Patience & Emotional Triggers

I’m glad to be back with you this week as we continue in the series Discovering our Patience. When we began the series last week, we talked about a number of challenging things.

  1. The root of impatience is selfishness.
  2. 10 Tips to Help You Become a More Patient Parent. The article’s first point was: “Know that it’s not your child, it’s you.” That is not a fun or popular realization to come to as a parent but essential to the relationship with our kids.
  3. Seek to understand and see things through your child’s perspective.

These are vital if we’re going to become patient parents. In fact, most kids I come into contact with have a number of things bottled up within that they don’t feel they’ll be able to resolve with their parents. When I help kids identify these things with their parents, light bulbs go on and parents respond, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were feeling that way.” Working with my own kids I have found that when I take the time to really understand their perspective and see things through their eyes, it’s amazing how much I come to understand them. I have much more mercy and compassion for them and as a result I have a lot more patience as well.

If you missed last week’s blog post or podcast, I recommend you go to our blog page or podcast page and listen as it sets the stage for this week’s topic, emotional triggers.

Understanding and Addressing Triggers

What if you understand all that was in last week’s blog and are doing your best to head your frustration off at the pass but impatience, being upset and angry just keep happening? This can be very discouraging and make us wonder if God is answering our prayers. If this is the case and patience is still a challenge, odds are you’re dealing with emotional triggers, our topic for this week’s blog. We will explore:

  1. How to identify our triggers
  2. What we can do to head them off
  3. How we can heal so we can have all the patience we desire

Identifying Triggers

Identifying our triggers is important and will help us become more self-aware. This is essential in defeating our issue at a deeper level.

This will help us explain what’s going on to our kids. It will enable them to understand so they are not as hurt by our reactions and can seek to avoid our triggers. They will also feel less uncertain and fearful of what appears to be random impatience. They will draw closer to you while you work to go deeper and experience internal healing.

I want to reiterate from the first program that I do not want you to feel guilty or get down on yourself if you’re encountering impatient, reactive, anger issues. They can cause you to feel like a failure. If you get down on yourself and put more pressure on yourself, it’s more likely that you’ll react to even smaller things going forward.

In the article, 10 Tips to Help you Become a More Patient Parent, the author offered a helpful definition, “Emotional triggers are people, words, opinions, situations, or environmental situations that provoke an intense or excessive emotional reaction within us.”

The Emotions we Experience When Triggered

The Common emotions we experience when triggered include anger, rage, sadness and fear. According to the article, “Virtually anything can trigger us depending on our beliefs, values, and early life experiences such as a tone of voice, a type of person, a particular viewpoint, a single word, anything can be a trigger.”

There are three primary types of triggers.

#1 Different or opposing beliefs

When we identify with a certain belief system, we will find it easy to trigger and hard to be tolerant of other’s opposing beliefs.

An example is our religious beliefs. We’ve seen many such reactions as our society has changed. Often it has prevented us from seeing the other side’s perspective. As a result we’ve been seen as intolerant, unloving, judgmental, and condemning. I think that this is part of the reason we’ve lost our culture. To be fair we can also see this today with political ideologies. It seems like there are political ideologies that are just as hostile and very intolerant of anything we think or believe. So we can see how these two examples of belief systems can cause us to trigger, overreact and cause division as opposed to leading to understanding healing and unity. Jesus didn’t allow the differences in what people were thinking to get in the way. He didn’t react. He didn’t get angry. Instead, He loved, He helped, and He healed.

#2 Past Trauma

We can trigger as a result of traumatic experiences in our past. We know we’re being triggered when we have a strong reaction that causes fear, panic or anger. We’re triggered when we see, hear, taste, touch or smell something that reminds us of a previous traumatic situation or circumstance.

#3 Self Preservation (Ego Preservation)

The third type of trigger, which can be the most volatile, is self-preservation. Some call it ego preservation. This is our sense of self identity that we carry with us, which is comprised of our thoughts, memories, cultural values, assumptions and beliefs that developed in order to fit into our family of origin and or our society.

