Emotional triggers: how to handle them

Handle your emotional triggers (Emotional wellness series)

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

emotional triggersAs July comes to a close and August begins, the whisper of fall stirs on the horizon. I love this time of year, but since my son is estranged, the phrase, “back-to-school,” can trigger sadness.

Memories of the antsy anticipation of my children at summer’s close, looking forward (or sometimes dreading) the start of a new school year was a constant, a cycle through the years as steady as the seasons. Now, for me and many parents whose adult sons or daughters are estranged, old cycles we once enjoyed now highlight the break, and connect to our grief.

In earlier emotional wellness series articles, I wrote about unexpected feelings, and how awareness can be a tool to handle them. There are links to those articles at the bottom. In short, I suggested planning ahead by taking some time to consider what events, dates, or people might trigger distress over your estranged adult child. Being aware of emotional triggers ahead of time can help you prepare.

The close of summer with its promise of routine schedules, cooler days, and the advent of the holidays can be just such a trigger for me. Perhaps for you too. Read on for ways to handle your emotional triggers, maintain peace of mind, and conquer emotional distress.

Emotional triggers: Do you react or respond?

The word “react,” implies instantaneous action – – and that’s not always bad. But when it comes to reactions to emotional distress, a well-considered response is often better. That’s why planning ahead, and being aware of your emotional triggers is wise. Then you can catch yourself before you react without thinking – – and fall into negative behavior that will only make things worse.

Typical reactions to negative emotional triggers might include:

  • A bad mood
  • Overeating, overdrinking, slouching on the sofa
  • Avoiding social commitments
  • Falling into a “victim” mentality or defeated chain of thought

Obviously, negative reactions can impact our lives. If we’re in a funk, our bad mood can negatively affect the people we love. We may displace anger onto the people closest to us.

When we overdrink, overeat, and slouch around feeling sorry for ourselves, our health may be impacted. A state of inertia, coupled with bad habits, can further decrease energy, and fuel more bad habits.

Avoiding others can isolate us. And falling into a victim mentality or chain of thought that keeps us focused on the hurt can darken our outlook for the future. All of these can lead to decreased productivity and procrastination, which can then lower our self-esteem, fuel more negative thinking, and maybe even impact us economically.

Emotional triggers: How to combat them

First, when you catch yourself allowing any emotional triggers to pull you down (or anytime you’re feeling down about your estranged child), tell yourself to stop. Take a few calming breaths. Come up with a few simple phrases to get you back to the present. Have them ready so you can turn to them when the need arises. For me, those phrases might go something like this:

  • What’s happened is done. For now, I cannot change things. I can only change my response.

Second, focus on something more positive. That might mean thinking of things in your life right now that you are grateful for, or appreciating the good memories for the enjoyment they once gave you. Perhaps you can pat yourself on the back for the good you did in your estranged son or daughter’s life.

Third, take back control of the moment. That might mean soothing yourself with a few kind words. Something like this:

  • I’ve lived through the worst of this. I am rebuilding my life in a way that pleases me. I choose to take control of my thoughts, my feelings, and my future. No longer will I allow my estranged adult child to hold me hostage to hurt and pain. I am healing, and moving forward on a positive path.

When we make the decision to move forward confidently despite hurt that has been inflicted on us, we empower ourselves. Emotional triggers hold the potential for setbacks, but we can overcome them, and turn them into strength builders.

emotional triggersLovely path, or rut of despair?

When faced with a situation that triggers hurt and pain, I like to imagine myself in the serenity of a beautiful natural space. Walking along the path, the sunlight filters in through a leafy canopy, an orchestra of birdsong fills the air, and a pleasant breeze whispers against my skin. I have the choice whether to let intruding thoughts lead me down a less inviting path that’s filled with negative thinking I know does me no good.

That negative thought pattern might go something like this:

Why did this happen? I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. How can I, when it hurts so much? I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly happy again. Just when I think things are going well, something reminds me, and I’m right back where I started . . . hurting. Will this pain ever end?

Each of us has our own set of dark thoughts. Most of us parents of estranged adults have been there, done that. And we know that sort of thinking only leads to longing and despair.

We can only control ourselves.

It’s easy to wallow awhile. But I know stepping down that path only digs a deeper groove into negativity, and imprisons me in a rut that blocks my view of what’s good in my life. Or, as it looks in my visualization of the forest path, blocks my view of the trees, and muffles the lilting birdsong. The more times I allow myself to wallow, the harder it may be to climb back into the sunlight.

Mood brighteners

Some people can turn off negative thoughts and brighten their mood with music. If this works for you, use it. Sing along! Others can turn on a funny movie that gives their mind a welcome break. Exercise can be a positive habit that creates an uplifting feeling of strength and control (plus it’s healthy).

Emotional triggers: Positive questions can help

Just as you can allow yourself to dig into a rut of despair, a few good questions can lead you up and out. Consider these:

  • Which would I rather be? Upset, angry, and sad? Or optimistic, grateful, and glad?
  • Is there anything I can do to change things now? If yes, make a plan. If no, accept that reality.
  • Are my thoughts stuck in the past?
  • What can I focus on right now that will make me feel better?

You can plan ahead and come up with your own ready menu of feel-better sayings, questions, thoughts, or activities that deal with triggered emotions in a positive way.

