Emotional Triggers

Emotional Triggers

Lately, many people want to tell me about, show me pictures of and/or talk about their wonderful, adorable grandchildren. I sit there, on the verge of a primal scream, as they whip out their phones or devices and start scrolling for pictures, all the while rhapsodizing about their unbelievably cute grandkids.

At this point in my life, most people I know are grandparents, so, even though it’s perfectly natural for them to talk about their grandkids, it pushes buttons and triggers emotions in me. If a friend describes a cozy evening by the fire reading to her grandkids or tells me about a recent trip to Disneyland with them, it’s hard for me not to feel bereft and cheated. I want to take trips with my grandchildren, (although, I could definitely pass on Disneyland), I want to laugh with them and hold them close. I want to know them.

It’s unreasonable to expect my friends and family to not talk about their grandchildren and it’s more loving on my part to listen to them and share their joy. That said, I have, in certain cases, stated that I’m very happy for them and want to hear about their grandkids, see pictures, etc, but ask that they keep it short and sweet, hoping they will understand that it’s difficult for me because I am reminded of what I’m missing.

There are many emotional triggers. Sometimes I’ll get tactile flashbacks of my grandkids and remember what it felt like to tickle their tummies or to hold a small hand while taking a walk to the park. The sound of rain can trigger a memory of my little grandson running outside during a storm, excited to be splashing around in his colorful new raincoat and rubber boots. I hear music that we danced to or come across books I bought for them and read to them, and I feel a pang of sadness. But, though these memories are bittersweet, I am nevertheless grateful that I had that precious time with them.

Recognizing that there are situations, places, people and things that can trigger an emotional response or memory is important. When I feel myself reacting and sliding into the abyss of anger, hurt, fear, etc, I switch my thoughts and identify what is triggering me. I take a deep breath and come back to the present moment. I acknowledge the feelings and remind myself that I did everything I could, that this alienation was not my doing and that things could change for the better. So, I then relax, breathe and do my best to enjoy what is before me. I can manage my thoughts and emotions by choosing to be kind, gentle and loving to myself.

I have no control over anyone and I only hurt myself when I argue with or refuse to accept the reality of the estrangement I have to live with. Everything changes, and I pray for a miracle of healing one day, but I must accept the way it is now.

It helps, when dealing with emotional triggers, to be grateful for the evanescence of the moment at hand. I continue to practice mindfulness, enjoying the little things, like a good cuppa joe or watching a goldfinch perched on a branch outside my kitchen window. And, everyday, I give thanks for the big things which, too often, I take for granted, like having eyes that see, hands that touch and a heart that keeps on beating.

14 thoughts on “Emotional Triggers”

  • This post just brought me to tears. Im not cut off from my grandson totally, I can travel the five hours to see my little one, but home where he lives (my old home) is one massive trigger for me now, so it’s tough when my son wont come and visit and keeps making excuses. Ive written so many letters, but i dont send them because my words usually fall on deaf ears or make things worse.

    I want to tell of a story that is so precious. I’ve hardened myself considerably to a life away from my grandson who meant the world to me. I left an abusive situation and leading up to the time before I had to run, literally for my life, my visits with my precious grandson are what kept me going. I loved kissing his soft little cheeks and taking him for walks in my arms. Anyway, I had had a falling out with my son and DIL this summer and had not seen them for six weeks. One night the pain just hit me and I woke up in the middle of the night in tears just longing to hold my grandbaby. The next day, I arranged a walk with my other two children down to the river market in our city. I went in to buy some jewelry and then stood in the busy isle sifting thru a rack of sale items from an adjacent store. When I decided to move across the aisle to see the regular inventory, my eyes fell across a familiar little face. I did a double take and thought, “Gosh, that child looked like my grandson!” So, I looked back, and up into the eyes of my eldest son and DIL and back down into the precious little face of my grandson who was reaching his hands out to me showing me some shiny stones he had collected.

