Why triggers are gold dust - parenting and resolving the past
This week we are taking a look at “triggers” or “triggering”. It is a phrase that is used a lot in therapy and actually you hear it a lot outside of therapy too now. You may hear “…that triggered me,” or “…I found that triggering,” but what does it actually mean?
In therapeutic terms, when we talk about triggering what we are saying is that something in the present has evoked or elicited feelings or emotions that are actually to do with a past traumatic experience. A trigger is your limbic system bringing to your attention something from the past that has not had the opportunity to be fully resolved: emotions and feelings that have not been integrated that your brain is reminded of by something in the present.
To give you an example, if someone had experienced childhood sexual abuse, very often if they went for a medical procedure or had an appointment at the dentist (another really common trigger), those situations could elicit a variety of responses. They might feel that same feeling of powerlessness: the feeling of having something done to them. They might feel very vulnerable and out of control and fearful. It’s easy to understand in this particular example how an unrelated situation in the present can feel similar to a past traumatic situation.
So how can parenting be triggering? Our own children can be the biggest trigger for us in terms of accessing past, unresolved emotional issues and trauma. This is one of the major things that makes parenting such emotional and often hard work. This week, I shared an article that had been shared by Hand in Hand on their Facebook page that talked about triggering. It focused more on toddlers and older children, but I want to look at the triggers from those very early days of being a parent with a newborn baby.
For all of the reasons that we already know, having a new baby is lovely but it can be really hard work. Emotionally, it can feel destabilising for people (both Mum and Dad) and they can have feelings come up that they really don’t understand. They don’t know where these feelings are coming from.
Being a newborn is such a critical time in any human being’s life. There isn’t any other time in our lives when we are so vulnerable, so needy, so powerless. For some of us, having our own newborn takes us back. Not in a conscious way, but in our subconscious mind it takes us back to that time in our own lives. Maybe when we were crying and our cries were not heard, or we were hungry and we didn’t always get fed when we needed to be fed. That level of need; when it is not met it can leave us with feelings of shame for being that needy and vulnerable. It can leave us feeling angry, either because our needs were not met or angry at ourselves for even having those needs. We may hold guilt about feeling anger towards our Mum and Dad upon whom our survival depended and whom we are biologically programmed to love. There is a real complexity of different and conflicting emotions.
Sometimes, during those very early days of parenthood, people can experience sudden eruptions of anger. The anger within them may just bubble up and they don’t really understand why. They know it is not quite to do with their baby, who they love and adore, but they know they are having this strong, powerful feeling of rage that they didn’t feel before. Other times, it may evoke feelings of extreme anxiety. Those feelings can be to do with remembering, in an emotional way via the limbic system, a distant memory of how it felt to not have their needs met.
This is interesting because for us to access the memory and feeling of that early newborn time in our adult lives is like trying to travel back to a past life! It is so far away in terms of how our brain compartmentalises and stores memories that it is almost unreachable. Then you have this baby, your own child, and it is like a shortcut straight into these memories and feelings. However, they often come out in a very abstract way.
I think this is something that we don’t really talk about because there is an expectation that when you have a baby it is supposed to be this lovely time, and it is a lovely time, but we don’t really talk openly about the negative feelings that we have. And if we do talk about them, we don’t seem to be able to relate them back to our own history.
I see lots comments on the topic of triggers that recommend avoiding triggering situations. That can be true for some types of triggering, but actually in terms of parenting, those triggers are like gold dust. It is such a brilliant opportunity. It may be the only opportunity that you have of accessing these nuggets or pockets of unresolved emotional trauma. If you start to notice them and tune in. If you start to become aware of your feelings. If you start to notice and observe them and think about them in relation to the past. Even if it doesn’t particularly make sense to you. Even if you don’t remember feeling that way or it doesn’t fit into the story that you know of your life. If you can just start entertaining the possibility that maybe this might be related to how you felt or might be related to an early experience: it starts to open up and your mind starts to process, resolve and integrate.
That is really what we are doing in Analytical Hypnotherapy. We are processing those feelings, finding where they have really come from, and enabling them to be integrated and discharged. Parenting can be really hard and very emotional work. If you are parenting with a backlog of unresolved emotions from your own past it just makes it so much harder. It is amazing how when you clear that stuff and allow yourself to process those feelings and recognise where they really are coming from, how much easier parenting becomes. It enables you to parent from your adult self, as opposed to parenting from your fearful child self.
If you have any questions, struggling with something and not sure about the best approach or how Analytical Hypnotherapy could help then email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook @KirstyWickHypnotherapy. You can also find lots of information on my website www.kirstywick.co.uk.
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