There is a saying that goes “My kid really pushes my buttons” or “They really push my buttons” It means that we feel as though the other person has set off something in us and is responsible for making us feel a range of intense emotions such as feeling angry. This can start a chain reaction and we tend to respond from the space of blame.
I think it’s fair to say we all know the feeling of being pushed to our limit. The moment you have the feeling of explosion. When your calm is replaced by a rapid onslaught of rage or annoyance. When we just throw out hands in the air and go, “That’s it, I quit, you got me”. But what if those moments of frustration or over the top reaction can be avoided, or even better, learnt from? In this post I’m going to share what I have learnt since becoming more self aware and improving my own self through the opportunity that motherhood has given me. My child became my teacher when I realized 4 years, ago that the only thing I had any certainty over was my own mind and self. I began to look for deeper meaning into why I reacted the way I did and how my child was showing me my triggers in her own behavior. I am going to attempt to put into words what I mean by this and share an example of how changing my beliefs has helped me and my daughter.
We are programmed to believe that when we feel under attack, there is something or someone else to blame. We react in defense or we blame outward. They made me so angry. She pushed me to my limit. It’s statements like this that we not only tell ourselves, but we believe to our very core. The belief is so well ingrained that we don’t even know it’s a belief that can be changed, we don’t even question why we think it, we might not even think it, we just know it, because it is and that’s that. It’s not hard to see why some families really struggle with handling anxiety attacks when an attack looks just as it says, an attack.
The thing is, it is not you, the carer being deliberately attacked. This is where some people, on the receiving end of a lash out, can take things personally and this is an area where can start to see anxiety in a different light and change the way we react. If we see the anxiety attack as a disability, not a conflict, it is easier to feel empathy and not resistance. If we see anxiety as an invitation, not an enemy, it takes on new meaning and leads us to question more and improve ourselves more. This in turn, can reduce the intensity of an anxiety attack, and it can divert an anxiety attack by taming down the trigger that starts the button pushing, both ways.
It is not you the adult that the child with anxiety is attacking, it is the anxiety that is driving a situation which causes you both to feel like you are under attack.
An anxiety attack is not always obvious or how one might imagine an attack to manifest. Withdrawal, naughty behavior, crazy behavior or avoidance can all still be classed as an anxiety attack. Every child will have their own coping mechanisms, but I think the important thing to remember is that it is not about you. However, the parent might be unknowingly adding to the anxiety and this is why it is so important to have as few a ‘buttons’ as possible, or to be able to deactivate our own buttons if we feel they are being pushed.
When we, the ‘sensible’ adult can see and understand this, it makes our role as guardians more simple. We can start to work on removing our buttons. Imagine if there are no buttons to press…
I am sworn and shouted at many times throughout the day. An outsider might see me as weak when I respond in calm and kindness, but I know that I am strong. My daughter is not doing this to attack me, upset me, aggravate me and she has not been brought up to think that aggression is OK. She is out of her own control when she is in this space and she is having an anxiety attack. She later becomes very depressed if she thinks she has upset me. I know that she cannot help it when her anxiety pushes her into fight or flight response. It is understandable that someone would feel abused, violated, hurt, worn down with daily anxiety attacks, seemingly aimed at them, be they verbal, behavioral or physical, but it is, in my opinion, imperative that attitudes and understanding of the why behind the rage be changed. By changing the way we understand and react to anxiety attacks, we can learn to minimize the damage and aftermath that such episodes leave behind. We can additionally lesson the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks. We can calm them more effectively and quickly. This has been my mission since living with a child who suffers from extreme anxiety attacks on a daily basis and I hope this blog reads well enough that it may spark some deeper thought for those who are struggling with daily anxiety attacks too.
It is common advice for the parent or caregiver of a child to stay calm during an anxiety episode, or a meltdown. There is debate as to whether the two are one in the same, but that’s a discussion for another day. Lets presume for the sake of this article that both are coming from the same place, either way, the advice is the same, to stay calm. One might nod and agree that yes, I can stay calm. I have read many comments of parents who say, I stayed calm but still they raged. It is my understanding that staying calm, as in not talking, walking away or disguising inside anger can still feel inauthentic to the person having an anxiety attack. It is not enough to simply ‘behave’ in a clam way. One must mean it.
For this reason I invite you to dig deep into yourself to see where you can improve and read your own reactions so that the next time a high energy situation occurs, you are not adding to the whirlwind that is anxiety. I discovered that it was not enough to appear calm, I had to believe and embrace calm to my very heart. I discovered that my deep beliefs were keeping me in a repeat pattern. My beliefs were my buttons. When I learnt this concept, I was able to start reducing and removing my buttons. However, before this enlightenment, when my child did something that ‘pushed my buttons’, off went a mental alarm bell in me and I would automatically feel under attack.
This feeling of attack, mirrored back to my child and created more of the same energy, anxiety. Anxiety is a big ball of energy that needs to go somewhere and as such creates a feeling of massive unease inside the body so it may burst out of itself. In a home situation, where triggers have been set off, on both sides, unwanted situations can escalate very quickly and become hard to reason with once the frontal cortex closes down and the amygdala takes full stage in operation brain, or in other words, the anxiety attack.
To try and explain more, here is an example of a belief I had that I wasn’t fully aware of until I recognized it was a cause for trigger in me and a cause for non calm in my daughter, because she could feel the belief that needed to be changed and this showed up in her anxiety reaction. I really hope this makes sense! I would like to add that I am not a professional. I am sharing my observations and am not saying that the following is each and every one of us, but it might just be helpful, so I’m going to say anyway.
My button/ Belief: You can’t let other people down, drove me to make a demand on my child and I state “You have to come to the event because we will let others down if we don’t go”
My insistence on the matter was being driven from my own anxiety about letting others down. This became a demand/ red flag for my PDA child and she reacted with no because she was picking up on my anxiety.
It is my opinion that the PDA child will have very deep, sensitive feelings about insecurity in the adult and will pick up on the vibe. A feeling of no starts brewing up in the PDA child, almost as if the child is highlighting to their parents that this belief is something that needs to be addressed at a deeper level. The child can feel that your button is something that needs to be changed or let go completely. The No that a PDA child will mirror to you is your invitation to question your button (belief).
Letting others down was a perception I had carried and I believed that if I let others down, I would not be loved. By applying this awareness I was able to dissolve my button and proceed next time with a different attitude.
This isn’t to say there will not be another button in the future, or another moment where this deep routed belief was to be tested again, but over time, with awareness and practice, we can lesson the buttons we have to be pushed, leaving us in a clearer head space to help with the anxiety that comes through for our children.
Living with anxiety is a complex web of experiences and perceptions and often takes two to tango. Understanding anxiety is a lifetime journey. The difficulties we share in PDA can also be the biggest gifts and it is my opinion that the way to peace is the work we put in along the way.
I hope this post has been thought provoking and opened up some ideas to explore further into what we can do as parents, for our PDA kids. Thanks for reading, thank you for following, thank you for sharing. x