This is part 2 of a two-part post about triggers.
The parenting journey comes with its own unique set of challenges. Parenting feels like a constant balancing act between the parent we want to be and the parent we end up being at any given moment based on our own triggers. Understanding your triggers helps you understand what situations trigger you more than others so you can work towards reducing the stressors that lead to you being triggered.
When I’m Triggered, What Am I Supposed To Do?
When your child or others trigger you, it may be time to take a deep look at how this affects your children and your relationships with others. It may be time to turn the magnifying glass on yourself and explore the deeper thoughts and beliefs you have about yourself. If your children’s behaviors trigger you, consider and ask yourself what you believe their behavior means about you. This is challenging, but it is the best way to take back your power and put control back into your hands.
Once you can identify the thoughts or beliefs underneath the trigger, it’s time to decide what needs to change. Is it your thought, or is it your behavior that you want to change? Let me explain.
Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.
When you discover the thoughts deep below your triggers, you may realize they aren’t accurate. They don’t accurately represent what you value and what you want to believe. This is because many of these thoughts and beliefs came from your parents when you were young.
Up until the age of about six, your subconscious was wide open.
Your brain waves only operate in the wavelength of the subconscious mind. You were in a highly programmable theta brain wave state during this time. You weren’t able to consciously evaluate the information you were taking in. You were unable to judge the truth of what your parents told you. This meant you took in and accepted the beliefs of your parents without examining them.
Many of us grew up in a family where our parents gave us the messages, “you don’t deserve that, you aren’t smart, you are bad, you are a sickly child, and you are unlovable.
We downloaded it all, and it became our belief system about ourselves. We then carried these thoughts and beliefs around for years. We likely questioned some of these beliefs during our teen and young adult years. However, many beliefs went undetected, and we failed to recognize or understand the belief system that programming gave us.
Get Curious And Examine Your Thoughts
Now let’s imagine your child does poorly on a test at school, and you are triggered. Once you calm down, you realize that underneath your over-the-top reaction was the thought; I am a failure as a parent because I’m not staying home with my child. My child will fail because they need at least one parent who stays at home.
When you examine these thoughts about yourself, you recognize they aren’t true. The thoughts don’t represent what you believe or what you value. It is a belief system from your parent’s generation. You know many families with well-adjusted, happy, and successful children, and both parents work outside the home.
Furthermore, your emotional reaction to your child doing poorly on one test is clearly an overreaction to the situation. Just because your child failed one test, it doesn’t mean they will be a lifelong failure. Maybe your child didn’t get enough sleep the night before or is struggling in that subject. A failed test means they need you to help them build the skills they need to learn the material. Your child may require you to brainstorm with them to problem solve on how they can develop better study habits.
How To Change The Thoughts That Don’t Serve You?
Upon reflection, you realize your child has outstanding skills in other areas. Maybe they are kind and considerate individuals. Possibly you happen to recall that research article you read about the importance of EQ – emotional intelligence and how EQ is a better predictor of success than getting good grades. You tell yourself, “my child’s EQ is very high.” You also remind yourself that the experiences you provide your child in emotional and social development are as important as their cognitive abilities.
Suddenly you realize, “my child’s EQ is preparing them to be either a fantastic team member or employer.” You might even realize; “most of tomorrow’s jobs aren’t yet created. Remind me again why I was so worried about one test?”
As you continue examining your thoughts, you will find that each better-feeling thought leads to another better-feeling thought you can believe. This self-awareness soothes the trigger as you now replace the negative thoughts with all of the positive better-feeling thoughts.
Let’s look at another example: You are triggered when your child interrupts what you are doing and asks you a question. You respond with impatient and critical words. “Can’t you see I’m busy? Why do you have to keep interrupting me!” When you think about your reaction, you may realize that your unexamined belief is that “children should be seen and not heard.” So when your child interrupts you with questions, you are triggered because you believe children shouldn’t interrupt adults.
Upon more contemplation, you may also realize that this unconscious belief does not serve you. When you were a child, your parents taught you not to interrupt them when they were busy. Your adult self is triggered when your child asks for help, and you are afraid to ask others for help. Your needs were often unmet when you were young; now, as an adult, you find it nearly impossible to ask your partner or anyone else to help you when you need something.
You might then realize how challenging this is for you and how much you resent others when they don’t know what you need. You might also realize you don’t want your children to be afraid of speaking up and asking for what they need. You don’t want them to grow up to be people pleasers.
