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
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
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 as bad as it had initially seemed and whether you can believe the story that your overactive left brain is telling you about your experience. And from there, you can respond to your child if it was their behavior that triggered you or to the current events in a way that’s aligned with your values, rather than just reacting. If all of that sounds super difficult I’m not going to sugarcoat it and imply that it isn’t it is, it absolutely is, and that’s a big reason why I spend 10 entire weeks working with parents on it in my taming your triggers workshop. In that workshop, we help you to see the real reasons why you feel triggered by your child’s behavior and help you to heal from those things. At the same time, you learn new tools for navigating these difficult situations with your children so you can understand why they do the things that drive you up the wall and work with them to uncover their needs that are underneath their behavior and your needs as well. The vast majority of the time you will find it is possible to meet both your child’s needs and your needs, so you aren’t triggered as often anymore, because you don’t feel triggered when your needs are met. We discussed the idea of our overactive left brains with Dr. Chris Neubauer, in Episode 113, on “No self no problem,” our brains spend a good deal of the time telling stories about what’s happening to us as a way of trying to understand it and a lot of the time the stories it tells aren’t really grounded in reality. There’s some interesting experimental evidence on this with people who have had the connection between the two halves of their brain cut which used to be a treatment for epilepsy, our right eye are connected to the left side of our brains, and our left eye are connected to the right side of our brains, so you can cover the person’s right eye and show them a message that only their left eye sees that says stand up, and then they go ahead and stand up. Their right eye didn’t see that message and so the left side of their brain has no idea why they stood up, but then you verbally asked them, “Why did you stand up?” And because our language centers are in the left side of our brains, we’re asking the left brain something it knows nothing about. And those people will say something like, “Oh, I stood up because my leg was stiff, or I was thirsty, so I was going to get a drink.” Obviously, neither of those things are true, the person stood up because they saw a piece of paper telling them to stand up but their left brain didn’t know that so it made up the best story it could to explain what the body had done. Our brains do this all the time. They remember all the stories we’ve told ourselves in the past and they use that information plus the limited information we have about this new situation because we can never know everything there is to know about a situation, and they make up a story that fits the new information into what we already know as best we can. And of course, the view our brains have is a biased view. It’s distorted by all the things that have happened to us for better or worse. If we had a stable life as a child and felt confident that most people in our lives were basically good and looked out for us and had our best intentions at heart, then we’re more likely to interpret an ambiguous situation today as being not so bad. Yes, it might be difficult but if we didn’t feel judged by our parents or caregivers, or other people who were important in our lives, and if we had a sense of autonomy, which meant somebody would listen to us and try to understand us, and our ideas would actually have an impact on what happened to us, and it probably won’t rock our world. But if we did feel judged by our parent, or caregiver, or by society more broadly if we’re talking about something like racism, or if we didn’t have the experience of being listened to, and being able to make decisions that affect our lives, like for example, if we had traditional parents who believe that they are the ones who should be in charge, and make all the decisions about what we were allowed to do, and how we’re allowed to express our thoughts and feelings, and even whether we’re allowed to express our thoughts and feelings, and it’s not so surprising that suddenly being in a position where something about our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and identity is threatened, and we lack a sense of control over the event that’s happening now, then, of course, we’re going to feel triggered.
Jen Lumanlan 16:09
Our left brains are busy trying to make sense of the information about the new threat and because it’s trying to fit that in with all the other stories it has made up over the years, to help us cope with the ways our parents treated us, It perceives this new threat to be ding, ding, ding. Really big deal. So then our task is to remind ourselves that we’re here now. We’re safe. By grounding ourselves in this present moment and that we don’t need to react in the same way that we would have reacted when we were threatened as a child but one thing that all the books and blog posts and other resources I’ve seen on this topic doesn’t address is what happens if the current threat isn’t just reminding us of a long past threat, but it’s actually threatening to us or someone we love today. What happens if we’re transgender? or we have a child who’s transgender? and our government rolls back protections for transgender people, which emboldened people who think that transgender people are wrong in some way. What happens if we’re indigenous and over 80% of Indigenous men and women have experienced some form of violence in their lives, with more than half of Indigenous women having experienced sexual violence, the majority of which was perpetrated by someone who was not indigenous, which means that a threat is not just some remote idea that we can remind ourselves isn’t relevant to our lives anymore, but which may still be a clear and present danger. And what if we’re BLACK and we see that BLACK people can’t go to the corner shop or go for a run? Or even sleep in their own beds without being killed? How are we supposed to ground with that?
