Jen Gallagher talks to us about triggers and how to overcome them! By identifying our triggers, we can learn to regulate their emotional effect on us. For parents, regulating your emotions is the key to modeling healthy behavior for your children.
- Triggers are stimuli linked to trauma that emotionally set us off
- Learning how to identify triggers can help to regulate your feelings
- A dysregulated adult can’t regulate a dysregulated child
- Externalizing your pain by voicing it helps to decrease its affect on you internally
OUR GUEST – JENNIFER GALLAGHER, SINGLE PARENTING SOLUTIONS
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
TH: Today’s podcast is about triggers. It’s a hot new word if you haven’t heard it lately, and we have Jen Gallagher here from Single Parenting Solutions. She is a parent coach and a real life expert like us. We are going to dig deep about triggers, something really important to understand, identify for yourself, for your own growth, but then also how it affects your family. So welcome to the podcast, Jen.
Jen: Thank you so much for having me.
TH: Let’s get going. What is a trigger?
Jen: Well, in terms of parenting littles in a co-parenting family–
TH: And when you say littles, you mean under the age of 8?
Jen: Yes, toddlers, preschoolers and children under eight years old. Because I also work with parents who have infants, but a lot of times just the basic infant needs aren’t necessarily triggering, so it’s more about the communication. With co-parenting, you are interacting, and you have constant interaction with somebody who is your ex, somebody that you’ve broken that intimate relationship with. Your children, because they’re going from home to home, you two are their entire life. They will share their entire life with both your ex and yourself. And a lot of the times because of that, those wounds from the breakup, maybe new wounds that arise during co-parenting, they really affect us, and they affect our emotions, they affect our behaviors, that carries into our parenting.
Jessica: Are you talking about the kids coming back from the ex-partner’s house and then repeating things that they’ve heard?
Jen: That, and then also just looking at them to be honest. Because if your child looks exactly like your ex, and maybe you’ve gotten off of a phone call, a very heated discussion, and you see your child, even though you love your child absolutely more than anything in the world, just seeing almost the mini version of your ex can unearth some type of agitation with you and it’s hard to admit that too.
TH: It’s even like it’s an expression. For me, it is expressions, it’s a joke, it’s so little sometimes, but it’s wholly big. It’s big. So a trigger is something that sets you off?
TH: Right? Just to define it. Okay.
Jen: Yeah. And it’s ours, so it doesn’t have to do with the child. It’s something that is said or something that is done or an external thing that affects us in a way that most likely is uncomfortable, because triggers are not comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable reaction to something.
Jessica: So the key’s recognizing what they are? I mean, talk us through it.
What are the things that you, not you personally, but people listening, what are the things that we have to learn about ourselves to be able to manage those kinds of triggers, so that we don’t fly off the handle all the time, so that we’re able to get through the day peacefully, as peacefully as possible, and not be yelling, and arguing and screaming all the time, and not letting ourselves just completely blow up over seemingly small things?
Jen: It’s a it’s a lot of self work and healing that needs to take place in order to I’d say, confidently approach different situations, because they might just pop up all the time. But in the beginning, when you’re kind of really examining this, just from the beginning, is to identify the points or the times or the different situations that you’ve consistently felt triggered or consistently felt uncomfortable about.
Jessica: Noticing the pattern?
Jen: Yes. Yes, noticing the pattern.
TH: I think it’s hard to necessarily identify your triggers if you’re not–for me, I’m not sure I would have identified them as easily if I weren’t going to a therapist, because then as you tell your story, my therapists would say, well, use the word trigger, or something else. This is something that sets you off. We have to teach you how to respond in a way that’s not going to hurt you and also send a bad message. I’m not sure I would have identified triggers as easily if I wasn’t talking to a professional about it. I mean, how do you do that on your own?
Jen: This is actually a big component outside of just the practical tools to help your children navigate two worlds, but a major component to what I do with my clients is I help you take an almost like a 24 to 48 hour inventory, like literally writing down any type of emotional discomfort that you face throughout the day, to really see those patterns. Most likely, if you’re taking a 48 hour inventory, those are going to be repeated. They’re just going to be normal things that that kind of come up. I have them hold a little notepad in their pocket and just whip out that notepad and write down, for me, for example, my son’s cowlick in his hair is the same as his dad’s. If I was taking that inventory right after I was done combing his hair or something after bath time, I’d write it down. I’d write down that it was making me uncomfortable at the time. You need to be honest that you’re uncomfortable about it. That’s the point where you’re able to grow, because if you’re not–
TH: So does your son wear a hat in your house now?
Jen: No, but I did get him–
TH: [Laughs] Sometimes you’ve got to wear a hat in mummy’s house. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m having a bad day.
Jen: I did trigger my ex about my son’s new haircut though, I found out after. They’re both, they’re back and forth, and then those both on either side triggers, they can lead to combustion during pickups, drop offs, phone calls, conversations. If we’re accountable for our own self and our own self examination, really, we can sleep better at night because we don’t create more damage.