Once you are aware of and have examined the thoughts and beliefs underneath your triggers, you can devise a plan to change the thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve you.
But What If The Thought Behind The Trigger Is Accurate?
What Do You Do?
You Can Change Your Behavior:
Once you have examined the negative thought about yourself underneath the trigger, you may discover it is accurate. When this happens, it may be time to change your behavior. With intention and persistence, you can change your behavior. Once you change your behavior, you will no longer be triggered because the negative thought is gone, and you increase your self-worth in the process.
How Might You Do This?
Let’s suppose you believe resilience, respect, getting an education, and hard work are essential. These are values you want to instill in your child. When you fail to instill these values in your child, your critical thoughts about yourself may be true. In other words, you may not be teaching them or providing what they need to learn these values.
Parenting is challenging, and some days it takes all of your energy to get food on the table, get them out the door in the morning, and make sure they are in bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep. You end up being chronically exhausted. You don’t have the energy or focus to teach your children these values. You realize these values are essential, and you know you want to help your child learn them. When you neglect to teach your child the values you want for your child, this impacts your self-worth. You may beat yourself up with negative thoughts because you aren’t meeting your expectations.
For example, suppose you value respect but fail to show respect to your child by frequently losing your temper and yelling at your child. Maybe you fail to show respect by interrupting your child and dismissing them when they are trying to tell you something because you are too busy to stop and listen to what they say. Maybe you fail to model respect by talking rudely to your partner or other adults when your child is with you.
Of course, your child triggers you when they reflect disrespect back to you. You may believe you are angry at your child, but in reality, you are mad at yourself for not showing up as the parent you want to be.
Suppose you value resilience but protect your child from experiencing failure. You regularly jump in and fix things for your child rather than teaching them how to problem solve after they experience conflict and failure. Are you constantly correcting your child and not letting them make mistakes? You subconsciously may believe that it is your fault if your child gets hurt, tries something and fails, or has difficulty regulating their emotions as they age.
Why Do Your Child’s “Failures Trigger You”?
In these examples, you realize that you haven’t lived up to your values. When this is the case, it is time to change your behaviors if you want your child to succeed. Changing your behavior takes time and lots of patience and grace for yourself.
How do you begin to change those habits and behaviors that don’t reflect your value and the values you want to teach your child? Start by noticing when you are modeling disrespect to your child, your partner, and others.
Follow These Steps:
- Practice noticing the feelings and sensations in your body that come up when you are triggered.
- Catch yourself and pause before you go into full triggered mode. If you can create a pause between the start of the sensations (stimulus) and the response (yelling), you are interrupting the circuit; If you interrupt the circuit often enough, it will weaken and come apart.
- Interrupt the circuit by putting a hand on your heart, taking a deep breath, blowing it out slowly, and giving yourself some positive self-talk. I’m a good parent; my child is a good kid. I can do this.
Notice when you are modeling disrespect to your child, your partner, and others. Follow the above steps to pause long enough to think about how you can be more respectful in your interactions.
Stop problem-solving for your kids and work with them to teach them problem-solving skills. Letting your child make mistakes and fail helps them learn to tolerate the discomfort of making mistakes. Learning to tolerate discomfort helps them see a challenge as an opportunity to grow and learn something new.
Be Patient. Change Takes Time.
As you slowly make changes and see the positive changes in your child, you begin to respect yourself. When your behaviors align more and more with your values, the triggers start dissipating. When you do everything you can to raise your children to be respectful, resilient, get good grades, and work hard, you will have your self-esteem back, you will be triggered less, and your triggers may disappear.
There will still be times when you are triggered and feel that old, now not-so-familiar rush of negative emotions when you are triggered.
But now, you will understand the thoughts underneath the trigger better, and you can pause and take several “Hot Cocoa” breaths. You can reach for the next better-feeling thought and know that with each step, you are helping
Only you can decide if the thoughts underneath your trigger are accurate or not. When the thoughts are correct, you will need to change your behavior. If the thoughts and beliefs aren’t true and don’t serve you, you can change them.
When you become self-aware, you will notice when the triggering thoughts or beliefs are present. You can decide if you will react with anger or respond using the three steps I outlined. Then you will be free to respond, connect with your child and the people in your life, and align yourself with the values that will serve you and your children.
Everyone has triggers. Before you can get rid of a trigger, you first have to understand why and how they were created. Read our blog post The Secret To Understanding Your Triggers