We have all experienced them. They’re the moments when we’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent. Maybe it’s the way your child doesn’t listen to you when you ask them to do something. Or perhaps it is when your child says no to something they need to do. Or when your child isn’t caring as much as you think they should about school, their room, life, etc. Or they’re being disrespectful to you, your partner, or a sibling. And suddenly a switch flips and you’re no longer rational. You might look back on it later and realized that your reaction might have been a little over the top, but regardless, it doesn’t feel good to you. We’re going to be talking about those trigger parenting moments and why it’s important to talk about trauma and our own early overwhelming experiences. I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt and this is the All Relationships Can Heal Podcast.
I don’t know about you, but I have had so many experiences in my parenting over the years when a reaction I have to something just jumps up and surprises me. As I wrote about in my first book, my boys fighting in the car was a huge trigger to me and one that brought up reactions in me that were very strong and not rational. I was driving the car, but I felt like I was a little kid, powerless to make any changes. And almost every day, I listen to parents tell me stories about their experiences where a reaction they had completely surprised them, and they weren’t happy with how they had acted. But they want it to be different, which is why they were reaching out for support.
I’m currently taking a training with my mentor Ray Castellino and Ray calls these moments implicit somatic memories. They’re disconnected from the original experience we had. Implicit somatic memories are stored in the cells of the body. When there’s an experience that is similar enough to the original experience, we are reminded of those experiences. They feel like they’re happening in present time, but they’re really from the past. When I was in the car with my boys when they were younger, my body was having a reaction. I wasn’t cognitively thinking about an experience, but I wanted to scream and possibly run away. But my boys were small and fighting with each other and that wasn’t really what I wanted for them. I wanted to be able to help them.
It wasn’t until I realized that I was feeling closer to the same age as they were that I started thinking about my own experiences in the car with my two younger brothers. Even though I cognitively knew I was now a grown up and these were my boys, my implicit somatic memories were coming up and I felt as powerless as I did when I was little with my brothers fighting in the car.
This wasn’t a Trauma with a capital T. This was an overwhelming event for me and it was showing up in my parenting. It was impacting my ability to be present with my boys and actually act like a parent and help them work through what was happening for them because I was in my own story.
We all have these stories. For some of us, it might have been domestic violence. For others, it could be having feelings disregarded or being disrespected. Or neglect of needs. It could have been overt or covert, accidental or in the name of trying to teach a child a lesson, and a lot of it has to do with how you made sense of it, or not.
This week, we’re going to be talking with Dr. Robert T Muller, author of the book, Trauma and the Struggle to Open Up. This is a four-part conversation about trauma and overwhelming events, how they show up in our parenting, including triggers, and what healing looks like through stories of real families and individuals. Dr. Robert T. Muller, PhD, trained at Harvard, is on faculty at the University of Massachusetts and is currently at York University in Toronto.
Please tune in tomorrow to the All Relationships Can Heal Podcast for this very important conversation as we talk about trauma and the importance of family storytelling.