Jessica: So it’s like anyone who is trying a new, I hate to use the word diet, but trying a new diet, or wanting to keep track of their sleep habits, or whatever it is. It’s journaling in a sense, keeping track, writing down everything that goes in your mouth during the day for three days, so that you can identify what might be the bad things and also what times during the day you’re eating those things, because maybe you realize one of your triggers is this time of the day is going to lead to this kind of excessive snacking or something like that. Okay, so keeping track of it that way is the way to identify it.
Then now you’ve recognized what your triggers are, what some of your triggers are, how do you self-manage your own emotions? I mean, I get angry at the same shit over and over and over again. I’ve known my ex for literally 30 years, 31 to be exact, and it still pisses me off. How do you manage that?
Jen: You can do almost like–
Jessica: Yoga, meditation?
TH: What did you say?
Jessica: Yoga, meditation.
Jen: I mean, there’s a lot of external things that you can do as in reading mantras, maybe having them around the home, having a–I was going to pick up my book, but maybe a spiritual book of some sort that you feel attuned to that you can keep handy that you can just open up and read, breathing exercises. But also, once you are accustomed to identifying these and you’re able to stop, you’re able to also identify where they’re coming from. When they’re coming from a place of hurt, and coming from a place that you understand where it’s coming from it, the anger dissipates, because it’s more bite size that you can take it all in, and it’s not so heavy anymore. For example, my ex forgot to tell me that he was going on his honeymoon–
Jessica: Easy to forget! Who doesn’t forget that?
Jen: He forgot, so he missed a night, and I went–my body felt really uncomfortable when it kind of came out in a text asking if he can make up days, that he wasn’t going to be here. He had already left by this time. It made me really uncomfortable, and it made me angry. But because I know exactly what that came back to, and it came back to when I found out I was pregnant, he was away on a trip. I felt that same, ‘I’m not important. I’m not worth–my time is not valuable to you. I’m not valuable to you.’ I can’t control that. What I can control is my response and know that I am valuable for myself. I don’t need–
Jessica: Did you give him the extra nights?
Jen: Oh, well, I couldn’t. He’s away.
Jessica: When he got back.
Jen: Oh, oh. Yes, and that too.
TH: Yes. She’s going on vacation.
Jen: Because that’s also my behavior too. If it fits in our schedule, of course, because that would be a disservice to my son, even though it’s like, ugh, now we have to manage things around. If it’s not so much to shift things around, then of course. I mean, it’s still like, ugh that sucks, but still, it’s my son wants to go, he’s excited to go, so it would only be disturbing to my son and not anybody else.
TH: It sounds like the first step when a trigger is hitting you is take a deep breath, and just don’t say anything, so you can register, because if you respond on emotions, you might say and do a whole bunch of stuff that you really maybe didn’t want to do, even though you might feel better after you spew it out. But maybe if you just stop, I remember for me that was all I could manage was a few breaths. Anything else beyond that was too much to think about. But if something was hurting my gut, like you were saying, I’d be like, *deep breath* okay, what am I going to do about this? Because I would just totally roll, and it would just be a disaster. In the end, I would look like a shit show to be honest. My message wouldn’t get across properly because he’d be like, “She’s emotional again,” so you can’t say anymore. I took a breath, and I got my shit together, and my message is clear. I think you also throw off the other person when you don’t allow those triggers to affect you maybe the way they did when you were married, certain behaviors, and then they resonate with your children. There are tons of things that my kids do and say that, whatever, he’s their father. I’ve got to deal with that on my own. I don’t want them to feel badly that he’s their father. I just kind of have to manage it on my own. I think that first breath definitely helps you for a few seconds to maybe get a wherewithal about what you’re going to do.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. Understanding child development and how you respond to a child, especially from a standpoint of co-regulation, where if they’re experiencing big emotions, and they’re having an outburst, in order to have them regulate, we must regulate ourselves. A dysregulated adult can’t regulate a dysregulated child. If you apply that to even an interaction with your ex, where you regulate yourself, and you keep calm, many, many times, you can deescalate the situation.
TH: Yeah, it’s hard. It really is true.
Jessica: I just can’t keep calm.
Jen: I know. It’s hard.
Jessica: I just can’t keep calm. A part of my problem also, because I’ve watched the way TH does it over the years, and I’ve heard her responses, she’s very measured, and it always is so well crafted and well thought out. She really is able to present her message in a very clear way and in a firm way, this is how it’s going to be done. Whereas I’m definitely more of the respond right away however I’m feeling. The problem I find sometimes is that when I try to take that breath, and I try to take that step back, and try to think about it more, it’s a little bit of a weird situation. It’s like, yes, I’m much calmer later, and I’ve been able to defuse the situation inside myself, or maybe I’m not as furious about it, but then it’s almost like I’ve passed the point of no return, because then I’m kind of like, well… I find that sometimes I’ll let things roll off my back, and I’ll let things go, because now it’s like, well, the moment has passed, and now it’s not really worth bringing up anymore.
