The ultimate emotion caused by childhood trauma is fear (for example see this research paper). With that in mind, how do we determine what our fears are when we feel triggered by our children? Any gentle parents who have been working through their childhood traumas know that their triggers are caused by their own traumas. This means the anger and frustration is caused by an internal reaction and not by the child’s behaviour concerned. Having progressed hugely on my healing journey, I did still have feelings of frustration at my daughter’s thumb sucking. I realised I had to get the anger out. But how? This blog post helps to release that anger! Once the anger is released, you will feel a newfound love and calmness in the presence of your child instead of feeling triggered.
Why It’s Important to Face Our Child-Related Fears Head On
You only have to search Google for some quotes suggesting how traumatising fear can be. Apply these fears to how you interact and connect with your children and you realise that your triggers are either traumatising your children (if you act in anger towards them, for example), or causing tensions in your connections (if you try to suppress your traumas and in doing so are unable to connect as you’d wish). Some quotes about fear to help motivate you to continue through the below process are included below.
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” Master Yoda. If you drill down to the reason you feel triggered by your child’s behaviour, you realise it follows this theme where you can feel anger and hate, and eventually either you or your child suffers, or both of you do. The real cause of all that anger is fear. Not convinced? Follow the steps under ‘How to face your fears’ below for anything that recently frustrated you about your child. You’ll soon realise how true it is that fear is the cause.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood‘ Marie Curie. This means that if we have discovered we have fear over our child’s behaviour, then we no longer need to fear it, we just need to work out how to understand it. The next section of this post will help with understanding your fears and therefore why your childhood traumas are so triggering.
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do” Henry Ford. I’ll be honest, I worked so hard to try and discover what was causing my triggers towards my daughter (see my post about my daughter’s thumb sucking habit). I kept making steps towards understanding it and would feel better (also see this post with some other progress I made over my childhood traumas), but that improved feeling was always short lived. The anger and frustration over her thumb sucking kept returning. I was searching for a reason as to why I felt this anger, when my little girl was doing nothing wrong. In fact, the reason why is irrelevant and simply understanding what my fear is can help face it. I got to the point of fearing that I would never be able to fix my issues and would just have to stop my daughter’s thumb sucking to cope emotionally. Following the below process, I realised this fear of being unable to fix my issues was untrue.
How to Face Your Fears
They say you must face a fear to feel comfortable in its presence. If we can get to the bottom of our triggers from our childhood traumas, they all are linked to some sort of fears – of the past, present or future. That means we have to face our traumas and fears to be free from them. How we do that is so simple following the below steps.
1. Construct a sentence with ‘If…[insert your frustration]… then…[insert the worst fear of what will happen if you do nothing now]’
Using my daughter’s thumb suking habit as an example:
If… she doesn’t stop sucking her thumb now then… she could still be doing it as an adult.
2. Continue your sentence by using the part of the sentence after your ‘then…’ above but putting ‘if…’ in front instead.
If… she’s still sucking her thumb as an adult, then… she’ll have horse teeth and need a massive brace.
3. Continue the process until you literally can’t think of any more sentences.
If… she has to have a brace, then… she’ll be talked about a lot behind her back
If… she’s talked about a lot behind her back, then… she will feel sad, bullied and ashamed
If… she feels sad, bullied and ashamed then…she’ll not be happy
If… she’s not happy then… she’ll feel how I did as a young adult
If… she feels how I did then…she’ll hate herself as well as her mum and end up in desperate and toxic relationships
If… she hates herself and her mum and ends up in desperate and toxic relationships then… she will wish she had a better mum who stopped her sucking her thumb
If… that happens then… I am not different to my mum and that sucks!!
If… I am not different to my mum which sucks then… I will feel sad and alone and like a failure
If… I will feel sad and alone and like a failure then… I have not succeeded at my important role as a parent
If… I do not succeed as a parent then… I feel so sad for my daughter
4. Take the first part of the first sentence, and link to the second part of the last sentence
Once you’ve gone as far on this journey of coming up with fears as you can, then that last sentence is your final fear.
If…she doesn’t stop sucking her thumb now then I feel so sad for my daughter.
Then sit with this sentence and the theme you’ve followed. Does it feel right? Does it seem a bit extreme in nature? Is the fear likely to be a reality? Simply question the fear and allow yourself to consider it.
5. Start with the first part of the first sentence. Put a then…. But with a positive idea (make anything positive up, you are in charge of the stories you create).
If… she doesn’t stop sucking her thumb now then… she will stop when she is ready.
6. Continue your sentences in a similar way to section 2 but with the words when / then
When… she is ready, then… her life will be so full of fun activities and she won’t think about her thumb
When… her life is full of fun activities then… she will really excel and grow
When… she has excelled and grown then… she will be grateful she was comforted by her thumb as a child and free to grow at her own pace
When… she is grateful to have been able to comfort herself and grow at her own pace then…she will realise how lucky she was to have a mum like me.
Then repeat step 4 – take the first part of your first sentence and the last part of your last sentence.
If she doesn’t stop sucking her thumb now she will realise how lucky she was to have a mum like me.
This was my genuine answer following this process, and aww even I have to admit this last sentence is exactly what my aim is for being the mother of my children. It puts everything into perspective. Love my daughter for sucking her thumb, because that will make her lucky to have a Mum like me… Nothing hits your head and heart as much as a strong sentence like that.
Summary of The Steps for Facing Fears Caused by Childhoods Traumas
All of the above on a first read may seem like a lot of work. But trust me, it isn’t that much work if you’ve spent a long time worrying about your triggers and frustrations. This process for releasing fears truly works! Pinpointing your frustration to what’s the worst that could happen… all the way down until you can’t think of any more worries… gives you your ultimate anxiety about a situation of behaviour in your child. Transforming this anxiety into a positive version, by redoing the steps and adding a positive spin on the outcomes, creates a truly heartwearming scenario. Finally, you and your brain can take time to process these. You’ll realise, hold on, I don’t want to be like my Mum in this scenario. The best way to do that is to allow them to do that triggering behaviour in the present. Suddenly thumb sucking seems adorable, and not remotely triggering.
As a side point, I think you’ll know which behaviours you are triggered by and which are boundaries. See my post about the importance of boundaries too. A boundary, such as not hitting another person, is something which may be triggering too but ultimately does need to be gently stopped for safety reasons. However, your triggered reactions to the boundary may also need to be dealt with through the fear process above so that you can remain calm and gentle in holding the boundaries. A trigger, such as my daughter’s thumb sucking, is not hurting anyone or anything else. This behaviour therefore does not need to be gently stopped, but my fears about it needed to be gently released. That’s why the above steps really help with understanding the frustrations I was feeling.
I am hugely grateful to Visible Child for their ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ activity which inspired the above. For further reading, here is a link to their blog post.