Raising little humans is an honor, no doubt. But let’s get real: parenting can get exhausting. And at times, we find ourselves in situations where we allow our emotional triggers to take the wheel.
We know good and well that our children don’t truly deserve our outbursts. So what can we do when we feel triggered?
Rhea Lalla, conscious parenting and relationship coach, has a solution. In a conversation on The Mindvalley Podcast, she sits down with Vishen, founder of Mindvalley, and she covers these incredibly important points:
Now, let’s explore how to navigate your emotional response with a sense of awareness.
What Are Emotional Triggers?
A trigger is something that sparks an emotional response. To put it simply, it’s “a throwback to an archaic trauma that feels like it’s happening in the present,” according to Rhea.
When your child’s throwing tantrums, you may react in annoyance. Or when they’re crying, you may angrily tell them to “stop being a baby.” Or your teen isn’t complying with your request to put their phone away and you guilt trip them with an “if you love me…” comment. These are all examples of emotional triggers.
Common triggers for parents
While each parent is unique in their reactions to certain situations, there’s a list of emotional triggers that are quite common:
- Relentless crying
- Constant whining
- Incessant tantrums
- Passive resistance or disobedience
- Fighting amongst siblings
But why, oh why, do we get flustered and react this way?
In the podcast episode, Rhea explains, “Any time we withdraw, we feel hurt, we feel angry, we feel unsafe or insecure — it tells us that we have a wound that needs to be healed.”
What we tend to forget is that children are still figuring out their big emotions. (Heck, we, as adults, often have that problem, too.)
So instead of being calm and supportive, we sometimes find ourselves responding in irritation, exasperation, anger, or rage.
More than likely, these reactions are our own defense mechanisms in order to lessen our emotional discomfort.
Are Emotional Triggers Important?
The sense of self-regulation isn’t innate; it’s a learned skill. And being able to pick up on them gives you the opportunity to deal with them early, which then brings about good emotional health.
Take Vishen for example. He shares a time when there was a particularly scary situation and he was told not to cry. “An older person in my family yelled at me for crying and told me that I was behaving like a baby,” he recollects.
That childhood trauma planted the notion in his mind that crying equals weakness. “Every time I cried, even if it was something worth crying for, like a death of a loved one, as an adult male, I felt that I wasn’t being a man,” he adds. “So I suppressed my emotions for the longest time.”
Traumatic events, unfortunately, are not uncommon. A 2019 report on childhood trauma by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 60% of American adults experienced at least one adverse childhood experience — abuse, neglect, and all other potentially traumatic experiences — in their youth.
If not dealt with, though, it can lead us to pass it down to our own children, who may pass it down to theirs.
Now, while being triggered emotionally may not be ideal, it gives you cues that something has rocked the boat. As a result, it can help you better understand how to cut the generational trauma, how to create healthy, authentic connections with your children, and what you need to do to lead a healthy and happy life.
How to Manage Emotional Triggers
Here’s the thing: it’s not the situation that causes our emotional triggers. It’s our thoughts about the situation that does so.
In fact, intrusive thoughts and memories can come flooding in at any given trigger, according to trauma-informed care protocol by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
When it happens, it can be highly disruptive. And they get in the way of our ability to positively parent our children.
The good news is that in her conversation with Vishen, Rhea shares how to manage emotional triggers with 10 powerful self-regulating practices you can do. Here’s a brief summary of that:
#1: Identify your emotional triggers
As the saying goes, “knowing is half the battle.” When you’re able to identify your triggers, you’re in a much better position to bring your consciousness to the present moment instead of reverting back to the traumatic event.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Write down what your top three emotional triggers are. What are the things that cause you to feel the most upset and the most thrown off balance?…
Then, you can get a very good insight into what are the things that piss you off and drive you crazy and use that as a springboard to try and understand yourself.”
#2: Notice your body’s reactions
Our body has a defense mechanism when it senses that we may be or are in danger — it’s known as the ‘fight or flight response. It causes us to shut down and conserve energy.
So with trauma, our bodies can react in physical ways, such as muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, or even fatigue.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Your body is going to give you an indicator that ‘I’m feeling triggered right now.’ And you want to be able to catch it before you say a whole bunch of things that create a whole bunch of mess that you have to clean up.”
