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Monday, November 23, 2020

How I Overcame a Painful Trigger of Mine


I took the bus today and there was this little baby crying. Not one of those little whimpers that a bit of shushing is able to quickly calm down. Nope, it was that incessant high pitched keening that showed a baby was in a lot of distress, but despite the mother's attempts to soothe it, the wailing continued. After a few minutes of this, my friend Babs, on the bus with me, turned to me and softly said probably what everyone  was thinking 'Isn't that annoying?' And I thought about it for a few seconds and said, "Yes, but it's not triggering me."

I mean, that might be an odd response, but that's actually the reason I'm writing this post.

3 years ago, I was not in a good place emotionally. I had been seeing a different therapist for a year to help me deal with my sporadic panic attacks, and after many months of covering up my deeper distressing emotions in therapy (and years of doing that in life) my therapist broke down my walls and I was aflood with intense emotions, nearly all of them negative, and I realized I wanted to switch to a therapist who I felt would give me better tools to heal than my previous one. (Not that I'm not thankful to her or think that that year of therapy was pointless; she helped me reach the point where I was able to admit to myself how big my issues were and that I needed a therapist who specialized in other modalities.) 

I switched to this new therapist, and while I was appreciative of her and she definitely helped me, one thing bugged me. The waiting room outside her office, as the clinic serviced many different practitioners. There were people there. And sometimes they would have babies. Babies with them! In a therapist's waiting room! 
That wasn't ok, I thought, and turned to Facebook to vent and get validation for my complaint- it is incredibly rude for people to bring babies to waiting rooms in therapy clinics. Babies are triggering! It's not ok! 
But no, I didn't get people agreeing with me. People told me that sometimes people need to bring their babies, that they often are the ones who need therapy the most (postpartum depression, etc...) and no, crying babies aren't a universal trigger. You can't avoid all triggers in a therapy waiting room, you need to learn how to deal.

But to be honest, I was a bit surprised to learn that crying babies weren't a univeral trigger, since they definitely were a huge one for me. Like one of my biggest ones.

One time, I was in my therapy session and then from the waiting room I started hearing a baby cry. Immediately I clenched up and told my therapist that I was very triggered by the baby crying. Hoping, to be honest, that she could make the crying stop. Talk to the owner of the clinic and change policies. Or go out and tell the person to please take her crying baby out of the waiting room. 

But she didn't. 

Instead, she empathized with me. 

"Yea, that noise really is annoying. It's meant to be annoying."

I mean, I wasn't expecting that. But hearing that just made me feel so much more normal.

"Babies crying is annoying so that way parents listen to them, thats how they get their attention to take care of them."

"But I'm not the baby's mother. I can't do anything to help it. I can't comfort him. I feel helpless."

We talked more about feelings of helplessness and why they were so hard for me to handle. We talked about how my kids cried all the time and it seemed that nothing I was trying to do for them was calming them down. (I had very, very difficult babies. Constantly crying.) And when this happened I felt also that I was helpless, but also incompetent and incapable as a mother. Because what mother doesn't know how to comfort her crying baby, isn't that supposed to be instinct? And I felt shame and that I was a failure and so many negative things. Feeling helpless was the cover for all these deeper more painful and shameful emotions. And I had a lot of them around my role as a mother and how capable I am at that.

But then my therapist told me something that stayed with me. "Penny, you feel triggered when you hear babies cry because the irritating noise makes you think you need to do something but then you feel helpless because there's nothing you can do."

I nodded.

"Penny, it's not your job to do anything! This isn't your baby. You don't have to do anything. You aren't helpless. You just aren't needed to do anything now. If you can internalize that, babies crying may still annoy you, because, frankly, the sound is annoying, but hopefully it won't trigger you anymore."

I don't know exactly at what point it changed for me, but as I was on the bus today, I noticed happily that that conversation with my therapist did change how I responded to babies crying. I am no longer triggered. Because I accepted that some things are out of my hands, and I don't have to fix everything. And that sometimes an annoying crying baby is just that. Annoying. And that's ok.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for being vulnerable and sharing this with us Penny. It's given me something to think about in my own life.

    ReplyDelete

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