How To Stop Emotional Tripwires From Setting The Tempo Of Your Life

When certain songs, images, or memories evoke pain or overwhelm, it’s natural to shut them off, block them or lock those suckers down tight.

I call these things emotional tripwires, and they hurt like hell, but you already know this.

I’ve recently found a way to manage them, with an approach I wish I’d known about years ago. I’ll describe it here, and I hope it helps you, too.

It’s 100% natural to avoid negative memories.

For most of my life, I was encouraged to avoid negative emotions and to focus on the positive.

After all, the past is the past, and we can’t change it, right?

Chin up. Keep moving. You’ve got this.

Besides…who really wants to dwell in negativity?

Not me.
No way.

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But here’s the thing.

If you’re human, you’ll encounter many emotional tripwires — like the photo of a loved one lost too soon, or the memory of a traumatic event, or thoughts of a situation you wish you’d handled differently, or a song that simply crushes your soul…

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

And while temporary avoidance is often critical — allowing you to cope with your day-to-day life — we still need to unpack these triggers eventually, opening the windows and giving them the air they deserve. Otherwise, they fester and take on lives of their own, hijacking the pace of our lives.

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Whether we acknowledge life’s emotional tripwires or not, they’ll keep showing up, sometimes unexpectedly, occasionally knocking the wind from our lungs. This slows us down, gives us pause, and interrupts our lives in ways we may not even realize, like difficulty sleeping or strained relationships.

And lately, I’ve witnessed the value of dealing with them — of stepping through these emotional tripwires, rather than exhausting myself and avoiding them altogether.

To be sure, this takes some work to navigate.

Still, believe me: maintaining the lockbox in which to keep your emotional tripwires is far more exhausting than facing them head on.

Let me give you just one example.

Recognizing a tripwire.

Last weekend, my friend was helping me strategize my training approach for the 2019 Chicago Marathon, a race she’s (thankfully!) more experienced and qualified to run than I.

“I like to run with a metronome app,” she said, as we stepped into an elevator. “It sets my pace and keeps me present. And it keeps me from getting ahead of myself. It actually prevents injuries.”

Feeling grateful for the tip, I immediately pictured the metronome perched atop my family’s piano when I was a little girl.

And just like that, I was triggered. I didn’t even know why.

I hadn’t thought about that metronome in years. All I knew was, my gut told me to stop thinking about that metronome. It was bizarre.

As we stepped inside the elevator, I pressed the “L” button, and we began our ride down to the lobby. The whole time, I worked hard to keep my thoughts on our descent, rather than the mental rabbit hole beckoning for my attention.

The image of the metronome kept popping into my mind.

I worked hard to ignore it — much like we convince ourselves the itch under a fiberglass cast isn’t real. Mind over matter, I’d think. Let it go. It’s nothing.

After two days, whenever I thought about the metronome, I noticed that I felt restricted, uneasy and nervous.

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So, I decided to download an image of one. I had to face what I was unable to bury.

I didn’t know what to expect, and as uncomfortable as it felt, I knew my mind’s eye had to wander — beyond the rhythmic metronome of my childhood, examining the surroundings in which it sat…and beyond.

And as those memories unfolded, I recorded them here.

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After reading my account of those experiences — and how doing so helped to reframe them — I hope you’ll feel inspired to explore an emotional tripwire of your own. Try giving it some light — and some new perspective.

And if you do, I’d love to know how it goes.

Take care, and thanks so much for reading.


Writing Coach. Journalist. Author. Marathoner. Lover of emotions, words & spicy nachos. Find me on Twitter & Insta @tinywolf1, and at

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