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168: Feeling Triggered by Current Events
2nd October 2022 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:38:25

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I know it can be really difficult to navigate all the events happening in the world today.  It seems like things are falling apart, with wars, climate change-caused drought and wildfires in some areas and flooding in others, with hunger not following far behind.  And things aren’t any better on the political front either.   When difficult things happen out there in the world, they spill over into our relationships with our children.  We suddenly find ourselves snapping at them far more easily than usual.  The things they do that are normally mildly irritating now push us to the limit, and we end up reacting to them in ways that we don’t like.     In this episode we discuss the reasons why you feel emotionally yanked around by things that are happening out there in the wider world, as well as by the ways these things are discussed online and in our families as well.     We look at the tools you can use to regulate your emotions when this happens…but also that regulating your emotions and then voting to express your feelings about how the world should be isn’t going to make a meaningful difference.  We learn tools you can use instead to create a sense of autonomy, which reduces stress and also change the circumstances themselves so they are less triggering in the future.   If you know you need support with your triggered feelings, whether these are related to:  
  • Events that are going in in the wider world
  • Seeing discussion of those events online or hearing about them from family members or friends
  • Traumatic events that you experienced in your childhood
  • Events in your childhood that you don’t think of as traumatic, and yet left marks on you
  • Difficulties you’re having now
  …the Taming Your Triggers workshop will help.  In the workshop you’ll learn what are the real causes of your triggered feelings (which really aren’t about your child’s behavior), and you’ll get support in taking on these ideas deeply so they aren’t just things you have to remember, but that you actually believe and live.   The difficult things that happened to us happened in relationships with other people, and so we heal most effectively through relationships with other people as well.  We’ll support you in an amazing community of parents who are all on this journey alongside you, and you’ll also get the opportunity to pair up with one of them so you can hold each other (gently!) accountable to keep going through the workshop even when things get hard, and to deepen your learning as you go.  Registration is open right now until Wednesday October 11th, and sliding scale pricing is available.  Click the image below to learn more and sign up:   Episodes mentioned in this episode No Self, No Problem Mutual Aid   Jump to highlights (00:08) Societal factors that make us feel triggered (03:15) The Yerkes-Dodson law describes the empirical relationship between stress and performance (04:53) Broadhurst’s research has made it possible to see stress as a positive thing (07:12) A moderate amount of stress, time pressure and role conflict can all enhance your creativity (09:09) How feeling triggered is connected to our trauma in the past (11:50) Techniques to cope with stress when triggered by a trauma (12:50) What will you get out of Taming Your Triggers workshop (13:25) Our brains spend a good deal of the time telling stories about what's happening to us (16:09) Why do we create new threats in our brain (18:49) Why dealing with our child's emotions can be difficult enough when we are completely present and capable (21:34) The value of mindfulness in dealing with an oppressive society (22:27) How Mutual Aid group work for people who need help with the system (24:26) Ways we can work together with others to bring the changes we want to see (27:35) The small wins of the Gay Rights Movement (33:22) The success story of two parents in the Taming Your Triggers community who help each other on their healing journey (36:27) Invitation to join the Taming Your Triggers workshop   [accordion] [accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"]   Jen Lumanlan  00:08 Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Have you ever felt triggered by what's happening in the world? There are wars going on, elections where people get voted into power, who are elected on the promise of persecuting other people for their beliefs or their way of life or their gender or sexuality, or race. There are 1000s of people in our own communities who don't have a home to sleep in tonight, perhaps 150 million around the world who don't either, and more than a billion and a half more around the world inadequate housing. Climate change is affecting our weather systems so we're experiencing more severe weather and wildfires than in human history, which are further reducing access to housing, food, and water. There are court decisions that take away rights that lead to women getting inadequate health care because doctors are afraid that providing them with adequate care might mean that they get sued or put in jail. And they're always the people who talk about these kinds of events in inflammatory language. Sometimes we're even related to those people and we have to share our holiday table with them as they talk at length about their ideas that we see it was harmful to us, to people in our families, and to people in our society who aren't protected by our laws and practices. After each of these things happens parents in my community often come in weariness and exhaustion and say, “I'm really rattled by what's going on in the world. It's close enough to me in some way that it affects me. I'm worried about the potential for long-range bombs, or I'm angry about the persecution of people in my state or my community, or even myself, I feel powerless, that I can't do more. And I'm overwhelmed, and now I'm snapping at my kids.” And of course, they aren't alone in this and if you're having these reactions then you're not alone, either. But what should we do about it? It seems like these events come one after the