    So, as the story goes, my son and wife had decided to come into the city secretly and were not going to tell me or meet with me. But the universe answered my call the night before and brought me instead TO my grandson and I was able to spend twenty minutes holding him and kissing his soft little cheeks. It was a gift out of many that I’ve received since moving here and having to struggle on my own and I’ve realized my needs are always met somehow and usually quite miraculously if I just ask or put my thoughts out there. It has been a huge lesson in humility and patience and realizing that I cannot change anyone, or force them to meet my need – I only change and control myself and let the universe guide me.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Christine. I’m so glad that your son and DIL were willing to let you hold your little grandson for 20 minutes. It’s a bittersweet story and your perspective is beautiful. I look forward to communicating more with you after my move to CA. Blessings and grace to you.

  • Heart-wrenching, touching, poignant words. I’m am happy you have a good therapist, someone I’ve been unable to find. I love your last paragraph. Transparent, wise words.

    • Hello, Nancy, and thanks so much for writing. I actually haven’t found a therapist who really understands estrangement and alienation, so I’ve been doing what I can on my own, but I think has been effective because I’m kinda learning the hard way!

      I just checked your site and am amazed by what you’ve experienced. Unbelievable. Your courage is amazing and inspiring.

  • Hello Nancy!
    I received a very long, very cryptic text from my estranged daughter 2 weeks ago saying she wanted reconciliation. She managed to take some responsibility for this horrendous situation but also still blamed me for most of her issues.
    I printed it out and went to my therapy appointment (something I started to survive this nightmare that began last October) and asked my therapist how to proceed. Much to my surprise she said to give my daughter the control, she needs to feel in control. Also, to acknowledge her perceived pain and distress caused by me. She said the goal was to get my grandson back into my life so I could be an influence in his life – his mother being a narcissist with a severe personality disorder. My daughter is so selfish that she is in direct competition with her only Son, my only grandchild, for my affection! How very sad. And here I thought our mutual love for him would forever bond us, instead it distorted us.
    So I wrote back to my daughter and did exactly what my therapist instructed and my daughter responded very positive. I downplayed my desire to see my grandson & focused on her – all the while tempering my excitement and joy at the potential of finally getting to see my grandson for the first time in almost a year!
    I had to make a conscious decision to forgive her for the cruel and heartless act of depriving me of contact with him. But I did it so we could move forward.
    Now, I wait. She has conveyed to me that she is extremely busy but will be in touch to make arrangements to get together soon. I’m being patient and not allowing myself to go backwards. I’ve spent the better part of a year getting healthy and learning how to not just survive this but to live my life joyfully and productively (you’ve been a huge help to me).
    I see this as an opportunity to start fresh and keep my dignity intact and to reset the way we previously conducted ourselves. I will never let her hurt me in this way again. I will guard my heart and watch carefully how I make myself available. It’s so sad to me that so much thought will have to go into having a relationship with my own daughter in order to have a relationship with my grandson but that’s the way it is.
    I’m also keenly aware that this could unravel before I even get an opportunity to see him again but i remain strong, reminding myself that I can only control my life.
    I continue to pray for you and all the others like us and that regardless of how it all ends up we can remain true to what’s best for us and our well being.

    • This is wonderful news! I completely agree with your decision to patiently let your daughter lead the way for now. Your insights into her behavior are wise and compassionate, and you’re playing this horrible game with integrity and good sense. Your therapist was spot on. I’m very happy to hear that you are continuing to take care of yourself, because if you weren’t as grounded as you are, this wouldn’t be going as well as it is. Bravo! Keep me posted.

  • Again Nancy your wise words made me cry, not bitter tears but ones of relief because someone understands what I am going through, our journeys through this difficult time in our lives seem so very similar. It’s 2 years since we have seen or heard from our 2 eldest grandsons, one entering his teens now. I have their photos around the house that remind me of our precious times together, some days they are a comfort and other days they may make me sad and grieve for what might have been. We had a big family party last weekend and they were missed although in getting the house ready, I did do something in an attempt to move on, I tidied our notice board and took the last drawings down that they did and stored them in a memory box that I will share with them when ( I hope) I see them again. That may seem like a small thing to do but it was a huge step for me.
    Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your thoughts, I for one find them such a comfort,. Take care x

    • That was a big step to put away the drawings – a healthy step! Good for you. And a memory box is a great idea and a good way to keep your grandchildren alive without torturing yourself. I no longer have pictures of my son or grandchildren around, because every time I’d glance at them, I felt sad. I decided that I didn’t need the constant reminder of the heartache, and it helped to put them away in a box.
      When I step back from all this, I can’t believe this has happened! But, it has, and we have to go on.

