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What Is An Emotional Trigger?

What Is An Emotional Trigger?byShaman Elder Maggie Wahls

Sometimes our lives get all messed up because of one thing that frightens us that we cannot identify. Perhaps as a child we had a frightening experience and that memory is triggered by something in our lives today. Perhaps we were assaulted mentally, physically, emotionally by someone and now we have triggers that put us back into that kind of fear, triggers as innocent as a phone ringing or too much space around our bodies or an angry expressions by someone else not involving us at all. The triggers can be such innocent things in themselves. But in our minds they are like switches that bring that forgotten fear back to us like an arrow. We do not even remember the initial thing that scared us. Yet we know we are constantly being triggered into fear. We look all around us to find out what is here now that is causing us feel anxiety, tensions, trepidations, fears and we donít really see anything at all in our lives today that would cause this reaction. So we either decide that we are crazy, or that we just are not good at controlling ourselves, or that others are doing things behind our backs to frighten us. We might even choose to make up things that must be the reason we feel this anxiety and fear.

We may even start to imagine that the feelings of anxiety and helplessness are coming from unseen mystical beings and spirits. Or we may start to believe that people are putting curses on us or manipulating us psychically. We are simply looking for a reason for these feelings of fear and anxiety and helplessness. But the reason is gone.

The reason is that thing that happened to us in the past long ago. That event is over now, long gone, will not come back ever again in our lives. We are not who we were when that event happened. We have changed. Life has changed. That event is never going to happen again. So what we have left today are these triggers in our minds that remind us of that event and set off the same emotional feelings as the original event set off for us long ago.

I want to make it very clear that what is triggering those feelings of discontent, fear, anxiety helplessness, sense of being manipulated or accosted by people or unseen entities is just a body memory of something that happened to us long ago. If we cannot remember what created that body memory, thatís OK. But I want us to know and understand that these feelings are simply being triggered by a body memory of the past, not anything happening in our life today. If we look around for what is making us feel this way and there is nothing apparent in our physical life today, then it is just a memory being triggered from long ago.

Believe me, if our feelings were being caused by something in our lives today , the strength of our emotional reactions would indicate that we were being chased by a tiger or standing in a hurricane and that is not happening, right? The strength of our emotions from this trigger are far greater than anything actually going on at this moment. So that should prove to us that it is simply a trigger from a past event and not anything actually happening to us at this moment at all.

Here is an example. Suppose a child was out playing in a parking lot and got hit by a passing car that didnít see that child. The child was struck by the car and fell down into the gravel and was pretty cut up and bruised from falling in the gravel. He was taken to the doctor and his bruises and cuts were dressed and there were no broken bones and so all was well. But the child was traumatized by being struck by that car. And no one addressed that childís emotional trauma at that time and they just brushed it off as a minor event. So the child has never had the chance to heal from that event, really. Now that same grown man is out shopping for groceries and he drops a bag of groceries on the way to his car. Clumsy thing to do , he thinks, and as he stoops down to pick up the bag of groceries that is now broken and scattering his purchases all over the parking lot he feels a very huge sense of impending doom. He gets frightened and begins to pant and his heart starts palpitating and he has no idea why. He cannot even pick up his groceries so he goes and sits in his car for a minute thinking maybe he is having a heart attack. Other people come and ask him if he is ok and they pick up his groceries for him and he is able to drive home. But when he gets home he starts trying to figure out what caused him to feel those feelings of anxiety and fear. Was it his health? Was it an omen about something soon to happen? Was it a message from some non manifested being? Was it a curse that someone put on him to kill him? He starts looking for a reason for this feeing and can find no real reason. But the real reason was that the asphalt parking lot triggered the feelings he had when he was a little boy and was in that car accident.

A lot of people do this. Instead of just looking around and realizing that since there was nothing dangerous or threatening in that parking lot when he dropped the grocery bag, he started to look for anything dangerous he could imagine to blame the feelings on. There is no point in doing this. If there is nothing in your now moment to account for feelings of fear or anxiety or dread, then just know that you have just encountered a trigger that flashed you back to some old event in your life. No need to get involved in it. Let it go.

If you can figure out what that old event was and do the work to release the energy you still have attached to it, that would be wonderful. I can help you do this if you can remember that original event. But even if you cannot remember the original event, the first trauma, just donít let yourself get all off balance over those things that trigger those feelings today. Itís just a memory now. What is the use of looking at an old photograph of someone and crying over what they were then? They are not that photograph anymore. They have changed forever. And so have you.

About the author:
Shaman Elder Maggie Wahls has been a practicing Indigenous Traditional Shaman for over 50 years living the legend of her family ancestors. She teaches an online course. Please visit her website at or write her an email for a free consultation at


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Zebra Woman - June 21st 2010 11:01:25 AM
Thank you for this insightful teaching!

Zebra Woman - June 21st 2010 11:51:20 PM
Thanks Zebra Woman for your kind remark. Everything I do is for you and for all. I have dedicated my life to this path of Traditional Shamanism as did my grandmother andher grandmother before her.

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