other, although to some extent, I think it's a reflection of my and our privilege that things seem worse over the last few years than they have in the past, seemed like things like Mitch McConnell's blocking of the Democratic agenda, Donald Trump's election, his placement of three highly conservative Supreme Court justices and the folks who are convinced that Trump won the 2020 election and who are committing violence related to that is an indication that things are now falling apart. But things haven't been great for a lot of folks for a very long time. It's just that now things are so bad that even relatively privileged WHITE people like me can no longer say, “Yeah, it's bad,” and then go on about our lives. In this episode, we're going to discuss what's happening when we feel triggered by current events especially when that spills over into our lives with our children and we find that we're so consumed by worrying about what's going on out in the world that we don't have any energy or patients left for them, so we'll start by taking a closer look into the research behind that curve that shows that we benefit from moderate levels of stress and see whether that's really true, and we'll look at some practical tools we can use to manage our triggered feelings more effectively as well as to actually effect the change that we want to see in the world, and this will help us not only to respond to our children from a place that is aligned with our values but other members in our family as well with our spouses and our extended families too. So what's really happening when we feel triggered by something that's going on in the world? To some extent, this is contributing to our overall level of stress. You might have seen your Yerkes-Dodson law with its inverted U shape which shows on the left side that when we face a low amount of stress our performance is low as well, our performance increases as stress increases until we reach a moderate amount of stress, and then begins to decrease back to baseline as stress continues to rise. What you may not know is the Yerkes-Dodson law isn't really a law at all. Yerkes Dodson law were animal behaviorists at Harvard University who were looking at the speed that mice could learn to tell the difference between a white and black box and to varying light levels in relation to the levels of electric shocks they received when they chose the wrong box.   Jen Lumanlan  03:50 The researchers varied the strength of the shocks and measured the speed of learning and found that learning happened faster under the threat of moderate shocks rather than mild or extreme shocks under low light, although this relationship was linear when lighting was good, the higher the shock, the faster the mouse learned. Yerkes-Dodson repeated the experiment using chicks and kittens. The chicks consistently learned faster when they save stronger shocks although the relationship collapsed when the kittens did the task in very low light and failed out. So overall, there were a bunch of different relationships between shocking animals and how fast they learned to tell the difference between black and white boxes, Yerkes-Dodson published their paper in 1908, and it was only cited 10 times in the next 50 years until behaviorism was suddenly all the rage and famed personality theorist Hans Eysenck suggested in 1955, that the relationship between stress and performance that's based on the performance of 40 mice 86 Plymouth Rock chicks and 18 Kittens would hold true for the relationship between anxiety and task performance in humans. One of Eysenck’s doctoral students named Broadhurst made three key updates to way these ideas were communicated. He was the first to draw the inverted U-shaped curve, which was significant because up to that time, the y-axis on the graph and Yerkes-Dodson’s paper usually showed the number of trials needed to learn a task which varied from 50 to 260. In this rendition, a point high on the axis means slower learning but by inverting the curve, Broadhurst has made it possible to see stress as a positive thing with more stress resulting in faster learning at the intermediate point. Secondly, the inverted U-shaped graph that Broadhurst doesn't describe the results of experiments to test how stress affects performance and it doesn't conflate all of Yerkes-Dodson’s data either but is actually the result of a preliminary study of the length of time you need to forcibly submerge a rat underwater before you release it into a flooded maze and the length of time it takes the rat to get through the flooded maze and then is extrapolated as if humans experience stress in exactly the same way. Broadhurst also described the law as a law which Yerkes-Dodson never did said that it was comparable with the experience of workers who report the same relationship between stress and performance but only cited Yerkes-Dodson’s original paper in support of that fact, which never said anything about the experience of workers. So we have this model that suddenly applies to humans but without any indication of what constitutes low stress, medium stress, and high stress, because most of the time stressors in the real world aren't administered as electric shocks or flooded mazes, and we also aren't measuring our performance at telling black and white boxes apart are making it through a maze, and now it has this beautifully simple inverse U shaped curve to describe it, which shows moderate stress as a positive thing, and which looks remarkably similar to the bell curves of intelligence questions and body weight and other things we'd like to measure about people's brains and bodies, so we can have the illusion that we understand ourselves scientifically. Just seeing something on a graph makes us think we understand it better than we really do and it makes the idea much easier to describe and replicate, which is why it's still showing up in books today. Does all this really matter? We might ask ourselves? Well, I argue that it does.   