According to the article, “We all have an ego and its primary purpose is to protect us by developing elaborate self protection mechanisms in the form of beliefs, ideas, desires, habits, and addictions in order to prevent us from facing what we fear the most, the death of our ego or belief in yourself. When our egos are challenged or hurt by others, we are prone to become immediately triggered. We will argue, insult, get angry, belittle, defame, backstab, sabotage, assault, and even murder in extreme circumstances of triggers related to self preservation.” This happens when people pose a threat to our basic ego or self identity. Such triggers lead to intense emotions of hatred, disgust, anger, fear, terror or grief. They lead to what we believe are protective behaviors like shouting, arguing, insulting, hiding, crying or otherwise emotionally reacting.

What I’ve seen related to such self protective triggers is that they actually lead to our getting hurt over and over again.


Our unhealthy reactions result in others’ distancing from us, which can trigger in us feelings of abandonment or rejection which are very painful. Our reactions can also lead to people pushing back and making observations or accusations which result in more hurt for us.

So while we may go to these places to self-protect, are they really protecting us? or are they harming us? and those around us? Unfortunately, what I’ve found is the kids are often the easiest target for these triggers and reactions because they’re not our equals and they’re emotional. Thus there are many things kids can do or say that can serve as triggers for their parents.

If you are encountering triggers with your kids, you are not alone.

All of us have triggers. Unfortunately very few have actually taken time to identify, dig into and experience God heal the areas of woundedness within them that cause their triggers.

If we were wounded as children in the culture of our families, those triggers exist and we didn’t put them there. Our reactions are not something we’re doing intentionally. We aren’t bad people nor do we have bad hearts. It’s that we have these triggers. We really need to look within, identify them, bring them to our consciousness and address them.

I often find in homes that it’s our triggers or impatience that’s causing our kids to not want to remain close, follow or listen to us. In this series, I’ve been referring back to an article, 10 Tips to Become a More Patient Parents. According to the article, when we aren’t aware of our emotional triggers, let alone how to handle them, our lives follow destructive paths. I’ve witnessed this where parents and older teens are not aware of their triggers or how they connect to past pain. They become frustrated and negative about themselves because they can’t stop reacting and it leads to more hurt and anger in their families.

The article continues with, “Identifying your emotional triggers is so vital because without bringing to consciousness what provokes extreme responses from you, you’ll be a puppet constantly manipulated by your emotions. Your friendships will be strained or ruined. Your relationships will be turbulent or sabotage and your life in general will be much more painful.”

I urge you to consider identifying your triggers because the pain isn’t just coming your way in greater volume, it’s causing pain in those around you, especially in your family. If you are ready to really go after it, here is how you can begin to identify your triggers and become more self-aware.

# 1 Become mindful of your body

Tune into how your body is responding in different situations. In effect, your body can serve as an early warning system because normally there will be some physical representation of the pressure building up before you trigger. If you’re in tune to things like an increasing heart rate, hot or cold flashes, tingles, or a change that indicates you’re physically pulling back or withdrawing from what is happening, that’s a good indication that you’re at risk of triggering.

These can be early warning signs that allows you to step back before things go awry. They also represent a way to identify the things that trigger us. Stop and ask yourself what is happening or being said. Identifying what you are feeling will help you begin to understand the words, situations and other things that trigger you.

#2 Tune into your thought life

Pay attention to extreme thoughts that are polarizing or divisive. When you get into a black and white thought process thinking that someone’s either good or bad, a situation is right or wrong or a person or thing is either good or evil, it will lead to triggers.

When your thoughts flow into these types of hard and fast positions, you’re moving towards triggering. The goal is to become aware of those thoughts that will warn you that you could trigger. Ponder those thoughts without reacting. Becoming aware and pondering them rather than having them sneak up and lead to a reaction can make a big difference.

The article recommends listing polarizing, divisive thought patterns in a journal. This will help enhance self awareness and lead to better communication in the future because they are being processed away from anyone else.

#3 Identify Specific Triggers

After these steps it’s time to identify who, what and the words that trigger your emotional responses. According to the article, your triggers could range from anything like loud noises to men who are overly dominating or opinionated. Most people have multiple triggers, so it’s important to be vigilant and open to perceiving a whole spectrum of things that may set you off.

Triggers can be verbal and nonverbal communication, specific situations, locations, wrongs, times, tones of voice, and even smells. It’s important to write these realizations down and reflect upon them. This will increase your self awareness, which is essential if you want to overcome impatience and reactions in order to become a safe place for your kids.

