How to Communicate When Emotionally Triggered
Emotions are the predominant experience of human life. On a given day, we may feel overjoyed, overwhelmed, frustrated, elated or simply sad. Emotions are complex and there are many contributing psychological and physiological factors to understand. For the purposes of this article we are focused on emotional triggers and how we can properly deal with them. We will learn how to communicate when emotionally triggered in order to enhance our relationships. In this way, our biggest weaknesses may become our greatest strength!
What is an emotional trigger? It’s an emotional reaction in response to a specific internal or external event. An emotional upset (or trigger) can result from almost anything, a memory, an event, an experience or even in response to words. We most often get triggered in our intimate relationships when our reserves are low and our needs are unmet, either psychologically or physically. It’s normal for most of us to occasionally be triggered by specific events, such as meeting with a boss, talking about current events, or even while interacting with our partner.
Past experiences and belief systems effect how we experience the present. For example, those who have experienced trauma resulting in PTSD often have more intense and more frequent emotional triggers. It’s important to know how to handle yourself when triggered, otherwise it can create hurt and eventually significant problems in your intimate relationships or even at work. It’s important to understand that, from the perspective of others, your behavior may come across as unpredictable since they aren’t privy to the triggers that come up for you. Being emotionally triggered can make us act in uncharacteristic ways, such as withdrawing, stonewalling, making accusations or yelling.
The first course of action, when emotionally triggered, may be to take some space for yourself in order to figure out how you really feel about the situation. It’s always best to communicate when you’re calm and thinking more clearly.
When you look at the situation holistically, it’s important to remember that emotions come and go. The first step to knowing how communicate when emotionally triggered is to simply recognize that you are indeed triggered so you may slow down and gain some perspective. It’s even better if you can predict your triggers before hand.
The trick to being able to predict your emotional response lies in your ability to connect the dots. When you feel upset, ask yourself ‘why?’ Notice which thoughts keep coming up for you in different situations throughout your life; ask yourself, what belief or fear is underlying the negative emotions? Only you can do this work for yourself, everyone has different triggers and different reasons for being emotionally triggered.
For example, if you begin to feel upset by your partner taking a long time to text you back it could be due to any number of reasons; it can also cause any number of emotions. One person may feel upset and wonder if their partner is out with someone else; this indicates a fear of betrayal and also possibly a belief of not being good enough. This is a common reaction for those with a fearful avoidant attachment style or for those who have experienced PTSD due to infidelity in the past. On the other hand, another person may likewise get upset by the delay in a response but instead experience anger due to the belief that they’re being disrespected. Yet another person may actually go into a panic wondering if their partner is physically okay due to their past painful experiences with loss. Lastly, a common response is to feel uncared for or unloved due to a long delay in texting. This may be because of an underlying belief that they’re unworthy, or that they will be abandoned. Alternatively, it could simply indicate that you are being neglected if it’s a repetitive behavior. Of course, these feeling and beliefs could also be indicative of existing unresolved problems in the relationship so it is actually very important to communicate in order to fix the problem.
It’s important to know what types of situations trigger you and what negative belief or thought pattern emerges as a result. The next step is to communicate, in a healthy way, when emotionally triggered by turning that “belief” into a “need”. For example, if you have an underlying belief that you will be abandoned, it represents a need for security. It’s completely okay to need security! Tell your partner that you feel uncared for when it takes them an unusually long time to text back. Follow that up with expressing your need to feel secure in your relationship and what small actions they could take to help you feel more secure.
You always need to make sure to clearly communicate what would satisfy your unmet need. For example, you may need more connection and, for you, this looks like talking everyday on the phone. Bring your desires out into the open and you can figure out a reasonable course of action to implement that will fulfill your unmet need. Of course, your partner is not going to be able to fulfill all your needs so you need to actively fulfill them on your own at the same time.
Common Human Needs
- novelty: meet it by experiencing new things
- security: looks like reassurance, validation & commitment
- growth: meet it by improving yourself and learning
- connection: looks like spending time with loved ones, practicing love languages, listening and giving validation
- significance: meet it by achieving goals; looks like compliments, showing respect, asking for advice or input etc
- contribution: looks like having an impact, doing acts of service and having a say in decisions
- support: looks like different things to different people, could be being helpful, spending more quality time, words of affirmation, being more affectionate etc
Everyone has a different psychological makeup and some needs will be much more important than others. It’s important to recognize your own basic needs because we tend to get most triggered when they’re unmet for long periods of time. Over time, and through proper communication, you should get to know your partner’s most important basic needs as well.
How do you communicate when emotionally triggered? Please let me know below by commenting.
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Wow you are absolutely amazing and gorgeous inside and out!!! Just reading this post made me feel happier! You are truly so beautiful just the way you are every day!!!!