Jen Lumanlan 17:32
None of the resources I’ve seen anywhere have an answer for that. The classic answer is acceptance. We can’t know what will happen to us, none of us can, we can’t know if we’re going to be in an accident on the way to the grocery store today, or if we’re going to get diagnosed with an incurable disease next week. I’ve often thought about people living in Afghanistan, which the US has bombed for years using drones so there’s no indicator something’s about to happen, and I’ve wondered what it’s like to live for years with the idea that you could literally be obliterated off the face of the earth as you were shopping at the market or cooking dinner, or putting your kids to bed with no idea it was coming. I’d be shocked if hundreds of 1000s of people in that country aren’t living with massive trauma associated with having their identity profiled and attacked and having zero control or even more than a second or two is notice that death would be on the way. Here at home, we try to make ourselves feel more secure in a couple of different ways, firstly, by hoarding money, because we don’t have the relationships to know there’ll be someone around to take care of us if something bad happens to us, so we have to replace those relationships with paid services. If we have money, then hopefully we can pay for someone to take care of us when we need it. If we have money we can escape from places where services aren’t provided anymore to places where they are. And secondly, we see the absence of control we have over this new circumstance and we try to reassure ourselves that we are okay that we have a sense of control over our lives, our attention is already spread thin because some of it is taken up by worrying about whatever is the big threat here today, so it’s very difficult for us to be fully here in the present moment. It can be difficult enough to deal with our child’s feelings when we’re fully present and capable so once you shave 50% of your capacity to do that off the top, everything gets a lot harder, so maybe your child is jumping on the couch for the 10th time today, and you’ve asked them to stop doing it nine times already, and normally you could ask them to stop for the 10th time and maybe even try to redirect them to running around outside, but when 50% of your attention somewhere else, all of a sudden, it’s pretty difficult to remember what your values are, and what tools you have to respond to your child in a way that’s aligned with your values, all you care about is getting them to stop jumping on the couch so you can think and get a moment of peace, and try to find the sense of calm that you’re so desperately trying to find, so you snap at them or a yell at them or maybe even spank them. You know, this isn’t how you want to react to your child and that your child is hurt and upset and you feel guilt and maybe even shame her over how you handled it, which just compounds the hurt you’re feeling and makes it even more difficult to talk with anyone else about it. So we’re trying to do our grounding and we’re trying to do our reappraisal that may help settle this for a bit but it doesn’t do much to change the circumstances on the ground. The way we’re told to bring about the change we want to see is to vote. We’re supposed to vote for candidates who share our beliefs that they will bring about the change we want to see. But how can that be the answer when I live in California, where 39 million people elect two senators and we’re not quite 600,000 people in Wyoming also get to elect two senators, each of whom gets one vote in the Senate? How is voting the answer when one party talks about finding compromise, and the other systematically disenfranchises people who don’t vote for them? How is voting the answer when ultimately, money is the thing that decides who gets into power, and the decisions that they make when they get there? Senator Joe Manchin can single handedly decide whether this entire country is going to at least try to address climate change so millions more people don’t die in wildfires and flooding and because of hunger, or whether he’s going to let the millions of dollars he’s accepted from political action committees funded by the fossil fuel industry, as well as the few million dollars he holds in a cold brokerage business determine how he votes. In 2021, he made a little over half a million dollars from these holdings. It’s sort of wild to think the fate of human history could be decided over half a million dollars a year. Sort of like couldn’t, someone, have paid him double that to vote for the climate bill, which of course would be illegal, but somehow profiting from holdings in companies affected by the climate bill and accepting money from fossil fuel companies isn’t illegal? It just boggles the mind. So what are we supposed to do here? practice mindfulness and vote. I mean, honestly, I think this is what our culture wants us to do because each of these practices is an individualistic solution. Mindfulness helps us to cope with a system that’s hurting us. It’s hurting some people more than others, but it’s hurting all of us. Mindfulness makes that hurt less bad and it’s also something we can do by ourselves if only it was also expensive, then capitalism would support it more. Voting gives us the illusion of control because it makes us nominally equal, every individual gets one vote. But if the way we vote doesn’t actually change much about the how the country is run, then why are we seeing this as a potential solution? To me, this is where a lot of things clicked into place as I reflect on the episode that I recorded with Professor Dean Spade on the topic of mutual aid. In that episode, we looked at how ineffective individualist-based practices are bringing about change. Yes, mindfulness can help us to cope. It’s an important tool to help us resource ourselves so we can keep going, keep going for what? So we can vote? So what are we supposed to do instead? Well, that’s where mutual aid comes in. As Dean mentioned, folks often reach out to mutual aid groups when they need help, or being evicted or threatened with deportation or someone’s trying to take away a legal right of theirs and they ask for help. And Dean’s point is that mutual aid groups offer that help when they’re vulnerable, and then say, “Well, you came for the aid, would you be willing to stick around to do something about this systemic issue, because it isn’t just you that struggling with this, and you’re not struggling with it because of some flaw that you have. But because the system is rigged against you.” Mutual Aid recognizes that people who reach out for help aren’t people who need rescuing their people with valuable skills and knowledge. I think back to a book I read a while ago about people