A little below the surface: random triggers

Monday morning. I’m anxious about tomorrow’s meeting, and really unsure if I even want to go to therapy today. But I feel this need to see Bea, to hear her remind me I’m ready, and it will be okay, and I know she isn’t going to ask me to dig into stuff when I have to function like a grown up tomorrow. So, Hagrid and I head into town, park and take a quick walk before heading into Bea’s building and up the stairs to her office. 
As usual, Hagrid beats me to the top of the stairs, and I hear Bea greet him. When I arrive, she smiles and says, “Good morning.” 
I return her greeting, and get comfortable on the couch. For a while, we talk about how I am as prepared as I can be, and Bea reassures me that Kat is okay, that everything in her therapy sessions point to her being okay and working through social stuff, anxieties, but no big scary things popping up. 
After a while, we land on the topic of the ABA tech who is has more challenges with Kat. “She and Kat got into another stand off on Sunday,” I tell Bea. These fights between them really cause me stress, and emotionally drain me. 
“What happened?” 
I explain, how we had all gone on an outing and then the girls were going to do some baking, when Kat lost her cool, screamed, and locked herself in the upstairs playroom. 
“Oh dear. And nothing seemed to trigger it?” Bea questions.
“No. That’s the thing. I couldn’t pin point anything at all. And then Kat wouldn’t come out, and the tech couldn’t stay to wait her out, and Kat came out as soon as she left. It’s just…I don’t know.” I shake my head. I’m frustrated by the whole thing, and I want it to stop. 
“Does she ever do a ‘repair’ with Kat?” Bea asks. 
“No…never,” I say, something slowly dawning on me. 
Bea must see something in my face that peaks her curiosity. “What are you thinking?” 
“I…well, she just pretends everything is fine the next time she sees Kat. Like it’s a blank slate. I don’t know…..it’s really glaringly obvious– that disconnect because of the days between sessions…..but it’s…well, she is like my parents. And that…it’s no wonder why she triggers me.”
“Yes, this makes perfect sense. It would be triggering, because we know how hard those disconnects were……” Bea says. 
“She can’t handle anger…really any bad emotion. But anger….it’s like my parents.” 
Bea nods, and I think she says something validating, but I’m sort of in my own head right now. I’m thinking how confusing that disconnect has to feel to Kat, and how incredibly hard it is to be around someone who can’t handle all feelings, especially when we make a point to teach Kat that all feelings are acceptable. 
Bea asks me something, and I look up at her, confused. She repeats herself, maybe realizing I’m lost. “How did your parents handle anger?”
“It just wasn’t…allowed. I don’t know. Distraction maybe. But more like, well…like…they didn’t.” I shrug, and dig my nails into my palm. “I remember once, getting very angry, stomping off and slamming my bedroom door. And my parents took my door.” 
Bea looks surprised. “You mean took it, right off the hinges?” 
I nod, feeling an urge to giggle at the absurdity of it all. “Yup. They took it. Because I got mad.”
“What did you get mad about?” 
“Hmmm…I don’t know. Really, it couldn’t have been anything serious. I mean, I was standing at the end of the hallway that connected the bedrooms and the living room. And my mom was sitting on the couch, and my dad was in his chair. So it’s not like there was a serious discussion going on. We weren’t at the table.”
“But what you remember was really getting in trouble for being mad,” she says. “That is very much like mad wasn’t allowed.” 
“My brother…he got sent to his room for something, I don’t know what. He was maybe 7, 8? And he was mad. He picked up this toy hammer and hit his mirror so hard it shattered. He didn’t have a mirror…”
Bea interrupts, adding in some humor, “No more mirrors for him? Your mom didn’t want any more than 7 years of bad luck?” 
I laugh, but then I nod. “That room still doesn’t have a mirror, and he’s been moved out for how many years now?” 
Bea shakes her head. “Your mom was serious, huh?”
I nod. “He wasn’t allowed toy hammers anymore, either.” 
“It really felt like you were being punished for being mad. And so of course mad is very hard for you,” she validates. 
I nod, thinking about that. Punished for a feeling. Ugh. 
“What were you saying about serious discussions? Those happened at the table? What kind of serious discussions did your parents have?”
“Oh you know. Grades. College. PSATs. I don’t know. Driving, responsibility.” I shrug. Normal stuff, I think. 
“You got really good grades. What kind of discussions could you be having?” Bea is really curious. 
“I don’t know……you know. Like, why was this grade lower? And how many weeks I had to fix it before grades came out. And the plan to fix it. I don’t know.” 
“Then it wasn’t just unspoken pressure, pressure you somehow sensed, were aware of. It was spoken, discussed, their expectations of you.”
I nod. “But really. I had parents who were involved, who cared. Did I have a right to be upset by that? To complain now? When there are kids who would do anything to have their parents involved like that?” I feel guilty. I really don’t have a right to be this upset. 
“Well, yeah. There is being involved and supportive, and there is being over involved and needing your child to succeed because of your needs. There is a big difference.” Bea tells me a personal story, about her experience of being over involved as a mother. “It’s been repaired now, and my daughter and I are okay, but I was too involved, I needed her to be good at somethings to satisfy my needs, it wasn’t all about her.” 
I love that she will admit to being imperfect, that she will share her screw ups. For a minute, I wish my mom would do that, repair all this mess with me. But then I realize how vulnerable I would feel in that conversation, how scary and unsettling it would be. I feel panicky just thinking about it. I shake my head to clear it. “I’m still afraid I’m doing the same to Kat. I tried so hard not to need perfect, not to show her that perfectionism. And she still is a perfectionist. I’m screwing her up.” I look away as I’m talking. Even if Bea will admit to her parental screw ups, I’m still ashamed to address mine in front of her. 
“You aren’t. You are parenting with self awareness. That’s all any of us can do. And just try to be aware whose needs are running the show.”
I shake my head. “Kat really is still asking things like ‘will you like me if I spill this. If I hit? If I’m grumpy.’ I don’t know….”
“Do you feel like you over react when she spills or does something like that? I have one mom who does, and so we are working on things to make it easier on her.”
I shake my head. “No. Not really. I might be annoyed. Maybe. And I make her clean it up–” I glance at Bea, checking if this is okay, and she nods, yes it’s fine– “I…well, the person I’m mad at..if I spill, I yell at myself. Out loud.”
“It’s perfect to have Kat clean up her mess,” Bea says. “And the rest of it, well, this is where self compassion comes in. Because Kat does hear you being mean to yourself and so she might wonder how you feel about her in similar situations. It comes back to self compassion.”
I nod. “I did finally take her hand, spill some juice and then told her I still liked her.” 
“That’s great, that was a great thing to do,” Bea tells me. She sounds like she means it, too.
“I was just hoping that if she experienced it, she could maybe believe it,” I explain.
Bea nods. It makes sense to her. Our conversation then easily flows from Kat to talking about the meeting, again. 
As we are saying good bye, I pause at the top of the stairs. “I’ll probably email you after the meeting. Just to let you know how it went,” I tell her.
“Please do. I’d like to know what happens,” she says, like it really matters to her.
We say goodbye, and I head home. I have so much to finish up, notes and planning and preparing for this IEP meeting. 
All through that, though, I keep coming back to the reason the one ABA tech is triggering to me: she reminds me of my parents. Maybe I’m not as numb to everything happening with them as I thought.

