It’s no secret that there is a special set of emotional triggers for moms.
Ever had your buttons pushed to the point of explosion?
How many times have you told your child that they are getting on your last nerve?
You are constantly surrounded by emotional triggers in your day-to-day mom life.
While they certainly do not do it on purpose, your child’s behavior has likely pushed you over the edge on more than one occasion.
More often than not, there are one or two particular behaviors that you know are going to make you nutty. These are emotional triggers.
While we can’t necessarily control the outside world (or our children) to prevent these triggers, we can rewire our noggins to respond to these triggering situations instead of reacting to them.
Doing so comes down to developing self-awareness. In this article, I’m going to dig into exactly what emotional triggers are and explain how you can avoid reacting to them in an emotionally explosive way.
What Are Emotional Triggers for Moms?
An emotional trigger is an occurrence, behavior or situation that elicits a strong, negative emotion and is often the cause of emotional stress.
These negative emotions often include outbursts as well as feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety and irritability.
Oftentimes, experiencing these emotions leads us to feeling shame.
We deal with so many emotional triggers as moms and our children tend to be our biggest triggers. Remember, though, that our little ones are not intentionally provoking us to elicit these negative reactions.
They are just doing what kids do but, luckily, they are giving us an amazing opportunity to discover our own self-awareness (which I will talk about later on).
My Real Life Example
Most mornings I pick out something for my daughter to wear while she is still in bed – this is because we are often running late and I want to make the getting dressed process quick and easy.
I’ll bring the outfit to her. If she refuses to wear what I pick out, I lose my ever-loving mind.
Sometimes I throw the clothes across the room and drop more than a few F-bombs.
I don’t know why I react this way but I know that her refusal of my outfits is an emotional trigger. I get highly irritated and anxious that we are going to be late.
Why Do We Have Emotional Triggers?
Emotional triggers are part of our emotional circuitry – they are practiced reactions to perceived stressors.
That is, habit formation plays a strong role in triggering. When we allow ourselves to react a particular way to a certain situation over and over, our brain automatically defaults to that reaction. It saves the brain from having to make decisions.
In the example of my daughter and the clothes, I allowed myself to react negatively on a few occasions, so I eventually started defaulting to my temper tantrum whenever she said “no” to the outfit I chose.
Emotional triggers are also strongly connected to issues in our past. Your child may exhibit a particular behavior that reminds you of something negative from your childhood. You may react negatively in response to that memory.
More often than not, our reactions to emotional triggers don’t really have much to do with the situation that caused them.
Identifying Emotional Triggers
The signs of being emotionally triggered as a mom are sometimes not as overt as blowing up and having a screaming fit.
Here are some more subtle signs of being emotionally triggered:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Racing heart
- Hot flushes or chills
- An overwhelming need to escape the situation
Any of these signs can indicate that you have been emotionally triggered.
Dealing With Emotional Triggers as Moms
This is the part where I throw a bit of psychology at you but rest assured what I’m about to say makes a lot of sense when it comes to dealing with emotional triggers.
When you are triggered, you can choose to either react emotionally to the trigger or respond logically to it. Making this distinction naturally comes from having self-awareness.
What is Self Awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to control what happens in the gap between a thought or situation and a reaction or response.
An emotional reaction involves the feelings that take over when you are triggered. You may say or do something that you’ll later regret. Reacting emotionally can lead to shame and guilt over your actions and behaviors.
A rational reaction involves seeing the situation for what it really is. It means stepping back and assessing the trigger before responding.
Reacting rationally allows us to troubleshoot the issue and find ways to avoid the trigger or deal with the trigger.
My Real Life Example of Emotional Triggers, Again
Back to the issue I have with losing my mind when my daughter refuses to wear what I pick out for her.
Once I identified the situation as an emotional trigger, and recognized that my emotional reaction sucked, I had to take a step back and assess the situation. Why was I exploding whenever this happened?
I think mostly it’s because, by the time I bring the clothes to my daughter, we are running behind schedule. Her refusal means that we have to take up more time finding a suitable outfit and getting dressed.
This realization of potential lateness makes my anxiety flair and I react negatively.
Now that I know what my trigger is, and why I react the way I do, I can start working on that gap between the situation and my response. I can also work on avoiding the trigger altogether.
How to Deal With Emotional Triggers
The first step in dealing with an emotional trigger is to, obviously, identify your trigger.
When I worked with Autistic preschoolers, we used to track unwanted behaviors by looking at the ABC’s of behavior:
- Antecedent: What happens before the target behavior.
- Behavior: The target behavior that occurs.
- Consequence: What happens after the target behavior.
In the case of dealing with emotional triggers as a mom, we want to focus on the antecedent. We know the behavior is reacting in a negatively emotional way and often the consequence is feeling guilt or shame.
I suggest journaling as a way of identifying your triggers. Whenever you experience an emotional outburst, write it down and note what happened directly before the reaction.
It can be a simple note or you can brain dump your experience in order to work through the entire situation. Either way, you’ll want to look for patterns – specifically those antecedents or situations that occur before your reaction.
Once you’ve determined what is triggering you emotionally, you can deal with the situation in two ways:
- Avoid the situation.
- Find a healthier way to deal with the trigger.
The path you choose depends on how controllable the trigger is. Sometimes we cannot prevent the triggers, but we can use self-awareness to better deal with them.
Sometimes being able to control what happens between the triggering situation and resulting reaction or response is as simple as recognizing that this is where you can make a difference in dealing with your triggers.
However, you may have to put some legwork into developing this skill.
There are some easy mental exercises you can try in order to help strengthen your sense of self-awareness:
- Acknowledge Your Weaknesses. Take ownership of your downfalls and acknowledge the negative emotions you feel. Ignoring or judging them will not help you develop self-awareness.
- Meditation. You can meditation and mindfulness to practice self-reflection. These practices focus on recognizing thoughts and feelings while allowing them to dissipate if they are not helpful.
- Set Boundaries. Understanding your limits will help you to recognize when you have had enough and need to walk away.
- Step Back. It’s important to learn how to look at the big picture. When something happens that triggers you, take a birds-eye-view and consider the entire situation. Will reacting emotionally create a positive outcome?
When it comes to my trigger, I had to ask myself if losing my shit over being late was worth upsetting my daughter and making her feel bad about the situation. Did my tantrum make the situation better? Did we get ready any quicker?
Once I was able to identify that I was reacting inappropriately to the situation, I was able to stop myself and respond to the issue instead of reacting.
Avoiding Emotional Triggers
In some cases, you can avoid the triggers entirely – thus avoiding the negative emotional reaction.
This should be a last-ditch effort, however, since ultimately you want to learn how to deal with the trigger. You don’t want to live your life under a rock to avoid negative emotions.
However, sometimes avoiding emotional triggers for moms means changing the situation for the better.
With my daughter, I began waking her up earlier so she could pick out her own clothes. Every now and then we also pick out outfits the night before.
Avoiding emotional triggers may simply be a matter of thinking outside the box not to completely circumvent a situation, but to change it to create a more positive outcome.
Kick Your Emotional Triggers to the Curb
Blowing your lid sucks. The last thing we want to do is lose our minds at our children.
Yet it happens and the result is feelings of shame and guilt.
Once you recognize that you are being triggered, you can take steps to turn your emotional reaction into a logical response. It’s just a matter of developing some self-awareness.
How do you deal with your emotional triggers as a mom? What’s one thing your kiddo does that drives you crazy? Let me know in the comments below!