Triggers are a perennial issue, and something that I discuss with my clients often. They are also very common but can cause such anguish (and even isolation) that I wanted to normalise the experience and share some insights to help any parent.

What are triggers? 

Triggers can be any action, words, or experience that awakens in us strong feelings. Essentially, they are a reaction to a past event or trauma: we are being reminded on a primal level of something from a long time ago when we didn’t feel safe, which then mobilises our whole system (our body, mind and heart). This doesn’t always need to be a problem, but when we are under-resourced and dysregulated, we tend to react unfavourably and don’t respond healthily to the trigger.

What is a healthy response anyway? 

Of course, it depends on how each person defines ‘healthy’. As a working mum, I know that I’m under a lot of stress. That can mean I react rather than respond, and ‘healthy’ response doesn’t even come into it. This may, in turn, result in me thinking, “I wish I hadn’t done that”, “I’m an idiot”, or “I’m a terrible mum”, or “I’m messing up my kids”. None of which are actually true.

For me, a healthy response means following my ARSE…..

1. Awareness 

Two essential steps in managing your emotional response are to develop your awareness and notice the triggers. Recognising triggers involves a heightened self-awareness of both physical and emotional cues indicating a stressful or triggering situation. How might this manifest itself?

Start by asking yourself “Where can I feel this in my body? What am I thinking and feeling?” For example, your jaw might be clenched. Often, stress and frustration can manifest in the jaw area. The act of clenching the jaw is a physical response to inner tension. Much like feeling a constriction or heaviness in the chest – another common physical manifestation of stress.

One of the primary emotions associated with triggers is anger. This emotion can be intense and immediate, colouring perceptions and reactions.  But be aware it might not always be anger, as it often masks other emotions.

What is typical is that triggers often result in negative thought patterns, which then compound the emotional response. We might even start to apply that negative thought to our child even, by as labelling them as ‘terrible.’ So it is really important we start to notice and understand the triggers and our response to them.

2. Responsibility 

Taking responsibility is particularly crucial if my reaction involves someone else, especially my children. Now I can say “it’s me, not you”. I want them to understand that they haven’t caused this behaviour. It’s not their fault. Their behaviour (or your mother-in-law’s or your partner’s, etc.) might be the trigger, but they aren’t responsible for how I respond. I am responsible. Remember, we can’t change anyone else’s behaviour, only our own. And in fact, this can be a great moment to model to your child, mother-in-law or partner, how to handle things differently and what taking responsibility for yourself can look like.

3. Story 

What is the narrative behind this? What drives that trigger?  What is the story in our head when we are in those triggered moments? Mine can often be, “My kids don’t listen, they’re terrible children, they have no appreciation or respect for me, they don’t respect me because I’m not good enough”. Often, any trigger comes back to my age-old story of “I’m not good enough.” When I was young, respect was something that I actually associated with fear and powerlessness.

So, what’s a new story you can tell yourself?

For me, I know it will start with the fact that respect doesn’t equate to my self-worth and isn’t related to powerlessness. For me, knowing what story you tell yourself so you don’t pass that on to your kids and create generational trauma is, in itself, incredibly empowering.

4. Empower yourself – Dig into your toolkit 

Find what brings you back from being powerless to powerful.

Is it walking away, screaming into a pillow, deep breathing, or something else?

Everyone is different, so it’s essential you try different things and find what works for you. All the tools in the world won’t help until you have awareness and understand your stories better. And then, at the end of it all, be kind to yourself. When we are kinder to ourselves and well-resourced, we will respond rather than react.

The main takeaway from this is – if I don’t say this enough already is, “self-care, self-care, self-care” and ensure YOUR needs are being met. And if they aren’t, just yet, then to have followed your ARSE is a win that deserves a big dose of self-love and makes you pretty bloody brilliant.

I hope you can take that message into your parenthood journey.

And if you feel like you might need some support with that, drop me a line.

Hannah Porteous-Butler is a parent and maternity coach supporting her clients with life transitions brought about by parenthood.  She specialises in career and relationship change and returning to work after a career break/parental leave. A trained neuroscience coach, Hannah takes a holistic approach to her work, delivering long lasting results with the ultimate outcome of helping clients create healthy family dynamics. Please get in touch via Hannah’s profile page