It feels good to focus on what makes us happy. And there is evidence that takingcare of our emotions and developing a positive outlook may have health benefits. A 2006 study reported on in the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine, showed that a positive emotional style reduced the likelihood of contracting a virus. Sometimes, staying positive is s easier said than done … but with a little advance planning, self-control and determination, we can conquer our emotional triggers.

In my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, you’ll find the latest research, helpful tools and techniques. You really can be done with the crying–and enjoying your life.

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice

Related articles:

Unexpected emotions

Awareness: A tool to handle emotions

Related external links:

Positive emotional style predicts resistence to illness. . . .

Copyright Notice: All content of any post or page found on any page at this site is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. To share with others, provide a link to the page where the content is found. Reposting of any content is not permitted without express permission. Please see Copyright Notice/Restrictions in the right-hand sidebar for complete copyright notice


Join the newsletter

Pine 300x225

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

7 thoughts on “Emotional triggers: how to handle them

  1. M

    Today is my only son’s (only child) 32nd birthday. I sent him a nice gift package even though I’ve not heard from him in over a year and he never acknowledges anything I send to him or his daughters. (They live in another state). I baked 2 pans of awesome brownies, sent 2 seasons of ALF on DVD (we always loved that), and a photo album that I created of his life through the years, depicting just how happy he really was. I’ve not heard anything from him – again – and my heart is so broken I feel like I will die. Does this feeling ever go away???
    Thank you!

    1. rparents Post author

      What a beautiful gesture you made with that gift. Your time with your son was real and meaningful, and with that gift, you honored and memorialized the bond you shared. So many of us moms know the heartbreak of longing for an estranged son or daughter we love, reaching out … and our love and care is not acknowledged or reciprocated. What I’ve learned is that yes, the pain can diminish and go away, but for many parents of estranged adult children, getting to that point requires letting go of the longing for what was and the envisioned future dream that (currently) isn’t on the horizon. It feels crushing, I know. For me, and many of the moms I’ve talked with, the realization that we can only control ourselves allows us some freedom when it comes to whether we continue to reach out (figuring we will be hurt again), or perhaps limit our efforts in a way that works for us. In making a few decisions about what we’ll do in the future we can take back some control, like Laurie in this article on getting free of the pain of betrayal.

      Again, whether or not your son acknowledges your deeply thought-out gift, and the effort you put into assembling and sending it, you still created a beautiful reflection of your love and the relationship you once shared.

    2. joy

      no….I cannot say it ever goes away. I have sent loving emails, gifts, cards. the one response I did get was” I don’t feel guilty for you loving me; you’re supposed to.”
      after 6 years of trying, and always being re-traumatized after; my thought is to stop the contact.

    3. Deb

      I Understand your feeling shunned and abandoned when all you have done is The Right Thing. It’s a gift of yourself when you give from the heart and a part of you goes too. I’ve done exactly what you have described and to no avail, leaving me so heartbroken I really felt my heart stop. I’m So sorry for your loss and you are not alone. I’m Yet hurting and the season of joy is very hard to accept. I’m not going to sugar coat any of the happenings, but I will hope that you will find a peace in knowing you are the best mom in this sons life. I’m Trying not to send anymore because of the injury it causes my life. That’s just my way of letting go. Thanks for being honest and sharing.

  2. Peanut1

    I am new here. My daughter disowned me four years ago. I haven’t heard from her at all. Neither have I seen or heard from my two grandsons. I have non-epileptic seizures caused by stress, lack of sleep or missing meals. My late husband of 30 years died suddenly. He had adopted my three children. Their natural Father deserted me with two in diapers and one on the way. He never has seen the kids since. After my late husband died I met and married again. There were some problems at first but we worked them out. But my daughter wanted me to divorce him. When I said I wasn’t going to she disowned me. She also doesn’t speak to her siblings. I send my daughter poetry, letters, cards. I am obsessed with finding stuff about her on line. She has me blocked on Facebook but I have found other stuff on line that she has written, blaming me for everything negative in her life. She now says she no longer believes in God and because I brought her up in church. This too she blames me on. I got counseling, it helped. But I moved so I don’t see the therapist any more. I think about her all the time. I try to let go but part of me doesn’t want to.

  3. carole

    I was a single, working mom to my son. Emotional support from my aged mom, My sister wanted me to abort. Our relationship was constantly strained and we have a very negative history. I returned to work when my son was three months old: and although very busy, kept his life full of what he wished. He met a woman, they have been living together for several years and she is very cold to me. He says he is so angry at me for the first 18 year s of his life….and he cannot forgive me for being “selfish”. He visited me when I was hospitalized for major surgeries in 2009 and 2013 but not for a year now. He has written me angry retorts when I have contacted him. His 35 birthday is 8/27 and I sent a loving card. He will not forgive and I believe he is in touch with my sister and she is saying negatives about me. So hard to take…..especially the history my sister and I have…she always bullied me and hurt me. I am trying to lighten my load by forgiving her….but my son will not “forgive” me for what he believes was a negative upbringing for 18 years. I so love my son, am proud of what he has accomplished but miss him so. This is such a struggle! Can I still have hope.? His fiance has forbidden me to contact her or her family!

  4. Marie

    I see many interesting articles here, but didn’t find your site until reading about it in your book. The book is a Godsend! It helped me to get free and get back to my life. I’m living again!! Thank you. Love, Marie


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website Protected by Spam Master