Tracking Your Triggered Reactions: How You Respond to Threatening Behaviors

By Carista Luminare, Ph.D.

We all get triggered from time to time. In almost every relationship, people react depending on their individual experiences and sensitivities. 

Here are 10 common triggered reactions. 

Which of these responses are most common for you?

  1. Jealousy: Feeling threatened or insecure in response to perceived or actual competition for affection, attention, or resources.
  1. Anger: Reacting with hostility or aggression in response to perceived disrespect, unfairness, or betrayal.
  1. Abandonment: Feeling intense fear or insecurity when there is a threat of rejection, neglect, or being left alone.
  1. Insecurity: Experiencing self-doubt, low self-esteem, or lack of confidence in the relationship, often triggered by comparisons or past experiences.
  1. Defensiveness: Reacting with a guarded or protective stance in response to criticism, perceived attacks, or feeling accused.
  1. Withdrawing or shutting down: Pulling away emotionally or physically, becoming silent or unresponsive to cope with perceived conflict or emotional overwhelm.
  1. Control: Feeling the need to exert control or micromanage aspects of the relationship, often triggered by fear of loss or a desire for security.
  1. Emotional detachment: Feeling emotionally distant or disconnected from the partner, sometimes triggered by past trauma or a fear of vulnerability.
  1. Anxiety: Excessive worry, restlessness, or unease about the relationship’s stability or future, triggered by uncertainty or unresolved issues.
  1. Emotional flooding: Feeling emotionally overwhelmed, a flood of intense emotions that can lead to a temporary loss of control or perspective.

People can trigger each other due to a variety of reasons rooted in individual differences, past experiences, and interpersonal dynamics. Triggers often arise when certain words or behaviors unintentionally touch an unresolved emotional wound, insecurity, or deeply held beliefs. 

Everyone’s personal history sets them up for a variety of triggers – depending on their childhood experiences, traumas, and negative past relationships.  This results in unprocessed patterns of thoughts and emotions that are buried in the subconscious mind.  

Other sources of upset are mismatched expectations, different communication styles, and conflicting values, which can easily create misunderstandings. 

There is a way out of these reactions that frequently occur in a relationship dynamic.  The first step is to acknowledge and understand their origin.  

Then, individuals can intentionally work together toward improving their self-awareness, empathy, and communication so they can navigate and resolve conflicts more constructively.

Below are common ways someone can automatically and swiftly activate another person feeling insecure by their behavior (they may not be aware they upset them):

  • Dismissive gestures (eye rolling/sighing heavily/ pointing fingers)
  • Facial expressions (lips pursing/ sneering, eyebrows raising, brow furrowing, etc.) 
  • Tense body posture (withdrawn/aggressive/ rigid/inflated)
  • Sudden body movements (up or down, toward, or away)
  • Eye contact (avoids, looks away, intense starring)
  • Pitch or intensity of vocal tone (harsh, hostile, indifferent)
  • Threatening words of any kind(verbal abuse/intimidation)
  • Sudden change in energy (clenching, bristling, withdrawal)
  • Invading personal space (boundary crossing)
  • Silence (non-responsiveness or non-movement)

You can learn to recognize the specific body sensations associated with your triggers, so you have new options when they start to happen.

Practical Exercise Tracking Your Triggers

Remember the last time you got really triggered by your partner or an important relationship? The memory may be when you went into a mild to significant or dramatic response.  

Recall the moments BEFORE you fully triggered – and slow down time in your mind as you remember the incident. Observe your feelings and sensations, especially those in your body. 

Or notice what you are feeling right now if something in your life feels significantly upsetting.

Some of your triggers may impact a specific body part like the head, face, limbs, gut, or heart. Other uncomfortable sensations may feel systemic throughout your whole body at once. Trust your observations with the present time awareness available to you now.

The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware over time how your body signals to you it is about to trigger or is already hijacked in an activated response.  Scan your body and notice the specific physical sensations in your nervous system, body parts and breathing. 

Check each box that you recognize as a sensation you feel when you are in early or full-blown triggers: 

☐  Heart racing or pounding

☐  Clammy or sweaty palms

 Knots in stomach


☐  Sudden heat or coldness

☐  Tightness in any body part

☐  Lump in throat

☐  Nausea or queasiness

☐  Sharp pain in any body par

☐  Drained, tired or exhausted 

☐  Feeling frozen, can’t move

☐ Nervous sensations

☐  Brain fog impacted thinking

☐  Tension in muscles

☐  Shaking or Trembling 

☐   Shallow breathing

☐  Other:

____________________

Now that you’ve identified the sensations associated with your triggered reactions, each time do your best to catch the trigger earlier before you are overwhelmed.  

With greater self-awareness you can learn to stop your own behavior (even if you can’t stop the other’s responses) and find a self-soothing activity to calm yourself. 

You can also track your stress reactions as a signal to warn your partner (or anyone you are overwhelmed in a co-triggered response) to stop or slow things down in your interaction. You can suggest waiting until you both feel more self-regulated to connect and communicate productively. 

Just say: “let’s take a pause,” until you both feel more positive to share your perspective.

Recognizing and acknowledging these physical sensations are very helpful in identifying and managing emotional triggers effectively. Engaging in self-care, relaxation techniques, and seeking support from loved ones or professionals can assist in coping with any type of trigger, especially the ones that are continually confusing and frequent.

No one escapes the possibility of being triggered if they are human. You can rewire your reactions incident by incident. 

The path of repatterning trigger reactions requires an interest in self- mastery – especially if and how you respond when you feel overwhelmed or threatened by anyone or anything. 

Self-acceptance and empathy for another’s quick reactions is easier when you feel you can understand how you relate to yourself and others when feeling distressed. 

Enjoy the process of practicing new ways to observe and reduce your triggers as best you can each occurrence. You… and all of your relationships will greatly benefit.

Carista Luminare, Ph.D., is an Attachment Specialist (and “recovered codependent”), counseling individuals and couples for 45 years. Take the FREE Lovestyle Profile Quiz, and learn how Carista has guided thousands of couples to rewire from insecure attachment to secure love – featured in her 4-week online course: “Confused about Love? Get Clear. Be Wise. Feel Secure” at: www.ConfusedAboutLove.com/register

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