In the silence and darkness of the night I feel that ache in my heart. The one that, every so often, reminds me of things I wish I’d said and done differently throughout that day. The stillness is quiet and peaceful. It’s hard to even imagine how I could lose it. How I could be mean. How I could let them see that flash of anger on my face. To hear it in my words.
Regret. Deep, painful regret.
It’s compounded by that look of pure innocence on their sleeping faces.
Let’s briefly look at two things…
WHY do we do it?
HOW do we stop it?
Obviously a whole book could be written on the varied and potential causes of our thinking and behaviours. As well as the strategies to change those thoughts and behaviours.
WHY DO WE DO IT?
So aside from the hard, “everything is going wrong” kind of day that we all have, why do we lose it to the point of behaving in ways we later regret?
We all have triggers.
“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste”
A certain sound or tone of voice might be a trigger for you. Do loud, or critical, or sarcastic tones trigger you more than what you might expect? Were those same tones used and words said to you when you were a child?
Or perhaps when your child ignores you. Does that trigger an unreasonable reaction in you? Were you often ignored as a child?
Or when everything feels out of control. When your children don’t do what you want them to do, are you triggered? You may have been raised by authoritarian parents that ordered you around, giving you no sense of autonomy, leaving you desperate for some control over what happened to you. As a result, do you still seek to maintain control over your environment and the little people in it?
Does your screaming child that is expressing his/her big emotions trigger uncomfortable, reactionary feelings in you?
This is one of my triggers. As a child, although my parents meant well, messy, uncomfortable, loud emotions were not welcome. Expressing how I felt was not acceptable. I quickly learnt that I felt loved and was perceived as a “good girl” when I was happy, calm and quiet. The result is twofold.
1) I am incredibly triggered by my kids’ big, “negative”, sad and angry emotions. I feel like I need to instantly stop them.
Some things I’ve learned about these healthy emotions:
– I don’t need to and shouldn’t try to stop them.
– It is not my job to stop someone else from having emotions. It does not help them.
– It is my job to simply be with them and hold space for them to feel whatever it is they are feeling, regardless of how loud and messy it is.
– I do not need to fix anything. Nothing is actually broken. Putting this into action has taken lots of self-talk and practise.
2) I am really bad at expressing emotions like anger and frustration appropriately. I hold it in, hold it in, hold it in…then EXPLODE. It might not happen that often, but it happens, more than I’d like it to. Instead of communicating to my husband that I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, irritated, hurt, I try to hold it in and continue on as if everything is fine. This is almost entirely because of my upbringing. Because of that message given to my childhood self that “you are loved and acceptable if you are happy and calm.” Slowly but surely I am learning new ways. We all can.
HOW DO WE STOP IT?
1) Identify and understand the origin of your triggers.
This can bring acceptance and healing. Take note of those things that really trigger and irritate or even cause you to rage. Can you link them back to your own childhood experiences? It’s ok to mourn the childhood experience you should have had. Some people find it helpful to acknowledge the child version of themselves. You can say something to your child self like, “I know you feel overwhelmed and stressed by these kids crying in front of you. You weren’t allowed to have feelings like this and be accepted unconditionally. That wasn’t fair. However, your feelings do matter. Your kids’ feelings matter.”
Now respond to them how you wish your parents had responded to you. While comforting and hugging your kids, you can begin to bring healing to your childhood self also. Slowly, but surely you can heal those wounds and change the way you react. This takes an exceptional amount of mindfulness.
2) Remember that moment between a trigger and your reaction.
There is a small, but powerful, space in between a stimulus and a response. Use it. Use it to breathe, to collect your thoughts, and to actively choose your words or actions. Even if the aligning feelings aren’t there yet. The feelings will eventually catch up as you change words, actions and habits. In that tiny moment, before you react, keep your mouth shut. You may want to rant, shout, scream and unleash an explosion of frustration on your child. With your mouth shut tight suck in some deep breaths mirroring how big your frustration is. Do some self talk. Say in your head, “Breathe deep. This is not an emergency. I can choose peace and non-violent communication.”
3) Resist self-hatred and guilt.
Accept those initial feelings of guilt and regret, then let them go. You want to do better. You eventually will do better. This heart attitude is what counts.
Scott Noelle from The Daily Groove rejects most forms of parental guilt on the grounds that it is largely cultural.
“Our culture conditions people to believe that their worth depends on their behavior, so that when your behavior is “wrong” you doubt your self-worth, i.e., you feel guilty.
But if you knew absolutely that you are worthy of love and respect — unconditionally — you’d never feel guilty. You’d simply feel “off” whenever your behavior was out of alignment with your values.”
Read more about this.
Any minute amount of time you can spend meditating will further assist your state of mind and your ability to pause between triggers and your reactions.
Click here for a simple guide to meditation.
I also recommend headspace.
In conclusion, there are most likely valid reasons for the triggers you have. It is possible to change. During those dark, night time hours of regret…feel that guilt… let it go and then reflect upon your own childhood. Consider if there is any connection between the things that triggered you that day and your own experiences as a young child. This could be the first step to understanding yourself more and to changing those automatic, raging responses you have in some situations. The second step is equipping yourself with the necessary tools to start this process of change. Remember that change can be painful, it can be faltering. That’s ok. Each small step forward, is a step towards a better way and enhanced relationships.