The Day I Learned My Trigger.
The year our second daughter was born was also a turning point for our marriage… and not a great one. My husband was working a job with limited downtime, constant travel and he had a whole TWO days off when she was born (another post for another day don’t even get me started). As I tried my best to manage two under two while my body was a literal disaster, the growing resentment and anger towards my husband slowly began to eat our marriage alive.
We ended up beginning marriage counseling and the first few sessions felt messy and unproductive, but it was right around our 3rd or 4th session that I personally had a breakthrough. And that is the story I am going to share today, because 3 years later it is still one of the most powerful moments I have ever had in therapy.
On this particular day in therapy, Shain and I decided to bring a recent fight to the table and describe the scenario to our therapist and get her feedback. So I will first begin by explaining that very fight here for context…
It was a Saturday morning, Shain had gotten home late that previous night from a 10 day work trip. I was exhausted from being with the babies and holding down the house and work and all the things. He mentioned he wanted to do something together as a family, but told him I would first just really like 30 minutes downstairs to run on the treadmill and get some solitude. He said cool, no problem. So downstairs I went.
I hopped on the treadmill, popped in a podcast and took a deep sigh of relief. Ah. Alone. Finally,
About 7 minutes into my run, I hear our oldest daughter who was around 2 years old at the time come down the stairs. She popped her head into the workout room and plopped down next to me while I ran like she has so many times before, and began babbling away. I pull my headphones out and listen to her, all the meanwhile a familiar rage inside of me begins to build. I thought for sure Shain would have come down to get her, but he didn’t. And every minute during that run that was supposed to be my solitude the rage grew.
All I wanted was 30 minutes. Why was that so hard? Why does he not care about me? Does he not realize how hard these last two weeks were?
I was furious. Not just like irritated mad but ready to throw a chair through a window mad. Seems dramatic, I know. I also knew this was the type of anger that set fire to whatever was happening because I have historically had a hard time controlling it. I finish up my run and pick up my toddler to go back upstairs. I start to think about all the things I am going to flip out about.
Deep breath. Let it go, Jill, let it go. It’s not worth it. Let it go. Just be calm about it.
My first visual after coming upstairs was not my husband lounging or scrolling his phone, but him vacuuming with our youngest in a baby carrier.
How could I be mad at him? Look at him! He does care about me. Doesn’t he? He just wasn’t thinking. NO, that is the problem, he wasn’t thinking. If he really cared about me, he would have let me have alone time, I REALLY needed alone time. Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.
Spoiler alert, the self talk and seeing him vacuuming did not help and I exploded on him. In front of our kids.
He looked at me like a deer in headlights and went on the defense, “You work out with the girls all the time, I had the fussy one, I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal?”
I yelled. He got angry at me and yelled back. Our anger filled up the room. He couldn’t see my side, my rage grew. Our girls were now crying. I felt officially out of control and I felt an immense amount of shame.
Rocky will see us fighting and think it was her fault for coming downstairs when it wasn’t her fault at all. Shame Shame Shame. Rage rage rage. I stormed into our bedroom and cried from the mess of it all. What was wrong with me? I am a terrible human being. I am a terrible parent.
A little while later, he apologized. But it didn’t matter. I could not let it go for the rest of the day. I couldn’t look at him, I couldn’t enjoy our time together. I was so frustrated with Shain and also so frustrated and ashamed of myself. You are the worst. This family is better off without you. A common thought that would come into my head when I was feeling this way and confused by my anger.
SO. That is what we explained to our therapist on that day. I knew I had a right to be mad at Shain that day for not letting me have the alone time I asked for but my reaction was out of control. So I asked her:
“Why can’t I let this rage go? Why do my thoughts go to such terrible untrue places so quickly? Why can’t I accept a sincere apology and move on? How can I better handle my anger when something like this happens?
Our therapist took a moment of deep thought and silence as therapists do, while I waited for her magic answer. But instead out came a question directed at me.