Returning to the article, it suggests that triggers often have prerequisite that set the stage for the trigger to occur. It suggests that identifying prerequisites offers the opportunity to head triggers off at the pass. Prerequisites for example, can include having a stressful day at work, waking up on the wrong side of the bed, not sleeping at night, going to an uncomfortable place like the mall, or even listening to kids’ fighting.Often when you identify and recognize you are experiencing a prerequisite, you can prevent yourself from being triggered in the future simply by slowing down. You can take deep breaths. You can stop and pray to prevent the trigger altogether.

It’s Essential to Go Deeper

I have found it is essential to go deeper than the article mentions; you need to identify what is at the root of trigger. This stems back to the selfishness we talked out about as being the root of impatience. Triggers typically stem from our needs or desires not being met. They often are tied to our needs for safety, love, acceptance, value, and belonging which may have gone unmet in our childhood. Some triggers from trauma can be established at older ages, like in the event of rape or PTSD.

Enduring a trauma most often connects to deep triggers that are hard to identify and bring to consciousness. The wound was very deep but often was blocked out when we were young. This can lead to our developing exaggerated desires and needs around the area of woundedness. The people closest to us will either be unable to avoid triggering these needs or unable to meet or live up to them because they’re so exaggerated. Yet another reason why it’s so important to identify them. We may believe that our family isn’t doing enough, isn’t meeting our needs enough or isn’t loving or respectful enough, but our need is exaggerated.

When we’re not aware, we can end up blaming those around us for our triggers, which is common in the families I work with. Unfortunately, when this is the case, we unintentionally create the same areas of woundedness in our kids, leading them to have similar exaggerated desires and needs.This is how the cycle gets passed from generation to generation, which is why we as parents need to take our triggers seriously. We have an amazing opportunity to break the cycle with our kids, so let’s consider carefully some of the common desires and needs that can become exaggerated and lead to chaos in our families.

Common Needs that Can Get Exaggerated

These desires or needs include: acceptance, autonomy, attention, love, safety, fun, consistency, needing to know, respect, peacefulness, predictability, understanding, being liked, being needed, being right, being valued, being treated fairly, being in control.

These aren’t inherently bad things. Yet when they become exaggerated, given our past, they can become highly destructive to our relationships, our families and our kids. It’s far too easy when we’re unaware of these emotional wounded areas for us to blame those around us for the things that are painful, fearful, or leave us feeling out of control.

Many of the adults I work with have a hard time identifying their feelings. What I’ve discovered is that often underneath their needs are a cadre of uncomfortable feelings they learned to ignore or stuff.

For example, anger is a secondary emotion. When we get angry, there are always three or more different feelings going on, all entangled. We didn’t take time to perceive or understand them and as a result we couldn’t communicate. They just kind of balled up or combined into an immediate reaction of anger.

Understanding our feelings can help us with the next step when we want to see our triggers erased from within, as opposed to just trying to head them off at the pass.

Often triggers stem from areas of negativity in us that are the result of things that we took responsibility for that we shouldn’t have when we were kids. They typically have a beginning point, a time when we began to feel a specific way about ourself inside. An example is constantly feeling like we’re not good enough. Then when our spouse or kid says something that triggers that deep sense of not being good enough from childhood, we become defensive, reactive, angry, or run away and cry.

Our triggered responses lead to the other person feeling out of control, hopeless, and hurt because they don’t know what they did. We need to take the trigger we’ve identified and its prerequisites, and then identify the feelings that happen underneath. Then we need to consider where those feelings began, what started that cycle and belief process within us so we can get to the root of it. This process can be very painful and may require some outside help. Yet once defined, if we take them to God and allow the grieving process that God designed to take place in us, we will experience the deep healing that will remove our triggers.

Many adults are not aware of all their deep feelings. They have a hard time getting in touch with them, bringing them to consciousness and expressing them. I have developed a feelings chart that’s quite comprehensive. If you have a hard time identifying, understanding and communicating your feelings, which is one of the ways we can prevent anger, frustration and impatience, go to our site, and put feelings chart in the contact us box. I will gladly send it to you.

Also if you’ve been going to counseling and been dealing with this situation for a long time and not seeing progress and you’d like to talk with me, I would love to hear from you. We’re seeing God do amazing things in people’s lives so don’t hesitate to reach out with our contact us form and say can we talk. l”ll be happy to set a time to speak with you.

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