Children & Trauma: Mom vs. Survivor

Yesterday it happened again. An encounter with my 22 year old son turned into a situation where the subject started as one thing but by the end of his tirade he had thrown all of his anger, his hurt, and his trauma at me. His sudden attack triggered trauma responses in me and set the tone for the next couple hours of my life.

Interacting with him recently has been very challenging.

When Mental Illness Locks Horns

My son was born three years after the trial against my grandfather and his subsequent suicide. He didn’t get the best version of me during that time, but he has always gotten the best I can give.

I am a few years into my healing process after over 20 years of dissociation. I am sorting through my childhood of sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and death, topped with a trial and suicide and learning to live with CPTSD.

My adult son has also experienced multiple complex traumas as well as the trauma of being disowned and mistreated for who he is as a person by his father’s side of the family. Additionally, he lived the majority of his childhood with a parent who had an undiagnosed mental illness.

Our healing journeys are individual, they are difficult – and try as I may to avoid it – our mental illnesses have locked horns before. As I progress through my healing, I am learning how to respond to him and how to care for myself through this process.

Through this, I hope I can show him with my own responses to him, how to process, communicate, and move through challenging emotions. I hope that I can help him realize how amazing he is and how deserving of happiness he is. Something I fear I didn’t do well in his younger years.

The Mother in Me

I hurt so bad for my son. I understand his pain far more than he realizes, and I wish so badly that he didn’t have a childhood to heal from. I try so hard to allow space for him when he is in a rage like yesterday but I realize I also need to set boundaries on his behavior towards me (for both of us).

I try to check in with him via text every couple days, even in the midst of these types of situations. I never know if my number is blocked or not, but I send the messages nonetheless. And as soon as he has calmed down, we normally resume communication. Normally.

This time he really took it there with the “don’t talk to me anymore” stuff so who knows how long this cool off will take.

I’ll be here when he is ready.

The Trauma Survivor in Me

Something most parents probably don’t like to admit when dealing with their children after trauma is how it also evokes trauma responses and negative feelings both about ourselves, and about our kids.

When my son lashes out at me like this, my mind and body normally respond traumatically – my heart begins to race, I get shaky and unfocused. I allow him to draw me into his rage as I defend myself against his attacks on my worth, fearful that if I tell him to stop he will leave me.

All this does is continue the behavioral cycle and intensify my own fears and negative thoughts of self.

I also have moments where I think about how unsafe the relationship is, feeling helpless on how to help him or avoid another traumatic interaction. It’s not like I am going to stop talking to my son but for a moment I forget I am the mom and I feel and respond solely as the abused little girl inside me.

Parenting after trauma is difficult sometimes.

I tried Something Different This Time

Yesterday as the situation with my son unfolded, I tried to stay mindful of what was going on. I paid attention to the physical responses of my body as well as my thoughts. Then I started to do some things differently and with intention:

  • I started to breathe slowly and deeply. I know that breathing will aid in physically calming my body down. I paid attention to my breathe and I allowed my body to shake until it slowed and then stopped on its own.
  • I acknowledged my trauma responses, allowed myself to feel it all, and began to have counter conversations with myself. I reminded myself of the facts of the situation to help me differentiate my trauma responses from the reality of the situation.
  • I set immediate boundaries regarding behavior and did not allow myself to get sucked into his rage. In fact, I stopped responding to him first which is not normally the case.
  • I called my aunt immediately to talk about it. This is something I never do. I don’t reach out in the midst of a trigger episode and seek help, but I did this time and she was there for me. During that conversation I cried and talked it out. She provided perspective, objectivity, and the support I needed in that moment.

Doing it differently yesterday has definitely produced different results. My anxiety levels have been lower through this. My negative thoughts of self less. I am not as fearful of my son’s threats knowing that my love is unconditional yet I have no control over his actions. The boundaries were hard, they were uncomfortable to set – but I am proud of myself.

Getting back to a calm state after everything happened was easier this time.

This is healing, this is progress.

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