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What are we really reacting to?




My daughter and I had a bit of a rough morning. She went into her room, sat on the bed and started reading. I walked in after her.


"Hey" I started "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine" she said with a shrug, then turned her back to me.

I asked another question but she didn't even look up from her book.


I literally felt my blood boil. Luckily I had enough in me to not respond to anything there and then, and instead I walked out of the room, out of the house and sat in the grass.


As I breathed and allowed the intense upset to move through my body, I was left with this question: What was that about?


This was a few years ago now, and the two questions that helped me move through this particular trigger (and multiple others) were:


In hindsight, was my reaction a bit out of proportion? Or, you know, a lot?


We had a moment.

She said she was fine.

She didn't feel like talking, perhaps.


Was my blood pressure shooting through the roof a "proportionate" reaction to that?


And while I am not a fan of quantifying emotions, reactions or responses to emotional events, I also believe that if I notice my reaction as being "a bit much", it is an important thread to follow.


And to help myself in following that thread, I ask the next question:


Does this seem familiar?


It's not always easy to recognise that what we are reacting to is, in fact, not exactly what is right here in front of us. Dr Andrew Wong of Somatopia suggests that when there is a fracture in relationship about 10% is about what is going on here, between us, right now, and the rest is leftover stories from the past - which sometimes have nothing to do with the person standing here in front of us right now.


To make matters more complex, our children's behaviours often trigger a reaction in us not because of what is going on right now, but because what they are doing right now, reminds us of something about the way we were parented.


My mother's reaction to me saying or doing something that she found challenging (I imagine) was silence. Sometimes it was short, sometimes it was longer. And during those periods, everything was "fine".


Silence can be filled with many things, especially when that silence signals a fracture in your significant relationship, without a clear way through it.

It can be terrifying.

It can be infuriating.

It can feel powerless.

It can be filled with so many stories of what's wrong.


As my daughter sat there in silence and shrugged with "I'm fine", my nervous system was immediately taken back to that place. But I didn't recognise it straight away, it had to happen a few times, and I had to consciously start exploring it.


As I recalled these instances, I asked myself whether it seemed familiar.

It took a while to find that familiarity.

Writing and sitting with the discomfort helped a lot.


My nervous system does not respond well to silence and to "it's fine".

I learnt that by noticing my own reactions to my child's silence and her "it's fine".


I asked myself what this reminded me of.

I asked myself what I felt in the moment, and what it was that I needed.

And slowly, bit by bit, a picture began to emerge where what I was reacting to was my own fear of a fracture in relationship with my own mum.

And my own fury and helplessness around that relationship, that had nothing to do with my daughter, only that she gave me an opportunity to move through it.


And slowly, bit by bit, I was able to recognise that and spend enough time with that voice, so that it was heard and held.

And slowly, bit by bit, my daughter's silences stopped triggering me.

Right now I have a feeling they disappeared. But it might be just my impression.



If you notice yourself triggered by your child's behaviour, are you able to slowly and gently walk back to the beginning of that thread?

Does it remind you of something?

Does it feel familiar?

Are you sure it is your child that you're triggered by right now?


It is definitely not easy.

And it is so very worth it.

As always, we start with ourselves.

With care,

Anna


***

An incredible resource for anyone parenting with a history of childhood trauma, is the work of Elizabeth Corey.


A touching, powerful interview with Elizabeth Corey on Janet Lansbury's podcast can be found HERE.


If you're struggling with anger in your parenting journey, know you're not alone! If you're looking for tools to help you feel your anger, without reacting to it join me on the 6th edition of my live online course Parenting through Anger



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