In this series, we will be covering common triggers that emerge in a parent/child dynamic, and what those triggers are actually revealing so parents can take steps to heal the associated wounds.
What is a trigger? By definition, it is simply the CAUSE before effect. Just like stress can trigger a rash, your child can trigger an emotional response from you.
Now if we stick to the stress rash analogy, we know that stress isn’t the root of the issue. Something also triggered the stress. Let’s say you’re late completing a project at work and this has caused your stress levels to spike, resulting in a rash.
Most people would conclude that if you simply plan better with work projects, it will reduce your stress and therefore cure the rash.
But guess what, the next project comes, and the rash returns. This is because the ROOT pattern has not been addressed, and this is often a band-aid tactic we use when we learn our triggers.
You may be great at identifying your wounds but if you can’t heal them, it keeps you on a hamster wheel of trauma.
In part one of this series, we are addressing the root pattern of unworthiness.
First, let’s talk about some of the ways your child can trigger this wound:
- Your child says hurtful things or tells you they prefer the other parent/parent figure
- Your child throws a tantrum or acts out
- Your child asks for physical affection more than you’re comfortable with
Emotions (effect) that can emerge from these triggers are:
- A feeling of overwhelm
- A feeling of claustrophobia within your body
When my oldest son would get upset with me, he would tell me he wished he lived with his other parent. If I set a rule he didn’t like, he ‘d say I was mean. I would toss all night as I spiraled with the emotions that were stirred up, and that unleashed a flood of thoughts like, “I’m not a good mom,” and “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”
I’d vent to friends, family and my therapist and all they would tell me to do is simply stop taking it so personally. I spent years trying to do this, and it didn’t work, because it wasn’t his words that were the issue, it was what his words were reflecting back to me: I feel I am unworthy.
This is the focal point we need to keep our attention on – it’s not about what my son said to me, it’s not about how I decide to respond, it’s in how those words cause an uproar of pain inside of me to rise to the surface. Depending on your survival mechanisms, your emotional and physical response can vary as shown above, but the root is still the same: unworthiness.
Now let’s string it all together:
My son shared hurtful words, and I experienced guilt, overwhelm, and sadness, which translated in my body as stress and nausea. So why do these words tell me I’m unworthy?
It’s because these words signaled to my psyche that I did not have the capacity to be a good parent and that I did not have the capacity to love him in the way he needed to be.
What this really means, is my parents did not have the capacity to love me in the way that I needed to be loved. Because my emotional needs were not met, my only way to survive was to convince myself that I didn’t need love.
This is where my foundation of love was created- in the perception that I don’t need love, which prohibited me from loving myself in the way that I needed. This resulted in a lifelong external search for that love, not knowing that no one could fill that hole except me.
Feeling unworthy of love can reveal itself in a wide range of coping mechanisms such as hyper-independence, self-sabotage, addiction, and being “low maintenance” or “easy-going.”
But wait a minute, I’m a damn good parent. In fact, in the moments he expressed himself this way, I was nothing but a loving parent, so why does this trigger me still?
Because a trigger isn’t an opportunity for you to pivot the way you parent, it’s the opportunity to parent yourself.
This moment is where you look in the mirror and acknowledge the times in your life when you deprived yourself of love or when you shielded yourself when your needs weren’t met. Allow specific memories to come up. Hug those versions of yourself, and let them know that they served their purpose to get you here, but they are safe now. They can lean into the warm embrace instead of being strong, they can finally release the tension in their body and not feel like a burden for it.
And as you take the time to do this every time this trigger in this occurs, you’ll create more room to respond to your child with love instead of pain. Because even when we are able to mask our feelings with loving words, our children are still watching, and they are witnessing the pain and your resistance to that pain.
When you stop suppressing the wounds being identified you’ll reach an awareness that their emotions at that moment are not yours, and you will then be able to hold space for them.
But not until you hold space for yourself first.
The beauty of this work is that it does not only benefit your parent-child relationship but all relationships and circumstances in which this wound is triggered.
In adult dynamics, unworthiness can look like:
- Not speaking up/saying how you truly feel
- entering romantic relationships with partners who are emotionally unavailable
- pursuing careers and positions that are out of alignment with passions
If you’ve gotten this far and are feeling a lot come up for you, I invite you to use the following mantra:
All the love I’ve ever searched for I already possess
I open my heart and allow the ocean of love of that I am to pour in
My heart will stay open
My tides will roam free
If you enjoyed part one of this series, please stay tuned for the seven more installments. To stay up to date on our articles, subscribe here to receive our weekly round-up.