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14 thoughts on “A little below the surface: random triggers

  1. I wasn’t outright punished, but I was shamed. Or emotionally abandoned. So I can relate, too.

    In fact, right now I’m working on accepting the rage that I felt at my mom for what felt like was her ignoring my pain and not protecting me. She may have needed to be blind to it, in reality, but all I knew was that my mom knew everything (or so it seemed to me as a 2 or 3 year old), I was being hurt, and she wasn’t stopping it. Talk about rage. And talk about something that I couldn’t allow to exist in my world and still function.

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    • Those feelings of anger have to be so huge. How can they not be? I think my parents went the emotional abandonment route, too, at times because they truly could not handle the feelings of that intensity or those “bad” emotions. I don’t know. I just really feel for you, can imagine the anger and hurt that your 2 or 3 year old self has to be feeling. I know that feeling, at least to an extent. It’s how I feel about my mom not seeing, or her leaving me with him so she could go out. It hurt, it felt like being stuck in a big black hole all alone and like she was never coming back and didn’t care enough to be with me, to see me, to keep me safe. Ugh. How does a child allow those things to co-exist? They can’t. So we dissociate, and end up with fragmented, hazy memories; disjointed and oddly shaped puzzle pieces we have to somehow fit together and make sense of. I don’t know. Anyway, thank you for understanding….and I’m sending sage hugs back to you. Xx

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  2. Oh, that milk spilling episode. I can always remember my mistakes. Getting overly upset at my son for spilling something during a time when my rage also overflowed.
    Self-compassion. “It comes back to self-compassion.” Love that.

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    • Why is it we have our mistakes almost branded into our memories, but the good things are so easy to forget? That anger….even when it (rarely) comes out at Kat, it is so much about me. It’s hard, because she is so me. I’ll tell Bea something that I said as a child, and she will laugh, saying how that sounds like something that would come out of Kat’s mouth or vice versa. Kat is like my mini me in so many ways, and I think that’s why my anger does come out around her at times. I don’t know. Ugh.

      Bea is always preaching self compassion to me. But I know she is right, it’s just a hard thing to actually feel and have, even when logically it makes sense. Xx

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  3. I was also punished for having emotions. Especially if it was deliberately provoked by my parents, which was extra confusing because they demanded this reaction and then flipped out when I gave it to them. Ugh. Good luck with the IEP meeting.

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    • That is so confusing, to be provoked and then punished. I am so sorry. As a child, I never would have said I was punished for my emotions, but looking back, it’s definitely what was happening. Now, as an adult and a mom, I just can’t fathom it, can’t wrap my head around it. It’s really confusing, and sort of crazy making in its own way.

      The meeting went really good, thank you! Xx

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  4. I was punished for feeling as well. I still have that disconnect though because I can’t deal with anger. ๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’œ you always seem so in tune with what is happening with Kat. Trust your instincts as it seems you are usually on target and know what “normal” and not so normal are!

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    • I so get that disconnect and not being able to deal with the anger. I think it’s a thing of not being allowed to feel it/show it, so now it feels so huge and scary and it’s one emotion that I just don’t understand what a person is supposed to do to get it out. I mean if you are sad, you cry. If you are anxious, you pace, or feel nauseous, or maybe pick at your fingers (well, I do) or have a panic attack. And even through some of those things may not be so healthy, they don’t feel mean, or cruel, or so huge and…I don’t know…bad. I think it’s that I equate anger with being bad. Ugh.

      Thank you for saying I am in tune with Kat. I try really hard to be attuned to her needs; I just feel like I am constantly failing. So thank you. Xx

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  5. Hope your meeting went well. I so relate to what you and Bea talked about. Those triggers under the surface make it so hard to engage with other people. I can only imagine how difficult it is to parent when feeling so chaotic inside and constantly triggered.

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    • The meeting did go really good, thank you! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      I’m sorry you get those triggers under the surface, but thank you for getting it. It’s a weird thing, to be constantly triggered by someone, but have it be in such a “small”, “everyday” way that it really isn’t on your radar, and then when it’s sort of uncovered, all the stress and anxiety you feel around that person makes so much sense.

      It is hard to parent some days…thanks for validating that. Xx

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