My Toddler Triggered Me

Recently, I learned that a mom left her toddler––without warning, she just walked out and disappeared. My heart ached as I prayed for this mom and her baby. I know some of you might ask, how can a mom do that? But I understand.

When my daughter was 15 months old, I wanted to run away and fast. I didn't know why. All I knew was that I couldn't take it anymore. The demands and pressures of life placed on me were too much.

When I finally told my husband that I needed a break, I was at my breaking point. Initially, he wasn't hearing me.

I cried out to God, and the answer came through a friend. She offered their timeshare on the island of Kauai for a getaway. But unfortunately, TP was too busy with work to take leave.

TP finally heard me when I bought a ticket to leave on my trip. TP told me later that my behavior scared him. He wasn't sure I was coming back.

Before leaving, I stopped by the commissary (military grocery store) for some snacks and had a meltdown at the cashier. She touched my hand as my tears flowed and urged me to take that break before it was too late. She knew a couple of moms who had left and never returned home. I thank God for her compassion and understanding.

What I didn't realize at the time was that my toddler had triggered me. Although I had no conscious memory of the abuse, my body remembered.

I was her age when my dad started molesting me. It was like looking into a mirror; she looked so much like me. Unknowingly, I ran away from myself and the shame put on me.

If you suffer from childhood sexual trauma, your children will probably trigger you at some point.

What are Triggers?

Triggers are those things that you have an involuntary negative response to when your child does/says/feels them. It's like an automatic response with powerful emotions attached.

Usually, your reaction is disproportional to the child's behavior, making it hard to understand. For example, the trigger may make you shut down, feel upset/anxious, feel out of control, or want to flee.

How do you parent when triggered?

If you have a history of sexual abuse, knowing the possibility that your child might trigger can be helpful. I felt ashamed of my behavior and kept it to myself. It's important not to allow guilt and shame to cripple you into silence.

Take the time to recognize when you are triggered. Take note when your child's behavior causes you to overreact. Writing it down or recording it might help. Remember, your reaction is not about your child's behavior. You're reacting because of what that behavior means to you from your past experiences.

Talk to other moms. Finding a safe place to talk about your issues helps. Risk being vulnerable. You'll be surprised that you're not alone and other moms are struggling as well. Voicing your triggers can help you see where they're coming from.

Self-Care is important. So often, triggers are about our unmet needs as children. So it's essential to take time for yourself. You don't have to wait for it to get so stressed that you want to run away from your kids as I did. Instead, you can schedule mini-breaks. Exercise and take a walk without the kids, pamper yourself, and find time for friends.

See a therapist. You may need more professional help to find out what triggers you and why.

Survivors have built-up internal pressure from past trauma because we could not process our emotions and release our pain as kids. So instead, we buried them. As a result, those trapped emotions stored in our bodies can explode on our children.

Motherhood is challenging in and of itself. But the pressures of the pandemic accumulated with unresolved trauma can not only overwhelm moms but create a crisis.

Understanding your parent-triggers and the emotions underneath can help you problem-solve instead of losing it on your child.

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