living with pretty severe mental illness in a residential home who were getting traditional treatments and they all had Myriad diagnosis because the person who ran the home needed to justify every treatment they received so the place could get reimbursed. The administrator ultimately got sick of dealing with the administrative crap that wasn’t really helping her to serve the residents and ask the residents what they wanted to do, and they completely transformed how they saw themselves and each other. They made a lot of plans for how they were going to work together. They started a snack shop to raise funds to take a trip together, even consulted with the local police force to create a guide for how the police should work with people with mental illness. They weren’t suddenly fixed but they had meaning and purpose in their lives and they were functioning at a level that nobody expected them to when they were only viewed through a lens of the things they couldn’t do and all the ways they were broken. If we put it back into the terms of our stresses not only was their identity not being threatened anymore by the diagnosis and the “Treatment plans,” but they were rebuilding their identity as people who have value regardless of and perhaps even because of their mental illness. They were also building a sense of autonomy. They weren’t just passive individual recipients of mental health services. They were active agents in their own lives who built something to help themselves in community with others. I don’t think it was all smooth sailing by any means but they were making a lot of progress. It was an amazing story to read. When we think about how this applies to our own lives if we’re passive individual recipients of services, including mental health services, while in public people are verbally attacking our identity and even physically attacking people who share our identity, and we’re waiting to vote to exercise our agency, then it’s no wonder we feel stressed because our identity and our agency are both being continually threatened. So what can we do about it? Well, we can start by reaching out for help and then work together with others to bring about the changes we want to see, possibly through political action if that’s appropriate. I’ve been part of an unschooling community for over a year now that’s heading in this direction. It was formerly a more structured environment and is now shifting into being more of a co-op that’s co-led by parents and teachers. We’re figuring out the process of how to make decisions together which is hard because the model we all grew up with is the top-down one where we’re told what to do. In that model, which is used in the school system, we might dislike something that’s being done like a homework policy, or a behavior management system that’s being used in the classroom, and if that happens we can fight against it, but ultimately, we never really expect to change very much about the system as a whole. I think in a command and control structure there’s always inherently some element of us versus them, there are the people who create and implement the policies, and the people those policies affect and it’s very difficult to be truly equals and be on a team with people from both sides of that divide. In what we’re building, we’re creating the system as we go and in the way we create it, we’re either upholding systems of oppression, or we’re dismantling them, we get to make that choice every time we interact with each other, because we’re the ones who are deciding what the system should be. And it’s not easy. In some ways, it would be much easier to just have someone to tell us what to do because that’s the way things have been for all of our lives. Instead, we get to decide how we want to be together, and what values are important to us, and how we will live those values each day. Here, there’s nobody to fight against, because we’re all with each other. If we don’t like how something is done, we have a responsibility to name that and see if others feel the same and then change it. If we want our program to center on BIPOC children’s needs then we need to be the ones who define what that looks like in collaboration with the children, and then hold ourselves accountable to living by that value. It’s really hard work and while it doesn’t threaten our identity, I think it can cause us to question our identity, as we investigate how the ways we show up in the community are perceived by others, I see that as a good kind of artwork and absolutely a credit creates a sense of agency and all of us, because we are the ones responsible for creating the program we want. There’s nobody to fight against because we are all responsible. To some extent, the model that we’re using is a bit different from the activist model that Dean Spade was discussing because I think he sees supporting each other as a necessary step while we work to change a system and we’re saying we don’t need to change the system, because supporting each other is the work that we’re doing. Neither of these things is better than the other and each one is appropriate in different circumstances. By homeschooling our children, I and the parents that I’m working with are opting out of the school system so I don’t think it makes sense for us to try to continue to change a school system that we aren’t part of. But there will be many other systems that we can’t opt out of and that’s where it makes more sense to work to change the system. A homosexual person can’t opt out of being seen as homosexual back in the 1960s, the idea of trying to change the way our culture sees gay people probably seemed pretty overwhelming. I was just reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, which talks about the power of small wins. The Gay Rights Movement had started by trying to repeal laws that used to prosecute gay people and they failed. They wanted the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a disease but that seemed like an unattainable goal. But in the early 1970s, the American Library Association’s Task Force on gay liberation decided to focus on a pretty small goal, convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement so they no longer fell under HQ71-471, which was named abnormal sexual relations, including sexual crimes. The Library of Congress agreed to create a new category HQ76.5, homosexuality, lesbianism, gay liberation movement, and homophile movement, on the face of it what has really changed here? We’re putting the books in a different place in the library under a less pejorative title, it needed doing but was it really a big deal? but changing the classification showed that changing the definition of homosexuality from being deviant to being a normal sexual variation was possible.
