Understanding your triggers - a way out of emotional reactivity and addiction

Are you struggling with your emotional reactions, a compulsive behaviour or addiction?

‘Triggers’ are people, places and situations which touch on old wounds at the heart of what’s really bothering us. Lack of awareness around our triggers means we tend to simply react. While some people act out emotionally, others pick up an addictive substance or behaviour. 

Learning to recognize and work with your ‘triggers’ can help you overcome the need to act out and have more freedom to make the choices you want.


Are you struggling with a repeated behaviour, substance related or not, which you feel compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on your life or those of others? If so, you’re up against an addiction.

People are addicted to all sorts of things – the most common addictions include food (compulsive over - or undereating), alcohol, drugs, anger / rage, shopping, gambling, sex and relationships. Addictions are not so much about the substance or behaviour itself as the addictive process that underlies it. 

All addictions share states of mind such as craving, shame and behaviours such as lying, hiding, manipulating and relapse. All addictions undermine self-esteem, healthy relationships and the ability to live a full life. 

‘Triggers’ play an important role in addiction – both as a cause of addictive behaviour, and a way in to overcoming it.


‘Triggers’ are generally the people, places and situations that provoke an uncomfortable emotional reaction such as hurt, anger or shame.

If you’re not aware of having been ‘triggered’, you’re more likely to emotionally react out of the uncomfortable feelings and/or seek relief in an addictive behaviour.

Some people tend to react by going on the attack – if not physically, then by judging, criticizing or blaming whatever has triggered them.

Others tend to react by withdrawing emotionally, and suppressing or shutting-down their feelings. Somewhere along the line they have turned their attack inwards, judging or criticizing themselves.

Without awareness, triggers will tend to pull you back into your addictive reactions and behaviour. 


Your triggers will be relative to your own history and personal to you - what is triggering for you may not be to your friend. 

You can spot you've been triggered when the volume or intensity of your feelings or reactions seem out of proportion to what just happened. If you’ve just acted out your addiction or are craving to, you may have been triggered without realizing it.

Triggers provoke this kind of unconscious reaction because they are not only about what just happened, but touch on hurt or pain from past experiences. 

People develop addictions partly because they have not processed or learned to manage uncomfortable feelings. An important step is to learn to hold off from picking up your addiction enough times to re-train yourself to tolerate and make sense of your feelings. 

Importantly, we are often triggered again and again by the same thing – the same wounds are touched on every time. Working with your triggers can provide an effective way to understand and heal what’s really bothering you.

The process of overcoming your addiction is not something that is best done on your own, but with the help and support of a group and / or good therapist.

With the right help, it is possible to overcome your addiction. In time, you could find your addiction has been the best teacher you’ll ever have.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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