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We cannot blame our children for our triggers.

"Triggered" seems to be the trendy word of the past year, which I think is actually a good thing. When people are set off by others' actions or words based on past experiences, it's great self-awareness to know when you're triggered and to be able to acknowledge that.

During a girls' trip a few years back, I said something that unbeknownst to me, triggered a friend of mine. What I said had absolutely nothing to do with her, but none-the-less triggered something from her past experiences with her brothers. She unfortunately held this against me and wasn't open about what the issue was, which snowballed and ultimately led to the demise of our relationship. I felt guilty for a while until I was astutely told, "you're not responsible for knowing what triggers other people." A true statement and good learning. How was I to know what happened in her childhood if she never told me? How was I to know that I triggered her in that moment, if she wouldn't discuss it with me?

I share that painful experience, because of how it has helped me grow when it comes to parenting. Many times, parents are in situations where our littles trigger something in us. That is inevitable and out of our control. What we can try to control though, is how we react when triggered.

My little boy loves toy guns. When he found daddy's paintball gun, he was running around the house pretending to shoot it. That triggered the hell out of me. In my early 20s I was robbed at gunpoint while working as a teller at a bank. That traumatic experience was brought to the surface as my son was playing with this all-too-realistic looking gun. I snapped, raised my voice and hastily took it away. As he cried, I tried to explain why I reacted the way I did - something that he's way too young to comprehend. I took deep breaths to try to lower my nervous system's elevated response and to compose myself. I realized my anger-fueled reaction to my little love had absolutely nothing to do with him, and everything to do with my past.

How unfair that I reacted to my son as if he was a bank robber. And how unfair that my friend reacted to me as if I were her brother. How do we break this cycle? Recognizing that you're being triggered is the first step.

According to The Therapist Parent, "to find out our triggers we need to start being aware of our reactions. We need to sit back and work out if our reaction really was justified. Chances are if you felt your heart rate spike quickly in response to your child, then you were triggered. When you are calm, you're able to think about what might have been your underlying reason for being angry. Was it anger? Or was it hurt, sadness or fear? Be real with yourself, remember we can't change what we don't acknowledge. When we really look at our thoughts and feelings behind these situations, we might be surprised at how unrealistic they are, but that's because they were an automatic response, and we weren't able to think through them at the time."

Triggers don't have to be huge, like a bank robbery. They can be as simple as your child saying something disrespectful to you. Common thoughts behind our parenting triggers, as listed by The Therapist Parent, could be:

  • You don't respect me.

  • This is not convenient.

  • I don't know what to do.

  • I can't cope.

  • I feel unappreciated.

  • I expect you to do more than you can.

  • I can't do what I want to do.

Triggers can elicit strong negative emotions. The following are a few effective coping strategies from Very Well Mind for lessening the impact of triggers:

  • Seeking therapy.

  • Calling on your social support.

  • Deep breathing.

  • Exercising.

  • Expressive writing.

  • Keeping a journal.

  • Mindful meditation or grounding.

Unless you've lived a utopian life, then chances are you'll be triggered at one time or another. It's being able to recognize the trigger and manage the response that makes us more emotionally intelligent and ultimately, better parents. We cannot blame our children for our triggers. Instead, we should look deep within ourselves to find the root cause and try to calmly cope the best we can, without projecting negative emotions on others. This is not easy to do, but worth it when you learn how to better to protect not only your peace, but that of your child too.


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