Therapy Dump #6 – The Extinction Burst

I’ve been seeing my therapist for over three years, every week. During this pandemic we meet via telehealth. In this series come along with me through each appointment as I reflect on the session and my progress. 

Tonight, for the first time in a few weeks I went into my therapy session in good spirits, and looking forward to talking about my accomplishments rather than my struggles. I even had a meme to share with her.

Not to say that my week didn’t present some challenges – I definitely had to kick myself in the ass on Monday to get moving, but I managed. Then yesterday the situation with my son happened.

Still despite it all, I feel connected and focused. I’ll take it.

The Extinction Burst

As I told my therapist about what happened with my son and how I responded she asked me if we have talked about The Extinction Burst. She was also very happy with how I handled the situation.

I don’t remember ever talking about the Extinction Burst so she went on to explain it is a method that can be used to redirect negative behaviors.

The general concept is that we do things based on behavior vs. reward. In simplest terms, when a child throws a tantrum for attention, whether negative or positive and they get it, they learn that throwing a tantrum will get the responses they want.

In order to change the behavioral pattern, the reward system must be changed. If the tantrum is ignored, the behavior is likely escalate until either a parent gives in and reacts, or the child realizes they aren’t getting what they want and the behavior eventually changes.

When it does, that is the extinction burst.

When Does the Burst Happen?

As we talked about my son’s outburst and how it affected me as well as my responses, she explained that the escalation of his attacks when he realized I wasn’t getting sucked in was a sign that this behavior is on a trajectory to burst – so long as I stay consistent with my boundaries.

I was both surprised and happy to read while I researched that an escalation of negative behavior in the immediate moment when using this method is a sign of effectiveness.

I doubt that this one interaction will change his behavior completely, in fact, I believe my son is “ignoring” me right now until he decides he wants to talk to me again.

However, I continue to be hopeful as the years pass and our individual healing journeys continue that we will find our way again.

A Great Opportunity to Talk with my Youngest about Expressing Anger

It is hard to say out loud, but I do have concerns about my son’s influence on my youngest child. He just the other day used her as a messenger to make a point with me. I was shocked when she came up to me, her brother on the phone, to ask me about a decision I have made; a decision her brother disagrees with.

It was shortly after that he began his texting tirade of rage and disrespect.

As I discussed my feelings about this tonight, I also mentioned that I worry my little one is hearing her dad and I talk about our disappointment in her brother and how upset we are at how he treats me.

My therapist said this is a great opportunity for me to start talking with my little one about how to communicate big emotions properly. Something I have already started doing with her. My trauma has taught me some things when it comes to parenting.

Building Trusting Relationships

So let’s be real – trauma survivors don’t trust easily or completely. We may say we do, but the real kind of trust, the vulnerable kind – we don’t hand that out much if at all.

For me trust equates safety. Safety has always been an issue for me so even when I believe I trust someone often times that trust is conditional.

Yesterday I did something that made me realize I do have people in my life that I can trust, that are safe, and that will be there to catch me when I fall and support me. For the first time, I reached out to a family member (my aunt) during a trigger episode and she was there to offer a safe space and the understanding I needed, which reinforced for me that there are safe family relationships in my life. Something I am not used to.

Take Aways

  • Parenting as a trauma survivor is hard work
  • Don’t take my son’s behavior personal, instead remember the Extinction Burst and remain consistent with my boundaries
  • I do have family that I can trust
  • I am learning how to manage my triggers
  • Continue to stay focused on my goals

Stay tuned for next week’s post.  
Related posts: read through my previous Therapy Dumps.

Closing Comments

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2 thoughts on “Therapy Dump #6 – The Extinction Burst

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  1. I can totally relate to the therapy being teletherapy or when possible video therapy (which I prefer) because I was having a harder time with therapy when it was just on the phone. I don’t know if you’ve ever had bad experiences with therapy and while it hasn’t happened recently I once had a therapist fall asleep. I believe that I’m more open to my mindfulness and therapy. It is definitely hard work but we do what we have to do right?

    1. Oh wow, they feel asleep. That’s horrible. My experience with my therapist has been wonderful; I have been seeing her for over three years. Telehealth was hard the first few weeks but I have settled into it. Now however, I am waiting to hear how long it will be covered by my insurance. I may have to go into the office.

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