Are you triggered?

Last week I wrote a piece around toxic gratitude. The principle of stating how we feel about something and then immediately negating those feelings. I often get replies to my Coffee & Notes, usually they go along the lines of ‘it’s like you can see right into my mind’. This week I also had a very strongly worded disagreement. The person had been triggered.

What is an emotional trigger?

An emotional trigger is any topic that makes us feel uncomfortable. Ask yourself, “what is it about this that makes me so angry [or insert the emotion you are feeling]?” When you get an answer, keep asking yourself the question again, “and what about that makes me feel angry?”. Keep going and when you think you have got to the very bottom of it, ask yourself one more time, “and if I HAD to be angry about that, what would I be angry about?” Sometimes this elicits a further layer and sometimes it does not.

Covid-19 Christmas Trigger Example (client story shared with client’s permission)

December 2020. My client was feeling sad and overwhelmed at the thought that Christmas wouldn’t be happening this year with the uncertainty of covid-19 restrictions.

We create meanings from a trigger. Attach an emotion to it and take a new action based on how we think and feel. Rumination is when we continue into new iterations of this cycle.

On the first pass of ruminating thoughts she felt sad. A kind of grief for the loss of normality.

Second iteration, “I haven’t even got it as bad as….my friend who can’t even see her family at all.”

The third iteration revealed the trigger, “I’m a terrible person.”

We explored how ‘I’m a terrible person’ had played out as a pattern in her life.

Incident #1: Recovering from Cancer

Grieving the loss of her identity. “It wasn’t even a really bad type of cancer and I’ve recovered. I’m a bad person for even feeling this way.”

Incident #2: Bad Friend

“When my friend is depressed, he’s really hard to be around. It makes me so angry he is wasting his life then I feel like a terrible person for not being more supportive.”

Incident #3: Bad Sister

“I played my sisters off against each other when we were little and they are not close now. I think it was my fault. I’m a terrible person.”

Stop the replay

When we can identify the trigger and pattern, we can stop that pattern replaying out time and again in our lives. This is can be done effectively through coaching techniques.


The intention behind Coffee & Notes is to introduce personal development concepts and spark new areas of awareness. This is often done through my own personal reflection log. It is not my intention to trigger you, therefore if you do find yourself triggered, dig a little deeper to understand why.

What would happen if we worked on the assumption that everyone is doing the very best that they can, with the resources available to them at that time?

CLICK HERE to listen to my show 🎙️’Women in STEM Career & Confidence’ live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 07:15 BST.