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Recognizing Your Triggers Part III

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

This is the third and final installment of this blog series on recognizing your triggers for substance use and/or emotions such as anger. In this post, I will present some more common internal triggers and ways to cope with them. This post’s acronym is FINE. FINE stands for:

Fearful: Fear is a powerful and universal human emotion, which is often driven by uncertainty, lack of control, and lack of understanding. 

Not knowing what is going to happen next causes a lot of fear and anxiety for people. We are hard-wired to prepare (or even overprepare) for the worst because that is what kept us alive for thousands of years during dangerous times. In today’s world any kind of uncertainty can activate this stress response and cause fear and anxiety. Thinking and worrying about worst-case scenarios is a way to feel more in control of unpredictable situations and set ourselves up to be relieved after these highly improbable scenarios do not come to fruition. 

Insecure: This is a general feeling of “I am not enough” or “I am inadequate,” which is self-defeating and triggering. People feel insecure for many different reasons, but common ones that I hear are not feeling satisfied with where they are in their career or marriage, not liking their physical appearance, and/or being unhappy about their financial position.  Sometimes the insecurity is driven by unrealistically high expectations – the person sets unreasonably high standards for themselves and is frequently disappointed when they do not reach these levels. 

In addition, those who feel insecure tend to attribute all their shortcomings to themselves (internalize), while attributing their success to factors beyond their control (externalize). For example, if they score a low grade on a test, they may conclude that it is because they are stupid. If they score a high grade on the same test, they will attribute it to luck. 

Similarly, people who feel insecure may be skeptical of validation and recognition they receive from others, believing that the person providing the validation is being disingenuous or somehow mistaken, resulting in sadness and disappointment. However, in the absence of recognition and validation, people who feel insecure may also feel sad, thus creating a lose-lose situation. In this instance insecurity manifests in the form of self-sabotage driven by the (perhaps subconscious) belief that they are undeserving of success and happiness.  

Neurotic: Neuroticism is characterized by maladaptive thought patterns accompanied by a multitude of vacillating emotions. Having emotional symptoms of neuroticism such as anger, sadness, and guilt can make substance use an attractive option. 

Emotional: It is healthy to feel. Being too emotional over the long-term however, is counterproductive. Being emotional means having intense feelings for extended periods of time that may not be in proportion to what you are facing. While all emotions are valid, regardless of the context in which they felt, strong and unpredictable emotional responses can do more harm than good if not properly regulated. Chemicals, like alcohol and drugs, provide a quick and easy way to regulate emotions in the short-term, but end up causing more issues over the mid and long-term. 

Managing these triggers is a matter of deliberate practice. Regulating fear can start with acceptance of what we cannot change. Feelings of insecurity can be addressed by examining evidence of past successes and embracing them. Symptoms of neuroticism may be regulated by focusing on your breath while intense emotions may be handled by acting in a manner that is contrary to the emotion you are experiencing. For example, if you feel sad, listening to happy music or making yourself get out of the house could be an opposite action. If you feel fearful, instead of avoiding the fear-inducing situation, you could confront it, which would also be an opposite action. 

Now you should have an idea of some common triggers – remember you are not alone in having these experiences. With proper awareness and effort, you can exert control over your triggers and live the life you want to live. 

If you would like to talk to a therapist about managing triggers to support your mental health and well-being, please get in touch with one of our Chicago counselors. We are here to help you. Contact Symmetry Counseling today.


Pederson, Lane, and Cortney Sidwell Pederson. The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: DBT for Self-Help, and Individual and Group Treatment Settings. PESI Publishing & Media, 2017.

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