“Jill, I think I know what might be happening here. Let me ask you- do you have any parent abandonment issues in your past?”
The second that question left her mouth I felt my whole body stiffen, I felt a lump in my throat and tears welling up behind my eyes. I couldn’t even answer it. I see Shain out of my peripheral vision nodding his head yes to answer her for me.
She says “I thought that might be the case”.
“Okay, maybe let me explain what might be going on here. It seems that when these kinds of things are happening, you are being triggered which is why the anger feels different and uncontrollable than just regular anger. A trigger means a very deep wound is being activated. And a trigger for you perhaps is that your needs do not matter. That YOU do not matter.”
Again, tears, stiffened body, lump in my throat getting larger.
She continued, “When you are being triggered it might be bringing you back to a time in your childhood where you felt abandoned. That you didn’t matter. This can be a very traumatic thing for a child. So there’s this little girl inside of you who is incredibly hurt and sad. So as you have physically grown from that little girl, you have morphed into also a woman who feels that it is her job to protect that little hurt girl inside of you. So this triggers rage.”
As she was explaining this to me I felt gutted. I literally couldn’t even speak. For the first time, at age 33, somebody explained to me while I feel the way I feel. Why my anger feels so uncontrollable sometimes. My trigger is: I don’t matter.
So when anybody in my life makes me feel that I do not matter, that my needs don’t matter, I turn into a raging bull to protect that little girl that still lives inside of me.
The problem, I learned, is not actually my rage. The problem is the source of the rage. Which is the fact that there is a little girl living inside of me that is not being honored and has not healed. Once I heal her and honor her, the rage will get better.
We talked about how I can separate my anger from my trigger when it happens. How I can remind myself that I am married to a man who loves me, will not leave me and cares about my needs. We talked about how Shain needs to be more aware of my needs and how his actions impact me.
So as the years have gone on since that particular session, my focus has been on healing that little girl so that I don’t have to rage on unsuspecting people, but mostly my husband. It is not to say the rage does not serve a purpose, it has come in handy many times when I can control it and have had to stand my ground. But there have also been countless hard and messy conversations in our marriage. It has been a constant battle to change the narrative in my own home about what it means to be a Mom and a Wife in a way that doesn’t leave me in a mountain of resentment. It is all connected for me.
I think this is truly the core of why I am so passionate about communicating this very thing to other women who I see falling in the same trap of “I am a mom so therefore my needs come last”.
I know not every Mom feels the uncontrollable relentless rage that I do when my own needs are not met. But I DO know many women who have a quiet rage that will never come out like mine does. Rage that will never make its way into conversations, instead it just lives inside them.
I used to wish I was like that- that my rage could just be quiet and never emerge and just keep the fake peace. I still sometimes wish that.
But I work on myself and reflect a lot. And if I can continue that work and turn my rage into words and thoughts, I think that is where the purpose lies for me. Maybe my rage is supposed to be put into words for others to read so they finally understand why it feels like there is a constant storm brewing inside of them that they cannot explain. I think that just might be my life’s work. I think.
I don’t want my rage to control me anymore or hurt my family, but I do secretly hope it can maybe help others.
Your life mission is a breath of fresh air and your eloquent words describe beautifully what I think a lot of women can not successfully convey…me being one of them. I’m recently on the road to recognizing I have extreme rage issues also stemming from childhood abandonment- which ignites a whole other rage scenario- but wow what an amazing journey life can be, especially when you have awesome girls to connect and learn from-like you! ❤️
This means so much Cindy, thank you! The rage is a real thing.
You have reached parts that most of us wish we could. Who is this therapist? And can we use her services? But truly you inspire me, I hope to gain that piece of self awareness and emotional intelligence you have.
Thank you for reading and your words 🙂 Trude Holle from Centennial Counseling in St. Charles, she is truly an angel on earth and has helped us so much!
Learning our triggers is so important and took me years to identify. But yes, they are related to unhealed past trauma from when I was young. Awareness is half the battle.
It sure is, thank you for reading 🙂