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Reaction vs Response - Understanding Emotional Triggers

Do you react or do you respond? For the most of us, we react.

We react with anger, sadness or anxiety. This normally results in us losing control of our emotions and inevitably the situation we find ourselves in.

In this article, our Rehabilitation Centre aims to help you understand the difference between reaction and response.

And why responding to a stressful situation rather than reacting to it, will help us grow and avoid relapsing back into old habits.

Reaction vs Response and Addiction 

Reaction vs Response

So much of our lives is spent in reaction to others and to events around us.

The issue is that a lot of our reactions aren’t always the best responses, and as a result, we end up repeating old habits, making bad choices, as well as making the situation even worse for ourselves…

The truth is, we often react without taking the time to think.

Our gut reaction is often based on our fears and insecurities, and it’s generally not the most rational or appropriate way to act. For a recovering addict, the reaction is often relapse.

Responding, in contrast, is being mindful and taking the whole situation in, and then deciding the best course of action based on core values such as reasoning, compassion, cooperation, etc.

Reaction, Response and Addiction

As an addict, learning to respond instead of react is an extremely powerful tool. Being able to identify typical stressful situations and learning how to respond to them correctly will help you avoid addiction relapse.

We understand that taking time in the moment to think and act with intention is often easier said than done, however, it is possible with practice to choose your response if you understand the emotional trigger.

What are typical emotional triggers?

Our strengths are also our greatest emotional triggers and we react when we feel someone is not honouring what makes you special or something important to you.

Before we know it, we rationalise our reaction and often lose trust in the person or situation, reacting in a way that as an addict, could lead to relapse.

The key is to catch yourself reacting when your emotions are triggered. From there, you can discover if the threat is real or not.

Below is a list of some of the most common emotional triggers. These trigger emotional reactions when you feel as though you will not receive one of the following exchanges.


  • - Acceptance
  • - Respect
  • - Liked
  • - Understood
  • - Needed
  • - Valued
  • - In Control
  • - Right
  • - Treated Fairly
  • - Attention
  • - Comfort
  • - Freedom
  • - Peacefulness
  • - Balance
  • - Consistency
  • - Order
  • - Variety
  • - Love
  • - Safety
  • - Predictability
  • - Included
  • - Fun
  • - New Challenges
  • - Autonomy


Granted, some of the above with be important and others will hold no emotional trigger.

From the list, which ones resonate with you?

Understanding how our Needs become Triggers

It is critical to note that needs are not bad. We have these needs because at some point in our lives, they served us.

For example, your experiences may have taught you that success in life depends on being in control, establishing a safe environment and being accepted by those around you.

However, the more you become attached to these needs, the more alert your brain will be to circumstances that you perceive are threatening your ability to have these needs met. Then your needs become emotional triggers.

At this point, you must judge the situation truthfully. Are you really losing this need or not?

Are you being actively denied of your need or are you taking the situation too personally? Then if it’s true that you are being blocked from achieving your need, can you either voice your need or, if it doesn’t really matter, can you let the need go?

We become enslaved to a need by not consciously acknowledging that it triggers an emotional reaction.

We need to declare and acknowledge our needs in order to see life more objectively and to be able to respond rather that react emotionally.

Step Away Rehabilitation Centre South Africa

Choices will always present themselves to us; whether it’s a girlfriend nagging us, our co-workers receiving all the credit, a car cutting us off in traffic, or someone breaking something of yours… the choice is always ours.

There will always be external events that bother us, but if we learn to respond and not just react, we have the ability make things better and not worse.

For more information about our rehabilitation centre or treatment programmes, please contact us.

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