Jen Lumanlan 28:48
The small wins set the stage for the bigger ones that followed, news of this policy change spread across the country and gay rights organizations cited this victory as they ran fundraising drives. Openly gay politicians started running in several states, often citing the Library of Congress’s decision as inspiration. And in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association did finally remove homosexuality from the diagnostic and statistical manual so it was no longer considered a mental illness. It would be an oversimplification to say that the single action of sending a letter to the Library of Congress was the thing that made the gay rights movement happen if there’s anything that we’ve learned about history is that when there’s a single neat storyline, like Rosa Parks giving up her seat on the bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King gave me a speech, and suddenly racism isn’t a thing anymore then we’re missing something big. We can look back and draw the neat story through the actions in a straight line but that misses all the other small wins that other people were working on as well. Organizational theorist Dr. Karl Weick, says that small wins are fragmentary in nature and they stir up settings, which means that each later attempt at another win occurs in a different context. There are miniature experiments that test theories about resistance and opportunity, and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up. Big wins require a lot of coordination, timing is crucial. People may decide they’ve had enough, they don’t want to work on the issue anymore. If one piece fails, the whole thing falls apart, but if we’re working on a specific, doable, immediate goal, our sense of autonomy goes up because we can see that we’re working on something potentially achievable rather than a massive thing that seems like it may never change. Success or failure become quickly visible. If you’re successful, you gain confidence to try for another win. If you fail, you haven’t lost much, you can quickly regroup and try again. Karl Weick says, “A small win reduces importance.” So we think this is no big deal, reduces demand, so we think, that’s all that needs to be done and raises perceived skill levels so we think I can do at least that. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by something that’s going on in your life or by the news more broadly, what’s one small when you can envision actually happening? If you’re exhausted from doing so many school pickups and drop-offs, can you organize a few parents to share the load, so you only have to be there one day a week? If you hate cooking and don’t want to do it as much, can you set up a meal share with a neighbor? If there’s a system that you have to use at work that makes your life more difficult, could you get together with colleagues to understand why it’s being used, and devise an alternative that works better for you while addressing your boss’s concerns? If you hate that there are never changing tables available in the bathrooms of businesses use and particularly in the men’s bathrooms, could you write the locally owned businesses or Franchise Businesses who actually have the power to make decisions about their one or few restaurants to ask for what you want? If you are able to hold a regular gathering in their restaurant so they can see you’re not just an antagonist but a supporter then so much the better? Same goes for the gender labeling of bathrooms. If you’re angry about the treatment of refugees, where are the refugees in your community? What resources do they need? What resources do they have to offer to the community? What policies make their lives especially difficult? And how could you imagine making a tiny change to one of those policies working with the refugees, who are people with agency and ideas and resources themselves? What are some of the ways that things are described and classified, and done that make things more difficult for you, and the folks around you? And how can you change these on just the tiny local level in your community and then let other folks know about your success, so they can work on changing them in their communities too.
