To those who’ve been active in resisting the tumultuous transition of one White House administration to another, the word “trigger” might make sense. For others, it might seem irrelevant. Throughout the election and inauguration season, people have had different reactions- some have taken to protesting to show their resistance to the administration and while some write their praise, others remain silent. Exploring what causes people to respond to the same situation differently lies much deeper than politics.

When something in our present reminds us of a painful experience from our past, it can act as a trigger, taking us back to the memory as if its occurring in the present moment. Usually, when we are triggered, we revert back to our old ways of coping. Oftentimes, when we are triggered, we experience a lot of feelings that we didn’t expect to feel, pain that wasn’t predictable, and elicit reactions that we felt no control over. We all have our own very unique triggers, even those who are not victims of abuse. Knowing what triggers us, and to recognize when we are being triggered gets us one step closer to healing the trauma of our past experiences.

Triggers might look like:

  • Rejection from your friends and family
  • Someone’s disapproval of your decisions
  • Feeling blamed or shamed
  • Someone leaving or ignoring you
  • Someone trying to control you
  • Being judged or criticized
  • Being made out as “small” or incapable

Responses to triggers might look or feel like:

  • Quick and intense anger or rage
  • Withdrawal from people or activity
  • Unexpected crying or screaming
  • Compliance: trying to pacify or please others
  • Codependency: relying on drugs, food, or people to cope

Understanding our triggers takes time. When we allow ourselves to become more comfortable with exploring the reasons behind our triggers, we get closer to healing past traumas. The next time you find yourself surprised by your own reactions, take a minute to note what’s going on, how you feel, and what it is that caused you to react.