Triggers are inevitable, especially as a mother. Striving to get through motherhood as a Zen Master is unrealistic. Every day you are bombarded with situations that can send a rippling sensation throughout your body, resulting in you ‘flipping your lid’ (i.e., losing your mind). The motivation is not about avoiding triggers (that is an impossible task), but rather, it is about learning what to do in the moment.
Knowing, through practice, that we are empowered to handle inner crisis we develop confidence and a healthy mind. Granted, humans seem to struggle with engaging in activities or behaviours that will foster health.
While my children were young I thought that I needed to learn how to embody the state of being experienced by meditation gurus; someone who could handle all the stressful circumstances that were happening around me with ease and equilibrium. I often felt like a failure every time I lost my temper and went from 10 to 100 in a blink of an eye. Thankfully we can repair. I spent a lot of time repairing my relationship with my children, reminding them that Mama is human and makes mistakes, and it is not about them. I brought them in closer, held them, and loved them.
That said, I didn’t want to live in a chronic state of ‘flipping my lid’ and I knew that I was responsible for how I reacted to external circumstances. Further, I recognized that how I was responding to present moment situations were informed by my past experiences. My past informed my present. Current challenges inspired a quest to dig. I went searching for what was really bothering me. This act has become second nature to me, but it had a starting point. I am reminded that it is never too late to start.
The other day I was triggered, really triggered, and I noticed that my system was moving into overreaction. I knew that I needed to catch it before it got the best of me. After de-escalating my activated nervous system that was pounding, pulsing, and enraged, I wrote down exactly what I did so I could share it with you (without sharing the personal details of the experience).
When you are about to lose your mind, you may want to try the following:
Notice that you are activated.
Pay attention to the sensations in your body, the thoughts swarming, the emotions presenting, and the actions you ‘want’ to engage in. Reminding the ‘self’ that what is occurring is a patterned response. Most likely it feels familiar and old.
e.g., I always know something is off when I want to attack my significant other and when I want to rage or pick a fight. I also know something is off when I feel generally irritated or ungrounded.
Pay attention to the emotions you are experiencing.
Name the emotion(s) and notice how they feel in your body. Remember emotions in and of themselves are not the enemy. They are chemical reactions that are flooding your system. Be curious about how they feel and move through your body. When we resist feeling them, we constrict and make them worse. Think of water and fluid movement. You may want to consider adding this phrase: I can feel (blank) and I will be okay or nothing bad is happening.
e.g., I feel anger in my body. I experience sadness. I am noticing fear. I am shaking. Can you see that I have used words like: feel, notice, experience. When we do this, we create distance from the emotions so that we can learn to tolerate it with mindful attention.
Get it on paper.
Seriously. Write it all down, as it flows. This is not about writing something fluid or cohesive, this is about writing down all the mumble jumble that is filling your mind. Write until it is all out.
e.g., I hate them. I am mad. I wish they would be different. I hate feeling this way. I feel judged. I am annoyed. I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. Constantly giving, I can’t give anymore. Scream on paper. I am trapped. This will never change. It is not supposed to be this way.
Choose the scenario that is most upsetting to you in this moment.
Something most likely happened that triggered you or set you off. See if you can scan your day or week, and pay attention to what might have been the trigger. Often it is not the ‘thing’ that caused you to flip your lid. It likely occurred earlier and was building.
e.g., Something felt off when that mom, at mom’s group, asked me a question about my baby’s sleep schedule. I felt charged about that in the moment.
Ask yourself: What about this situation/scenario bothers me the most?
e.g., I didn’t like the tone she used. I felt belittled. I felt cornered. I don’t like talking about sleep. The way she asked it, the words she used, the comments.
Check the story you are telling yourself (your perception) about the scenario.
What is the loud stressful thought you are telling yourself? If it is about them, what is it that bothers you most about what the other did? And, ask yourself this important question: What does this mean about me as a person?
e.g., When the mother asked me about my baby and sleeping, I felt threatened by the question. I thought to myself, am I doing it all wrong? Should my baby be doing something different? It is none of your business, but really, I felt put off about it.
Therefore, I feel inadequate as inadequate as a mother. If my baby is not sleeping as recommended by (blank) then that means I am incompetent as a mother. Go one step deeper. If I believe that I am incompetent as a mother, then that means what about me as a person: I am a bad mother. And when I believe that I am ‘a bad mother’ I feel what? Shame, anger, despair, terror?
Ask this question: What part of me believes that I am (fill in the blank).
What part of me feels this way? Why am I believing I am (fill in the blank)? How long has this ‘feeling’ or ‘perception’ been with me, is it familiar? What am I most afraid of? You may want to consider using TheWork.com at this point to question this deep core belief.
Look for evidence to counter the perception/negative belief.
Find all the ways to challenge the statement you came up with (e.g., I am a bad mother or I am inadequate). Keep writing down or speaking, with conviction, all the ways that this belief is untrue.
e.g., I am doing my best. I love my children. I am not defined by other people’s opinions of me. I am finding my way. I am competent. Motherhood is hard, but worth it. I am allowed to make mistakes. My kids sleep on their own schedule. I am following my intuition. I am loved.
How am I/have I not been showing up for myself?
What do I need more of? Less of? What would be a kind nurturing thing I can do for myself? What have I been ignoring? What do I need to do to feel more confident, strong, capable?
Remind yourself that it is never about the other person or situation, it is always about you.
This is often a tough concept to swallow. It tends to be interpreted as ‘where we place blame’. We cannot resolve anything by focusing outside of our self; we must drop inwards. We cannot control the other – what they say, how they say, what they do. The situation itself may have been inappropriate and yet, how we make sense out of the situation/incident is within our control. We can use the challenging stressful situations in our life to provide us with information about where we are challenged and stuck internally. It is okay to be activated by an external circumstance. And, it is empowering to do something about the activation. Raging is a reaction, not a response. It tells us that something about the circumstance was extremely challenging and it generated an enormous amount of internal distress, that resulted in the perception and action of ‘losing your mind’.
In consideration of the scenario that had pushed me over the edge, and after spending 30 minutes engaged with the above steps, my whole being softened, regained equilibrium and offered insight into aspects of myself that were needed to be tended to. Perhaps, such a list feels daunting or unmanageable. I get it, it is another prescription to add to the to-do list. It takes a willingness and a want to do something about our discomforts and challenges. Perhaps begin by implementing one step – begin by noticing that you are triggered. This may be just what is needed to calm down your system so that you do not flip your lid.