      Good to hear from you and I hope you’ll keep in touch. Sending warm thoughts.

  • I so understand what you’re saying Nancy. It has been a full year now without our grandchild. They gave us 6 years to bond with her, then used that bond to “punish” us for a mysterious, perceived slight. My memories with her were some of the sweetest in my lifetime, and those belong to me. No more tortured or bittersweet connotations hanging on- that time spent with her is sacred to me. Unforgettable pure joy.
    My son’s poor choices belong to him- his unhealthy relationships, his alcohol and drug abuse, anger, resent and deliberate cruelty. I can separate myself from all of that, knowing it belongs to him. No more walking on eggshells, making apologies only to be told they’re not good enough, or any of the other chaos we endured for so long. No more being set up to feel deflated, humiliated, depressed and destroyed.
    I am ashamed of him. I love him. I forgive him. There is no trust left. Hope has left the building. I see now this isn’t about his girlfriend and her instability- this is what HE chose. HE destroyed a relationship with two people that deeply loved him and his child. He may have done it to placate his disordered mate, but that is his issue, not mine. The moment they used our GD as a pawn in their sick dance, it was over for me.
    As time moves forward, I am becoming who I was before this knocked the wind out of me. I am making gentle, kind and brave decisions to respect and heal myself, my marriage, and my career. My health and happiness are just coming back after so many years.

    A woman I work with showed me videos of her daughter and grandchildren. They were absolutely beautiful. The happiness beamed out of her. So proud. As she should be. I realized her joy takes nothing from me- that’s proof of healing. I can share in her happiness and not feel pain anymore. Triggers be gone. Now that’s progress!

    There’s such power in surrender, forgiveness, and self-respect. Don’t let their foolish, selfish game cast a shadow over the good things in your life. You are surrounded by friends and family that care for you and want to share their joy. How rich is that?

    You are a precious soul Nancy. You were born to be loved and respected. Please take exquisite care of you.

    • Good to hear from you, Diana! You write with great clarity and beauty, (have I already told you that?). I love that you refer to your time with your grandchild as ‘sacred.’ There is a wonderful quote from Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel: ‘Every moment something sacred is at stake.’ Isn’t that lovely?!

      Your description of your son sounds like a description of my son! My communications with him over these years have been so abusive and chaotic. I am dismayed by his behavior and his choices and, like you, have no trust in him anymore. A sad state of affairs, to be sure. But your heart is open to others who are in your life and you obviously are loving and generous.

      I wish you lived next door so that we could have coffee together!!;)

      I hope you’ll continue to write – I find your comments encouraging and inspiring while helping me further understand the dynamics of all this, as incomprehensible as they are.

      Thanks so much, Diana for your sweet words and I send them to you as well. I hope you are taking ‘exquisite care of you,’- it sounds like you are.

      • After reading your blog- I take that as high praise Nancy. Thank you for giving me so much to think about. Not being alone in this is comforting.

        The good Rabbi’s quote is pure wisdom and truth. Isn’t it strange that what matters most to us is a target in this life?

        I’d love to share a cup of coffee with you. Good coffee in good company, how could we ask for more? So much to be grateful for, the little things are still sweet…

        Feel free to email me anytime. Looking forward to our shared understanding and healing!

