5 Strategies for HSPs and Empaths to Heal Emotional Triggers

a highly sensitive person heals her emotional triggers

What are emotional triggers? They are those super-reactive places inside you that become activated by someone else’s behaviors or comments.

When triggered, you may either withdraw emotionally and simply feel hurt or angry — or even respond in an aggressive way that you will probably regret later. We’ve all been there. Your reaction is so intense because you’re defending against an extremely painful feeling that has surfaced.

For instance, if a coworker says, “You’re not qualified to apply for that great job,” or a relative says, “You’re too old to find a mate,” you might become triggered. And who wouldn’t get upset at these comments? You get emotional, doubt yourself, and feel inferior or even wrongly think that you’re “over the hill.” (Trust me, there is no “hill to be over.”)

On the other hand, if you thought, “That’s ridiculous. Of course I’m qualified for the job,” or “No matter my age, I can find a wonderful partner,” you’re not in a triggered state because you’re recognizing your true worth.

Your emotional triggers are wounds that need to heal. These beliefs are based on fears — and they are not reality. Let me repeat that: they do not reflect your real worth.

You don’t want to be frequently triggered. No one does. It’s exhausting and painful, especially for highly sensitive and empathic people.

Why? Because empaths and HSPs are finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths and HSPs tend to absorb energy related to issues that they haven’t resolved more easily and deeper than others.

How to Heal Your Emotional Triggers

To heal your emotional triggers, you must begin to compassionately examine and shift any beliefs that you’ve carried around from your family or society. Those beliefs will be different for every person, but examples might be, “I am not smart enough,” or even, “I’m too sensitive.”

You need to begin gently addressing the parts of yourself that feel flawed, such as doubts about your body image or your worthiness to find a partner. When you heal the initial trauma or false belief, you set yourself emotionally free. Then you won’t become as easily triggered or drained in the future.

Your initial trauma or false belief is related to a hot button issue for you. For instance, if you have unresolved anger at your father, you may soak up other people’s anger at their fathers. Or your fear of chronic illness may even make you susceptible to absorbing the symptoms of others’ chronic illnesses! You are more prone to take on the emotional or physical pain that you haven’t worked out in yourself. The more you heal issues that trigger you, the less likely you’ll be to absorb emotions from others. You might sense them but they won’t cut as deeply or drain you.

Here are five strategies adapted from my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, to help you start healing your emotional triggers.

1. Be aware.

In your journal, identify your top three emotional triggers which cause you to be most upset and thrown off balance than any others. For instance, when someone criticizes your weight or appearance? Or if you don’t earn a certain income? Or perhaps you feel unlovable and undeserving of a healthy relationship? Write these down to clarify the aspects of yourself that you need to heal.

2. Track the trigger’s origin.

Journal about where these triggers originated. For example, did your parents say that you were “too fat” or unattractive? Did a teacher tell you that you didn’t have what it took to succeed in school? Or were you neglected by your family, so you grew up feeling unlovable? Knowing where your triggers come from allows you to know yourself better. It may be painful to revisit old memories, so do so gently, and remind yourself that it’s all part of the healing process.

3. Reprogram negative beliefs.

Start with one trigger that has the least emotional charge and begin to compassionately reprogram it. Stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself, “This is not reality.” What’s actually true is, “I am lovable, capable, and smart.” Then slowly and deeply breathe. As you breathe, say aloud the same statement three times as a mantra in a tone that conveys you mean what you’re saying. This will help you substitute the negative belief with a positive, more realistic one. Call to mind your positive mantra whenever negative thoughts creep in.

4. Act as-if.

At the start of the healing process, you might need to act “as-if” when you haven’t fully integrated a new positive belief. That’s okay. For instance, simply saying to someone, “I disagree. I fully deserve this great job” (even when you don’t fully believe that) paves the way for a deeper belief later on. Or “I’m proud of my sensitivities. Please do not put them down.” Sometimes you need to practice a more enlightened behavior for it to sink in and become real.


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5. Work with a therapist or coach.

It’s often useful to seek guidance to help you find the root of the trigger and process the feelings involved. You may feel tremendous rage or sadness that your family never believed in you, so you never learned to believe in yourself. Expressing and releasing the feelings allows you to heal the trigger and move on to embrace your true power.

Healing your triggers is liberating because you won’t be thrown off or drained by people’s inappropriate comments. They may still be annoying, but they won’t have the power to zap you. The more you heal your emotional triggers, the more emotionally free you will be.

Want to learn more? Check out my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People.

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This article was originally published on Highly Sensitive Refuge, our community for HSPs.

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Judith Orloff, MD is the author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist and an empath who combines the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting-edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. She is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty and also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. To learn more about Dr. Orloff’s book tour schedule, and to sign up for her Empath Support Newsletter, visit drjudithorloff.com.