How Emotions are Triggered

The three part process of emotional triggers

How are emotions triggered? 

When an emotion is triggered, there are three parts.

1. The event: The first part that most of us think of, is the event in the world. As an example, let’s say I’m walking down the street and I run into an old friend. So that’s the first part of an emotion- it’s the event. The event could also be me at home that night remembering that I ran into this old friend and that could once again trigger the emotion.

2. Our physiological state: Then there’s part two of the emotion and that has to do with our physiological state. So, when I was walking down the street, was I tired or hungry? Was I already dealing with a mood I had earlier in the day? For example, maybe I was frustrated earlier in the day which will color and shift how I experience this person I’m running into. Sometimes we become emotional just because of the event (i.e. running into someone), but sometimes our emotion and the way that we become emotional is triggered by what’s going on in the context of our body, and what has happened to us earlier in that day.

3. Our emotional database: Part three to an emotion is the biggest part. The third part of an emotion trigger is what’s called a database. The database is like a storehouse with all of our old stories and scripts. Some of these we may have learned from our parents, our communities, and our interactions with the world, and some of them might be specific to the event. So, if the example is running into an old friend on the street, my database could include many stories and experiences with this friend, but it could also include stories that are older stories. Some example could be a story of “wow, I’m not good at keeping in touch” or “I’m a bad friend”. Or the story could be, “nobody cares about me the way I care about them”. If this friend hasn’t reached out to me in years, I could easily forget that I also haven’t reached out to them. Our database influences how we respond to the event. 

It’s not just the event (running into someone), or just how we feel in that moment (being tired or hungry). It also has to do with these stories and our perception of the world, which is so dynamic. When we start to understand the database of our emotions, we start to understand that our emotions are our responsibility, not just what happens to us. While that might sound like a lot to take on (that our emotions are ours), it truly is the best way for us to become more free and emotionally aware.


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