I can’t seem to find that happy medium of not responding right away, because I have no filter, and letting it marinate too long, where now it’s like, I don’t even care anymore, but I’m going to care a lot when it happens again.
Jen: My two tips that I always use and that is very, very effective for me is that in times of drop off or pick up, there is no scheduling talk. There is no talk about, oh, do they do this later? Do they do that later? Nothing. It is just solely about two people interacting with their kid, because that’s sometimes is the only time that your child sees you together now. It’s more of like, “Hey, I hope you have so much fun with daddy” or “Hey, what are you going to do with mommy?” It’s just that free open kind of picture and comfortable experience that you provide for your kid. Divert always to a phone call or text message, “Hey, why don’t you text me later?” or “Let’s talk about this on the phone.” And it always works, because you can always say, “Hey, let’s talk about on the phone.” If you just keep on saying it, they’ll feel weird if they keep on asking you questions. Then also with texting back, or with responding back, say you know that talking is not one of your strong suits, that if they say something you’re going to come back swinging, then try to keep everything to text messages. If you feel compelled to write something when you are heated, instead of writing that text, a lot of people write the text and then delete. I don’t know, when I’m heated, I can’t push that delete button. I push the send button.
Jessica: I’ll write it in my notes sometimes.
Jen: I keep it, and this is what I help my clients with, I keep it off the phone completely, so you don’t even have that almost like candy of an option. I grab a piece of paper and for me to go around my house and try to find a piece of paper and a pen, that’s like almost like taking a beat.
TH: Right. It is making you slow down.
Jen: Taking a beat and then writing it down. Then maybe if I have to write down my aggression, that’s an act of journaling. Then maybe I have to write it a couple times until it’s concise, and it’s something that I would approve being said back to me.
TH: It’s so funny because I’ve learned over the last five years in particular, the whole idea of being heard, how important it is. What Jessica was saying, she wants to be heard. She wants her kids to hear that this is not the way it’s going to go.
Jessica: Or my ex.
TH: Even putting it on paper though, you almost feel like you’re being heard because you’re putting it out into the world. It’s not just spinning in your head. But what I have also found, and I actually spoke to my therapist about it today, about a situation I’m dealing with, is I had a heated situation with one of my kids. I just kept drilling it home. I just could not let it go. I was not being heard, because the time wasn’t right. My kid was not in a place that they were going to hear anything. I actually am going to revisit it, even though it was really important at the time, I didn’t want it to lose its importance, but I need to make sure that I really am heard. I think that in some situations you’ve got to get right on it like, you’re going to eat a razor blade. That’s clearly something that has to get addressed right away. But disobeying and even using bad language, I feel like I’m heard more during a quiet time where my kid is in a good head space. Because if my kid’s not in a good head space, I’m just spewing shit and they’re spewing shit back at me, and nobody’s being heard. I feel like, you suck, and he thinks I suck. I’ve not done anything except piss myself off. For me, that is something that actually I am going to address and am addressing but waiting until they’re in a calm–you’re playing Lego together or you’re coloring together, and then you can bring it up because you know that you’re going to be heard.
Jessica: I just want to say though I think such an important thing that you said Jen was that you’ll write it and revise it until it’s an acceptable message for you to hear back to yourself. I mean, tell us that again because that’s such an important–
Jen: Well, that’s the accountability factor with all of this, and that’s what I really, really believe. Because when we’re accountable for our behaviors, and that means also repairing damages we might have done, we’re not only growing ourselves because then we can hold our heads high and live and feel amazing when we put our heads down on the pillow, but we’re also modeling that for our little kids who pretty much at the early stages of development learn through observation. They learn through modeling. When they see mommy yelling at daddy, they’re going to think that yelling is acceptable. They’re going to repeat that behavior and then we’re going to say, “Oh, you’re not allowed to yell at me” but it’s like you yelled at daddy. It’s like that whole cycle and it filters throughout the whole family. I feel taking accountability, and it’s hard. It’s hard. Who likes to admit when they’re wrong? Or who likes to admit when they’re not ideal or doing the best that they can do? Nobody does. But when you think about how good you’ll feel putting your head down on the pillow at night, I don’t know. It’s just a really freeing feeling.
Jessica: I just love also the message which is kind of how I try to hold myself, just do the right thing. Be the bigger person and do the right thing. And so your message of you don’t want to send a message to your ex that you would not appreciate them sending to you is really powerful, and I think that it’s just something that everyone needs to keep in mind. We’re going to have to stop there for today. Thank you again so much Jen. For anyone listening, if you’re interested in reaching out to Jen directly, we have all of her contact information on our website at www.exexperts.com. And if you’ve questions about this, about triggers and how to handle them, let us know what they are, so that we can continue the conversation on our social media and for future episodes with Jen to come back and answer what you want.
Jen: Thank you so much ladies for having me. I really enjoyed our talk.
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