Jen Lumanlan 32:19
This stirs the pot. So the next effort to make a change is happening from a different baseline with a different set of conditions which makes new things seem possible that hadn’t seen possible before. As we go through this process our identities are reconfirmed and our sense of agency is expanded. When we combine this with our mindfulness practices, we find ourselves better able to cope with the challenges that life throws at us, and we aren’t just waiting around for things to change and for our chance to vote for someone who will do something differently. We’re also taking action to actually change things that really affect us, which changes our circumstances, as well as our view of ourselves and what we’re capable of, and it turns out that doing this work and community is critical. When I asked Dean Spade about whether he gets overwhelmed by the many mutual aid projects he works on, he said he doesn’t really because being in community with others, and working on projects to reclaim our agency is actually healing for us. It isn’t something that depletes us. It’s something that restores us. I see all the time the ways that people make huge progress on their healing journey when they’re in community with others, I’m thinking of a particular exchange that happened in the Taming Your Triggers workshop that started last February, and both of the parents who were involved in it gave me permission to share it with you, although I’m abbreviating their names to S and C. So we have a space in our private community where parents can share the successes they’re having along their journey and one parent C, had posted because she had agreed to play soccer in the house with her six-and-a-half-year-old son for 20 minutes. And when the 20 minutes rolled around he got very upset and told her that she didn’t care about him, and C, reminded herself of the tools we’ve been learning and she connected with what her need was, which was for some rest, and to stop running around. She offered to be a goalie for her son, but he still wasn’t happy about it and continued to protest, and she reminded herself she is allowed to have this boundary, and he’s also entitled to have his reaction. It wasn’t her job to fix, heal, squash or otherwise make his feelings go away any sooner than he needed them to. She was able to sit through his upset without becoming flooded or triggered, which was a new experience for her because up to this point she was able to start off calm, but then she would later snap because her calm approach wasn’t “Fixing him soon enough.” She said it didn’t take long for him to move on and get out a book for them to read together. And a whole bunch of parents chimed in on that post to say that they saw echoes of their own families of origin and this interaction. One of whom was parent S, who quoted what C had said about snapping because my calm approach was not fixing him soon enough, and said, “Thank you for just expressing so perfectly one of my triggers.” Sometimes it’s so helpful to read how someone else is processing and making sense of things. And then, C, the original poster responded with a heart emoji and said, “I don’t even think I thought of it as a trigger worthy of writing down until you framed it as a trigger. I knew it was something that bothered me. But now I see it falls into the major categories of things not going my way and being out of control, and perhaps overlaps a bit with having to re-explain myself and not being understood.” And I chimed in and said that this is how learning happens in community and that it makes my heart sing. And then s wrote back and said, I definitely related to the loss of control part, I’ve been thinking on it more and for me when I’m faced with these ongoing sad and dissatisfied feelings and outpourings for my kids when I’m being calm. I think there’s a couple of parts. One, there’s the perfectionist/good girl and me who’s thought sound like but I’m doing everything right, I’m staying calm. I’m saying the right words, I’m being a good parent. Why isn’t this working? Why aren’t they calm and happy?
Jen Lumanlan 35:53
And then two, the childhood part of me where I wasn’t allowed to have sad or dissatisfied feelings, and express those to my mom, as she would later become either more upset than I was or irritated and angry, I’ve now been recalling memories of when I was very little when my mom would say, “Stop being silly.” If I was crying over something she viewed as unimportant or silly, or if I was sad or emotional, she might say, “I think you’re really tired.” And then she responded to me. “Yes, it’s been so amazing and interesting having other people put into words my experiences that I’m still figuring out and processing, it really speeds up the whole process.” So if you’re finding that you’re feeling triggered or flooded by your child’s behavior more often than you’d like whether this is happening because of current events out in the world, or things that have affected you in your past or even struggles you’re having today, then I’d love to meet you in the Taming Tour Triggers workshop. I’ll share some new tools with you to help you understand things differently but as you’ve seen, a good deal of the progress that parents make in this workshop is a result of the interactions they have with others in the community. In our individualistic culture, it’s very common to think that we’re missing a piece of knowledge and when we have that piece of knowledge, everything will drop into place, and we won’t feel triggered by our child’s behavior. And certainly, the tools I provide will help, but it’s really practicing those and seeing what works, and where you get tripped up, and processing what you’re learning in community with others, that is what enables parents to actually take on these new ideas and not just learn them in their brains but truly believe them and take them on in their bodies. And from there, you become actually able to use them in your real life with your real family. The workshop is open for enrollment right now until Wednesday, October 12th. And we’ll all get started together on Monday, October 17. I’ve specifically planned the timing of the workshop to wrap up right before the holiday season because while we have to navigate online vitriol every time we’re on social media, In just a few weeks, we’re going to be spending time with our extended families and some of them hold very different views about the world, about current events, and even about our child rearing practices than we do. If you’ve often found these kinds of events to be triggering or flooding in the past. And you’re looking ahead to this holiday season with something of a sense of dread and you want to be able to go into these interactions, knowing that they won’t rattle you in the same way that they have in the past, then the tools you will learn will help with that too. Just go to your ParentingMojo.com/tamingyourtriggers to sign up and I will see you there.
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About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.