboratively and sensitively. Such transparency transforms potential points of conflict into moments of connection.
However, it’s not only about the act of communication but also the nature of our reactions. Being frequently triggered can create a dynamic where one person feels perpetually defensive or on edge.
This defensive posture can stifle genuine conversation, making honest, open dialogue challenging to maintain. Without this open communication, relationships can become stagnant or, worse, regress.
But when both individuals in the relationship make an effort to understand each other’s triggers, magic can happen. There’s a shared commitment to growth, understanding, and patience. Such mutual dedication can transform potential pitfalls into opportunities for deepening the bond.
Through understanding the impact of triggers, relationships can evolve into more resilient, empathetic, and understanding partnerships.
It’s important to mention that you cannot control how the other person reacts after you communicate your triggers. They may be understanding or they may be dismissive. The only thing you need to focus on is that you are taking responsibility & communicating.
Why Communicate Triggers?
You may be wondering about the usefulness of communicating your triggers. Isn’t it better to just… get triggered, not let others in on the information, and wait until the trigger disappears? Ehh, nope.
From my own personal experience, I can say that for the longest time I had a habit of suppressing my emotions and completely shutting down whenever I was triggered. Not only did it feel crappy (withholding all these emotions), but it also created conflict within my relationships.
Communicating our triggers, and sharing what we’re experiencing in our inner world, is the quickest way to defuse + resolve the trigger.
Beyond personal relief, opening up about our triggers creates an environment of trust and empathy. People, generally, want to understand and be supportive; they just need the tools and information to do so. By letting others in on what’s going on inside, we offer them a roadmap to navigate the sometimes complex landscape of our emotions.
Moreover, recognizing and expressing our triggers can often lead to self-discovery. The mere act of articulating what troubles us can shine a light on deep-seated feelings or memories that we weren’t previously conscious of.
It’s not just about managing the moment, but also about growing and understanding oneself better in the long run. You’ll often see that you don’t get triggered about random things. It’s usually the same triggers that come up over and over again.
How Can I Communicate My Triggers? 3 Tips
Now that we’ve discussed why self-awareness and communication is important when it comes to our triggers, it’s time to jump to some practical tools!
These tools are rooted in psychology and will give you a step-by-step guide to more effective and clear communication. A certain tool may be a practical guide, whilst another is a “state of mind / perception” with which you should approach the conversation.
Remember: practice makes it perfect. Try these tools by yourself first, just so you get familiar with the steps. Once you feel comfortable, it’s time to take it out for a real-life test drive.
P.s. If you’re looking to learn more about triggers specifically within the context of romantic relationships, check out this article.
1. Use the Non-Violent Communication (NVC) Method
Non-Violent Communication (NVC), conceived by Marshall Rosenberg, is a communication strategy that centers on empathy, genuine expression, and active listening. Its main objective is to ensure that conversations, even challenging ones, are rooted in mutual respect and understanding.
By focusing on human needs and avoiding judgment or blame, NVC aims to foster connections that are more compassionate and cooperative.
NVC is particularly effective in communicating triggers because it places emphasis on expressing feelings and needs without pointing fingers or becoming confrontational. This constructive approach paves the way for better understanding and collaboration between parties.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use the NVC approach to communicate your triggers:
- Observation Without Evaluation: Begin by describing the specific action or situation that caused the trigger without infusing personal judgment. For instance, instead of saying “You were insensitive,” you might state, “I noticed you laughed when I shared my story.”
- Express Feelings: Clearly articulate how the observed action made you feel. Be genuine and try to dig deep into the emotion. Using our previous example, you might say, “When you laughed, I felt hurt and dismissed.”
- Identify Needs: Recognize and express the underlying need or value that’s causing your feeling. This might be a need for respect, understanding, or validation. In continuation with the example: “My need to feel understood and respected in our conversations wasn’t met.”
- Make a Clear Request: Finally, ask the other person for a specific action that would help address the trigger in the future. Ensure that your request is actionable and clear. “In the future, could you please refrain from laughing when I’m sharing something personal? It would help me feel more at ease.”
By implementing the NVC method, you’re providing a clear framework for the other person to understand your triggers, without making them defensive. It shifts the focus from blame to shared understanding and collaborative resolution.
As you read through the steps, this approach may feel very “scripted”. However, the more you practise implementing these principles (observation without evaluation -> express feelings -> identify needs -> make a clear request) it’ll become more natural.
2. Be Specific, Calm, and Direct
While it’s important to be compassionate and considerate, it’s equally crucial to be clear. If you got triggered about something that another individual said, avoid vague statements like, “I wish you’d be more supportive.”
Instead, specify what “supportive” looks like for you: “I feel reassured when you check in on me during stressful times. Can you do that more often?” By being direct, you eliminate guesswork and provide the other person with clear actionable steps.
Communicating your triggers effectively involves both what you say and how you say it. Use “I” statements to express how you feel, rather than “you” statements, which can come across as accusatory or blaming.
For example, say, “I feel anxious when plans are changed last minute,” instead of “You always change plans and it makes me anxious.” You can be triggered and yet communicate calmly about how you feel.
I’ve noticed myself that if I “communicate” whilst being emotionally charged (putting it in quotation marks because that’s not really communication), i’ll just become more defensive and rude. As a result, i’ll get more triggered.
If I focus on communicating calmly, yet whilst being direct, there is a certain door towards vulnerability that opens up. I let down my guard and simply lay all my cards down. It’s not easy, but it’s freeing. When you’re being calm and vulnerable, another person will (often) be open and vulnerable in return.
3. Adopt a Growth Mindset
When communicating triggers, it’s essential to have the right state of mind. Adopting a growth mindset, a term popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, involves seeing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles.
View the conversation as a chance for mutual understanding and personal development, rather than a confrontation.
With a growth mindset, you recognize that your triggers, and even the reactions they cause, are not fixed attributes but rather areas where you can grow and evolve. When discussing these triggers, frame them as points of self-awareness that you’re actively working on, and invite the other person to join you on that journey.
This perspective shifts the conversation from one of blame or victimhood to one of growth and understanding.
In my experience, what has always brought about defensivess and emotional unavailability in others is… well… when i’m being defensive and emotionally unavailable. However, whenever I would share vulnerability what I am going through and the triggers that are coming up for me – I was met with openess.
And hey – if you share vulnerably and openly about what’s going on in your inner world, and you are met with uninterest and close-mindendness, it just shows you where the other person is in their inner work.
I hope that these 3 tools help communicate your triggers more effectively. Remember: before you start communicating, it’s essentially that you understand your triggers and where they may be coming from.
If you’re struggling with regulating your emotions, this article on validating your own feelings when triggered might help you. Additionally, if you resonate with the non-violent communication method, I highly recommend reading the non-violent communication book!