In our last post, we talked about how most of us have some old emotional baggage that no longer serves us. Unfortunately, if we don't resolve those issues, we take them out on our children.
That's because when we get triggered by the past, we lose our conscious connection to what matters in the present moment. So we say and do things that we would never do if we weren't triggered.
So instead of supporting our children to work through their normal childhood issues and emotions, we add a layer of shame and blame. Instead of calming the storm and creating a safe haven, we end up escalating the drama. And we pass our unresolved emotional baggage on to our children, who will carry it for the rest of their lives.
Luckily, there's a better way. You can heal those old triggers. It's not easy and it takes courage -- but it's simple. Here's the secret.
NOTICE the FEELING,
but RESIST TAKING ACTION.
Instead, HOLD YOURSELF WITH LOVE,
and JUST ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL.
It's that simple. All those actions we take when we're triggered take us down the wrong path. We leap to action or conclusion to avoid feeling those emotions. But once we allow ourselves to feel an emotion, it begins to evaporate. (By contrast, as long as we're pushing the emotion away or running from it, it keeps pestering us to be felt. We're doomed to lug it around with us until we get the message.)
Of course, when you allow yourself to feel any emotion you've been avoiding, it probably won't feel good. But you can handle that, because you're not a child any longer. The emotions may feel dangerous, but they aren't. You're an adult, and you can love yourself through it. You can do hard things! And if it feels too scary and you want support, no shame, no blame. You can always find the support you need to help you do hard things.
Here's your blueprint to heal a trigger.
1. Get yourself as centered as possible.
Imagine a place where you feel completely safe. Let that safety soak into your being. Remember three things you're grateful for, which will increase your sense of well-being and inner resourcefulness. Fill yourself with love and compassion. Surround yourself with light. Your goal here is to start from a place of safety, which keeps you from getting re-traumatized by those feelings.
2. Now, think of the recent event that triggered you.
You don't need to know what the old trigger was, just think of the recent event that set you off.
3. Resist the urge to rehash the story of what happened.
Noticing the feeling does NOT mean getting all tangled up in the story line and your judgments about what happened. Thinking about the story of what happened will just mire you in the muck. We feel emotions in the body. So noticing the feeling means noticing the sensation in your body.
4. How does that feel in your body?
Recall the way your body felt during the recent event that set you off. For instance, maybe your child screamed at you and your body cringed. Maybe your child rebuffed your hug and you felt frozen inside. Maybe your child cried and your body mobilized as if it were an emergency, with every nerve taut.
Just notice where you felt discomfort in your body. Breathe into those places.
Notice that as your body feels these sensations, it doesn't feel safe. You may want to run (flight) or eat something (freeze) or call someone to tell them off (fight). Resist all that. When you want to jump up and check your phone, don't. When you feel an urgent need to clean the kitchen, don't.
Just keep breathing. Give yourself a hug and keep noticing the way that sensation feels in your body. As you allow yourself to feel it, the sensation will change.
5. Simply observe.
If you can stay in your observer self, it keeps you from getting hijacked by the emotions. When we observe the sensation from the calm, safe perspective of our conscious adult self, it begins to evaporate. The key is helping ourselves feel safe during the discomfort by consciously extending love and compassion to ourselves.
6. Give yourself an antidote.
For instance, if you got triggered and screamed in your child's face, and now you're remorseful and terrified that you've damaged her for life, maybe your antidote is "She's okay. I can repair this with her. I'm a good parent." Imagine your child, happily smiling at you. (Your imagination is powerful. You're programming your subconscious for repair.)
Every time you do this process, you diminish the emotional charge of that trigger. The next time this same old trigger is activated by some new event, you'll notice that it has less power. Eventually, you'll be able to stay calm in the face of an event that would once have triggered you.
As you experience these old emotions, you're calming your reaction to stressors that come up in the present day. You're also healing the old event that created the trigger. Scientists don't yet know for sure, but it seems that by deactivating the emotional charge, you allow your brain to finally process the old memory. So if your old trigger was being yelled at by your parent, you may still remember your parent screaming at you, but your takeaway will be that your parent was having a hard time, not that you were unlovable. You'll feel understanding for your parent, and compassion for yourself as a child, instead of shame. Your takeaway will be an ability to stay more calm when your child is upset.
I think of this as shining the light of consciousness on the memories that we've pushed into the dark basements of our psyches. Simply shining our own loving awareness into the shadows melts them away. One by one, we process the memories, remove the charge from the triggers, and they resolve. They no longer pop up to derail us as we go through life. When we unpack our old baggage like this, we feel so much lighter, happier, less anxious, able to stay calm. And our children don't have to carry it.
Are all triggers from childhood? No, of course not. Traumas can happen to us throughout life. But the childhood traumas are usually the ones with the most power, because that's the time when we're most easily overwhelmed by our emotions. And many of the traumas we experience in later life are re-enactments of our earlier traumas, that we seem to create in the subconscious hope that they'll give us a chance to heal.
You may be thinking that it will take your entire life to heal your triggers. And you're right. This is the work of a lifetime. But don't worry. The good news is that every step you take makes you feel better. Every time you feel those big emotions but resist acting on them by lashing out, you do some healing of that trigger and reduce its power. Over time, those triggers get deactivated.
The even better news is that healing your triggers makes it easier to choose love with your child. And every time you choose love with your child, you touch your child's heart in a deep way. You strengthen your relationship. Your child gets easier to parent. And you send positive ripples into the world that will play out for generations.
Want some extra support to do this work? Don't miss the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook!
"Dr. Laura Markham taps into fascinating brain science, meditation and mindfulness practices to help parents heal themselves and be more peaceful. With exercises, practices and reflections, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook provides wonderful support to parents. Dr. Markham inspires parents to believe that they can grow into the best version o themselves." -- Melissa Hood, Author of Real Parenting for Real Kids