#3: Name the trigger
More often than not, those who have trouble making sense of their emotions can end up being a slave to them. Naming your trigger is about understanding what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. It’ll help you make sense of the emotion you’re feeling.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “The mere fact of naming [your trigger] takes you out of your amygdala-hijack reptile brain and into the here-now. So you’re literally going from your earliest brain to your higher-thinking brain simply by naming it.”
#4: Own your feelings
Our minds have a way of rejecting uncomfortable feelings, like sadness, guilt, or fear. But suppressing your emotions may lead you down a dark alley.
Instead, practice accepting your feelings without judgment. It’ll help improve your emotional regulation, emotional balance, and lead to fewer mood swings.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Make sure that you’re not doing any shame, blame, or make wrong for whatever feeling you’re feeling.”
#5: Give yourself some space
Reactive responses can get out of control and turn destructive, possibly leading to tension in your relationship with your children. Regardless of what causes you to be emotionally triggered, it’s how you handle it that matters the most.
One of the tips the American Psychological Association recommends, particularly when you get angry, is to give yourself a break. It suggests scheduling some ‘personal time,’ especially when you’re stressed out.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “You might want to take a little time out for yourself so that you can be able to regroup and go through the completion of that sine wave of the feeling.”
#6: Regulate your nervous system
We can’t really control our feelings or the thoughts that pop into our heads. However, we can control what we do with them. That’s the basis of self-regulation — it allows you to manage your emotions and behaviors before acting on them.
But as previously mentioned, self-regulation isn’t an innate skill. It’s something that we learn (or should learn) from our own parents.
If we got hurt in any way, they’d help us calm our nervous system and make sense of the confusing, baffling experience. And as we move into adulthood, we’d have that skill to understand what to do when we get hurt and how to calm ourselves down.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “You want to be able to regulate your nervous system so this is where you’re using all the tools that you’ve amassed. And if you don’t feel you have good tools then now’s the time to start building them on.”
#7: Be aware of your self-talk
Self-talk is your internal monologue made up of a combination of your conscious thoughts with your beliefs and biases. The words you use have a powerful impact on your mind and can change the way you feel about anything, including yourself.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Make sure you have a very supportive inner voice that is advocating for you, that is reminding you of your magnificence, that is reaffirming to you.”
#8: Look at things from different perspectives
While self-talk is about the internal, perspective is about the external. Looking at things from the perspective of your child challenges you to respond rationally and calmly. And understanding their perspective reduces the chance of conflict.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Perspective taking can allow [you] to look at what this person’s intentions are and then, now recognize ‘Okay, I got triggered by what they said, but I’m bringing something to this story. I’m creating a story here.’”
#9: Seek the source of the trigger
Like getting medicine to treat a physical symptom, it will only solve what’s on the surface. It’s possible for those symptoms to arise again or get worse.
But the problem derives from somewhere. So to solve it, first find its source. Ask yourself where the trigger comes from, what story you’re telling yourself, and what belief you’re holding on to.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “Seek the source, like track the trigger’s origin….My advice to everybody would be to know yourself.”
#10: Seek help from a coach or therapist
A professional coach or therapist can help guide you down a path of healing. Using coping tools and strategies, they’ll help you address your traumas and emotional triggers with a greater degree of awareness, so that you’ll be more resilient to future challenges.
Insight from Rhea Lalla: “If there’s some particular trauma that you want to work through,…seek some coaching with a therapist or a coach so that you can work through these feelings.”
Great Change Starts With You
As a parent, learning to recognize your triggers can give you the awareness and freedom to choose how you react emotionally to your children. When those particular feelings start to arise, you can take steps to calm yourself and react rationally instead of all hell breaking loose.
And if you need help to get you there, you can always turn to Mindvalley. As a Member, you have full access to resources that can help you through this life adventure called parenthood.
You can check out interactive live talks, like the one with Rhea Lalla. You can join Quests, like Conscious Parenting Mastery with Dr. Shefali Tsabary where you can learn to shift your parenting paradigm in order to shape a better future for your children. And best of all, there’s also the Mindvalley Tribe where you can find other parents facing similar challenges, truly confirming that you really are not alone.
So here’s to you, parents. Here’s to raising confident, authentic children.