    • I love the way u have written this, my and my husband’s world is exactly how u have described. The pain is unbearable at present, some days we r fine then uncontrolled tears flow from both my husband and i. I know i made a mistake, i went to the house to beg one last time for her to stay, to beg not be denied access, it wasn’t our fault that our son had done wrong, but i didn’t see the new boyfriend behind the pillar in the kitchen and he slammed his hsnd down on the bench 3 times at me and told me to get the f—- out of her life. I had been drinking, i was suicidal bcause i cud c wat was going to happen, i just cud not bear the thought that our 2 grandchildren were about to be ripped from our lives. Courtney was 4 months old Leo was 2 when my son and daughter in law arrived from Sweden. We did everything for them found an apartment in our building , completely furnished it for them as they arrived with just suitcases, paid their rent, phone, power groceries, nappies absolutely everything, brought car, 4 child seats to furnish our car and theirs to save hassle when we had the grandchildren, then 6 mths later they moved, no problem he had a job they wanted somewhere where they had chosen, no problems for us we still picked children up every Friday after we finished work and kept them til sat evening, i wud drop them back bathed abd fed and ready for bed. A while later marriage broke down to drugs, no trust, accusations of affairs on both sides. It got to stage where i hated taking children back bcause they were returning to hostile environment but tat was the rules. Eventually the marriage ended with a dvo on our son. She and the children moved in with us for nearly 4mths(into a 2brm high-rise apartment along with mosy of their belongings) the rest we paid for a storage container. We brought her a car, encouraged her to open her own bank acct and put $ in it to help her feel more independent and my brother came to party and offered to pay for her rent for 6mths in home of her own. Unfortunately he fell on bad times and cud not afford his genorosity so we went without to psy her rent and an allowance of $200 a week. It was killing us financially to do this. In the meantime i sent my son her husband back to new Zealand as he was not eligible for rehab here in Australia being a kiwi. As the dvo put in place for 2yrs was in force i felt that instead of him breaching his dvo, (she denied him all access to his children ) then it best he got help and when 2yrs up he cud show changed person eyc etc however 2 days after he departed she moved in the new boyfriend (the exact person who she had been accused of having an affair with that act was the ending of their marriage) . I was very upset, angered distraught bcause i knew this guy dealed in drugs (he actually told me this the first time i met him when marriage still somewhat intact) and i voiced my opinion. When i saw that he had bought my grandson a great BIG remote control car (he is 5) and a pretty dress for my grand daughter (2) and a bunch of pink roses for the mother my only thought was (well it didn’t take much to get him into her bed) don’t forget here the only way she got the house was with my name on lease, we were paying rent, power, phone and an allowance each week ) and when i saw where all this was heading i became depressed, suicidal as i knew she wss going to stop access. The ending of all this is she moved out and left us with huge cleaning bill, furniture that we had brought for her and kids no forwarding address, still driving car that is in my name, (even though i offered to gift to her but she refuses contact ), she has blocked every Avenue of contact, then to top it all off she had ne served by the police a week ago a dvo and protection order that i cannot approach, try to contact etc and a court date! This order will be put in place for 2 years! The children have had us ripped from their lives no goodbye nothing! They lost their daddy and now us. My husband and i worry about the psychological effects this will have on the children. AM I BEING PARANOID OR IS THIS WOMAN EVIL?

      • Hello Dot – thanks for writing. It’s clear that you’ve been under an enormous amount of stress. I can’t say that your former daughter-in-law is ‘evil’ or pass judgement on her behavior, but I can say this: where there is betrayal, there is shock and dismay; where there are drugs and addiction, there is instability and chaos; where there is emotional dysfunction, there is the possibility of emotional and/or physical abuse. It becomes impossible to communicate with those who are using alcohol or drugs. It’s next to impossible to communicate with people who lack emotional intelligence, perspective or compassion.
        If you feel that you’ve done everything you can to be understanding (not condoning), reasonable and communicative, then it’s time to let things settle down. Make an honest appraisal of your own behaviors in all of this, and ask yourself some questions, like where could you have done better, if you’ve taken responsibility for your own mistakes, (we all make them), and have you made amends, (to yourself and, if possible, to the others involved). Maybe get the help of a therapist, support groups, etc. With some distance, things may calm down, and you might ask your daughter-in-law if it’s at all possible to write, send gifts or skype with the kids at some point. When you feel that you’ve done all you can, then move on. You can’t control or cure them, but you can find a way to enjoy life again. It takes time, and the pain doesn’t ever go away, but it abates. Life becomes worth living again, even without your grandkids.

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