Jen Lumanlan  07:07 Firstly, because this work is cited all the time even in current media. I was recently sent a book for review that talks about the positive impacts of moderate levels of stress and actually draws out a Yerkes Dodson curve for the reader and goes on to say that, “A moderate amount of stress and time pressure and role conflict can all enhance your creativity.” I was pretty curious about that. So I went and checked out the study that was cited in support of that claim. And it was a meta-analysis of 76 experimental studies which found decidedly mixed evidence of the relationship between stressors and creativity. These authors found that yes, their preponderance of the evidence indicates there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between stress and creative performance. Low stress-inducing situations caused increasing creative performance while high stress-inducing situations cause decreases in creative performance. But, and there's a pretty big BUT here. Two kinds of threats were particularly stressful for study participants social evaluative threats meaning an aspect of the self that could be negatively judged by others including things like videotaping the participants being told you're being evaluated or being compared negatively to an individual or group and uncontrollable elements where participants couldn't affect the outcomes of the test, avoid negative consequences, stop a negative experience, or succeed despite their best effort. The more of these kinds of stresses were present the worse the participant’s creativity was and if we think about it, these are exactly the kinds of stresses we're thinking about when we're being triggered by current events. We aren't looking at time pressure or competition when we're thinking about these world events we find stressful, we're looking at threats to people's identity, and things that are happening over which we have literally no control whatsoever. When these kinds of stressors form the background of our daily lives It's no wonder we have a hard time, partly because thinking about those events takes up some of our mental capacity, which means there's less mental capacity available for us to dedicate to our children. So why do we find these events stressful? What is it about them that causes us to have this reaction of worry or panic? When we refer to feeling triggered, we're actually using a clinical description that means the panic we're feeling is connected to trauma that we felt in the past. If we're feeling worry or panic and it isn't connected to past trauma then we call that feeling flooded. The experience can be very similar but if you aren't responding in this way because of trauma you've experienced, then you aren't really being triggered. Since we're now looking at our trauma history, we'll go ahead and use the word triggered. So when we hear about people being disenfranchised so they aren't allowed to vote or their votes won't be counted, It may remind us of a time when in our childhoods someone didn't listen to us. Perhaps we had a parent who was an alcoholic or just stressed out of their minds themselves and who used to berate us and put us down, and belittle us when we were young. And nobody stood up to protect us. And now when we see someone else's views being ignored and told that they don't matter it reminds us of that hurt that we used to feel when we were little, or perhaps we see the news about a BLACK person being killed as they go out for a run or lie sleeping in their own beds, and perhaps even subconsciously, it reminds us of times when someone who was close to us was violent towards us when we were little and couldn't defend ourselves. The brain is a strange thing and it copes with these kinds of things in very strange ways. One thing I do want to be cautious about here is equating feelings that WHITE people might be having about these kinds of events with WHITE folks in the BLACK community experience. I'm not trying to say that WHITE people suffer just as much as BLACK people do when a WHITE person murders a BLACK person, quite the opposite actually, since the past and ongoing traumas that BLACK people have experienced as a result of WHITE supremacy, probably make this even more triggering for them, but it's not my place to speak to that. It absolutely seems possible for a person who isn't BLACK to feel triggered when a BLACK person is killed, if it reminds them of the massive injustice they experienced in their lives especially when they were children, and even smaller injustice is feel really big. You might have blocked these memories so you no longer have a conscious recognition of what happened especially if these events happened when you were very young, you might latch on to a sight or sound, or smell that happened at the time and that caught your attention or that perhaps you use to distract yourself from the difficult events. So maybe there were sunflowers on the kitchen table which was really unusual or the tap was dripping as one of your parents was violent toward the other one or toward you. Later in life, you might see flowers on a kitchen table or hear a tap dripping and suddenly all comes rushing back to you, and you might not even realize why. You might have grown up using power over others as a way to make yourself feel more safe so that nobody could treat you the way that you were treated as a child but that most likely came at a cost as you hid the part of yourself that felt small and scared and lonely and convinced yourself that that part of you didn't exist anymore, it was still there all along and when current events remind you of what it's like to feel small and scared and lonely, it becomes overwhelming. So when these things happen and we recognize we're in a moment of stress the classic therapy technique is to practice grounding, connecting with your senses here and this present moment and reminding yourself that you aren't there in the unsafe place anymore, that you're here in this moment where you're safe. And then you work to create a pause between whatever was the triggering event and your reaction which gives you time to reregulate yourself so you're no longer reacting in the heat of the moment. You bring a sense of compassion to yourself and your experience acknowledging that this is hard which often then further calms you, and then you reappraise asking yourself, whether there's another potential explanation for what happened, whether it's...

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