Re-parenting my inner child so I don’t react negatively to triggers

It was kinda crazy to see my article published on Zula because I’ve enjoyed watching their videos. I never knew they did articles too but in our interview, the writer specifically asked me to talk about my therapy experience.

I wondered why, and then I remembered that many of us in Singapore still think that going to therapy is a shameful thing.

Just to clock in an update, I’ve definitely become much clear-minded after just a few months of therapy. When recovering from gaslighting and narcissistic abuse, it’s very common that the target walks away from a relationship not understanding why whatever happened, happened the way they did. A narcissist knows what they’re doing. They know that they’re manipulating you. They sieve out your insecurities and use it against you, and when they can’t get what they want, they either attack you into submission/ silence or they devalue and discard you.

I’ve written about the anger stage where I was in, and there was so much anger with myself that I had to process through. Then came a bout of depression – inability to enjoy life, lack of appetite, feeling disconnected, inability to focus on conversations and tasks etc etc. I only went through mild depression so I’m glad it didn’t get worse than that, although I’ve also been learning that the recovery journey will be full of ups/downs and triggers.

What are triggers?

A trigger is any word, person, event, or experience that touches off an immediate emotional reaction. It’s like being startled by a noise: The noise is the trigger; the startle is the response.

Our reactions to our emotional triggers are often excessive, lasting longer than what makes sense for the event. It’s as if we’re still jumping at the sound of that slammed door hours later.

Not all triggers are negative. They can also stimulate joy or happy memories, like when we smell a flower that reminds us of a place we love or see a photograph of an event where we felt happy. Still, we usually use “trigger” to describe negative stimuli — those that set off sadness, anger, or fear, as well as hurt, shame, and despair.

Now that I have been building up genuine love and confidence in myself, I can feel a huge difference in the way I respond to triggers. After being heavily traumatized last year, every trigger could invoke a big reaction in me. Every trigger would send me into weeks of despair. I would struggle with eating, sleeping, focusing on conversations and I would drown myself in work or exercise to neglect my pain.

Now, thanks to therapy, I’ve learnt that triggers are signposts that tell us something about ourselves.

Not all strong emotional responses are trigger reactions. If you receive news about the sudden death of a friend or relative, it is sane and sensitive to react with shock and grief. Your body experiences an automatic change in heart rate, breathing, pulse, brain synapses. This is not something to be avoided, nor is it healthy to try to control it.

A psychotherapist lists nine categories of triggers:

How are they formed?

Certain triggers happened recently that tested me and thanks to Marco, a good therapist (Rella) and a close circle of good friends and family members, I recovered fairly easily. It wasn’t without a few days of feeling super down / lousy / angry / sad. But once I sat with my inner child and let her cry it out, I began to feel much better.

This is not to say that I didn’t feel the urge to react, but the difference is that I took a step back, asked myself difficult questions, and then decided what the best course of action was. I responded instead of reacted.

Why would triggers remind us of our trauma?

For the last 18 months, so many traumatic events happened and each time they hit me like a tsunami. Now that I’ve started learning how to re-parent my inner child through therapy, events hit me more like waves. They don’t topple me over, but break against me and fall gently away. After a process of acknowledgement and confiding in my circle of trust of course. Like my mum says, ” If your anchor is firmly placed, no matter how hard the storm is, your boat will survive it.”

Rella did a few exercises with me during our therapy session and asked me some questions to also help me recognize that my inner child was the one who needed to be soothed as well.

This inner child inside me went through certain traumatic events as a child too and never learnt how to deal with them.

To help me figure out what my inner child went through, she asked me a few questions and got me to jot them down.

What was going on around the 5 year old Jane?

Were you bullied as a child?

What happened? How did the bullying happen?

What did Jane do before the episode, during the episode and after the episode?

How did Jane feel?

Is there any emotion that seems to scream out to Jane now?

Misunderstood by?

Who do you need understanding from?

What does being understood means to you?

As much as I love and thank my parents for an awesome life and childhood, I must admit that when I first read this, I wholeheartedly agreed that my parents only knew how to raise me from their own level of awareness at that time.

It’s the same with grown adults anyway – They only know how to treat you from their level of awareness. We don’t quarrel with 5-year-olds and blame them for throwing tantrums. They don’t know any better. They’re reacting to emotions they feel inside but can’t express properly. A parent’s job would then be to educate them and help them through with this process.

However, conscious parenting is not a luxury that many parents of the older generation could enjoy – including mine. But i have to say that I’m so proud that even in their 50s and 60s, my parents are constantly learning. They’re constantly listening to what my brother and I share with them, and they’re always learning to become better parents.

When as children, we go through trauma and are not taught how to deal with it, these traumatic events (whether big or small) will then leave untreated wounds on us, manifesting into insecurities, communication problems, identify confusion, feelings of low self-worth or even personality disorders (like narcissism).

Certain events that happen to us adults can make us feel the same as when we felt them as children. Our reactions to these said events are then based on how we used to feel as children. “They’re behaving like children” – is something we’ve all heard when we want to describe dealing with people sometimes. That’s because they ARE. But it’s not that they’re being childish or that they aren’t mature in other aspects, it’s mostly because their childhood trauma is still carried in them.

During our therapy session, Rella taught me some self-affirmations that helped me to redeem myself from the triggers. She also helped me to see why my bullies did what they did, and to figure out their intent. Once I realized that what they really wanted deep down was something I could never give to them, my anger faded and I began to calm down. The sweatiness in my palms went away, I immediately started feeling hungry and also sleepy (I hadn’t eaten or slept properly since the triggers).

What happened during therapy was that I sat with my 5 year old self and learned how to calm her down.

I identified the emotions that were triggered in me and I acknowledged them.

Rella taught me how to just sit with myself, find where my trauma is held in my body, and use a ‘tapping’ method as a form of release.

What I’ve also learnt the most from this incident, is to remember to see ourselves through our loved ones’ perspectives. If they truly love and care for us, they will tell you as it is and not hide the truth from us.

My support system immediately got into action and wanted to protect me from making mistakes I would regret. They helped me realize that I was reacting to a trigger, and not responding in a way I would later on be proud of.

Your tribe is a reflection of who you are. If you want to be better, keep better company around.

People who tell us what we want to hear and not what we should hear, are not thinking for us.

I’m thankful for all of you who constantly inspire me to be better. I don’t need to feel like the bigger person, but I can always strive to become a better person.