“I’m exhausted. I may just not be cut out for this parenting thing. And I’m angry because I wanted to give my own family more than I ever got as a child, but I’m failing grandly”.

Rebecca sobs as she shares her woes. Parenting has been a journey that has been burdened with shame, anxiety, insecurity and doubt from the get-go.

“I’ve shared my struggle with many of my friends but they usually commiserate but then move on. I can tell their pain isn’t as deep searing as mine is. What is that about?”

Rebecca, was raised in a dysfunctional home and experienced childhood neglect & abuse, and is currently experiencing anxiety related post traumatic stress symptoms that have only recently risen in her parenting experiences.

For some survivors of family dysfunction, trauma, neglect, abuse or loss, their symptoms are recurrent, however, for many, their emotional symptoms of their old wounds come firing up when they are parenting their own children.

Irritated, Insecure and Confused? Maybe it’s Parenting with PTSD

There is a significant number of parenting survivors who don’t recognize their irritation, anxiety, emotional flashbacks, triggers or depression as symptoms of PTSD. Many don’t notice the correlation to the onset of these debilitating experiences and instead of looking inward, get stuck in a cycle of shame, feeling inadequate and doubtful in their capacities to parent.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will experience sexual abuse. And, of course, each of these individuals grow older and mature; many of which later become adults, and a large percentage whom never get to process what has happened to them. These adults often are left with confusing, puzzling and triggering emotions, feeling misunderstood and alone. Other forms of trauma that many experience, that often do not get processed are emotional neglect, lack of soothing when in physical or emotional pain, physical hunger, growing up with alcoholic, addictive, angry or moody adults with untreated mental health issues, being exposed to violence, verbal abuse and various forms of loss.

 

Parenting PTSD. What is it?

You’re not crazy, nothing is wrong with you, but you may have something called Parenting PTSD and many others have it as well. Parenting PTSD is when becoming a parent triggers old memories, body sensations and experiences, leaving you in a foreign pool of PTSD symptoms.

Here’s are some silent comments many share about their experience with this:

I sometimes feel lost, confused and helpless when my child looks at me for guidance.

I sometimes feel grateful, amazed and in awe of what life can be like when I see what I’m offering my own children.

Sometimes, I feel anxious, have intrusive thoughts, or feel afraid when bathing my child.

Sometimes, I feel incapable of nurturing, disciplining and modeling appropriate behaviors to my children.

There are moments of grief that hit me while I’m doing mundane “parenting things” that remind me of the losses I’ve had as a child

……and sometimes I’m overwhelmed with joy of the kind of security and unconditional love that I’m providing for my own family.

It’s not just triggers; positive emotions are often present as well. Your heart overflows with love and you’re grateful for the life you’ve created.

 

At the same time, when you experience moments of anxiety or panic, there may be an unconscious emotional memory that’s being kicked up.


Adults who experienced childhood abuse, neglect or dysfunction can feel like they’re walking in a minefield while parenting; there are silent triggers and emotional flashbacks all over the place. Now something important to note is that…

Parenting is not equally hard on everyone.

Parenting with traumatic stress; worlds apart that those parenting without it.

There’s an avalanche of research about how trauma and stress impacts the person, and those impacts makes parenting exponentially harder for those who have been through more “tough stuff” than others. Know this when you’re feeling discouraged and self-critical- your job may be harder than someone else’s, and it’s important you do your best and surround yourself with proper supports along the way.

Here are some tips for you if you’re parenting with trauma, anxiety or ptsd.

4 Tips for Parenting with PTSD.

1) What to Prep For

From the beginning, there may be triggers along your parenting journey. As well, there are common themes that come up in your child{ren}’s later years that can be triggering to you. Knowing what these are,and acknowledging how exquisitely sensitive these experiences and topics are, can help you properly acknowledge and prepare for when these topics come up.

 

From the moment you make a choice to get pregnant, and begin your pregnancy, you’ll experience major body changes that can feel new and different. And then, there’s the ongoing changes as you grow and the baby grows inside you.

{Regarding medical appointments and your body: You have a right to choose medical providers who are gentle and understanding about your needs; and I encourage you to take your time when choosing the right primary doctor, gynecologist and/or midwife or doula when beginning the parenting journey, so you feel at ease at your appointments where you have the right amount of time and feel respected and heard. }

Then there’s the birthing experience, followed by may sleepless nights, knowing there’s a little one rely solely on you, and hearing wailing sound of a baby crying, keeping you on your toes as you figure out what your little one needs from you.

From the start, your body is in a more vulnerable space and you can be even more sensitive when your natural body and sleep routine are tossed up. You may notice a feeling of dread, worry, a burdened sense or a feeling of doom. You may also be excited to offer something to your child that you never had, and forget that tiredness, moments of frustration, brief periods where your baby cries while you prepare her bottle, or when your little girl is throwing a full-blown-tantrum is all ok.

Working Overtime: Two Jobs At Once:

When you’re learning to re-parent yourself as you parent your own child{ren}.

Some of these changes may be triggering to you; and when they are - check inside if it may be related to the here and now, or if it kicked something unconscious up from the past - such as “my mom never held me so I need to be attuned to my child or else he/she will end up with similar wounds to me…”.

When parenting feels incredibly pressuring and burdensome, the emotions may have their roots in deeper than the current day reality.

Emotional intensity in phases of parenthood may be related to the burdens your inner child has carried all these years, and when parenting your own children, it’s unconsciously reminding you of younger years- and essentially, is coming up for you to give it attention, love and healing. You’ll want to help your own inner child heal {so you can reduce those triggers} as you do your best to parent your own child. It’s hard work to do this, but it is do-able.

As time passes, there are many experiences you’ll continue to experience internally as you and your child move through toddlerhood, young childhood years and continues developing. As your child grows, you’ll help him/her express a full range of emotions; anger, sadness, happiness, joy, love and excitement. If there were some emotions that weren’t “allowed” to be expressed when you were younger, you may be taken aback when your child expresses those {ex. anger, frustration}. Try to remember, that all emotions are ok, they just need to be expressed in a healthy way.

As your child gets older, there will be topics that come up that will need to be addressed. Some of the topics include boundaries, approval, social dynamics, body parts, sex, sexuality, puberty, love, affection, closeness and desire and worthiness.

Can you confidently and comfortably educate your children, teens and adults about body parts, sex {when age appropriate}, and puberty?

How comfortable are you with closeness, a child’s need for affection; physical snuggles and emotionally connecting?

How do you engage with healthy balanced feelings of appropriate desire, intimacy, and most importantly, self worth?

Children come into this world curious, and naive, thirsty to learn and grow, and as parents, it’s our task to help them create a structure in which they will blossom.

If you feel ill-equipped when faced with these topics, or notice shame bubbling to the surface when specific topics are discussed amongst fellow adults, it’s a good time to take note of that. Let it motivate you to take some time to get great parenting books, reading material on the topic and when needed, doing some inner work with a therapist to support you so you can lessen the flooding when these topics come up in your own home.

2) Compassion in place of Complacency or Perfectionism

When you didn’t get what you needed as a child and aren’t fully prepped to parent- you may feel like you’re riding a roller coaster of experiences without a “how-to” guide and try to wing it. This is normal for parents who have absent experiences in their own childhood, though it often causes a lot of shame, confusion and worry. The first step to shifting to more confidence is by noticing the way you engage and interact when faced with a new situation.

 

Do you put you hands in the air and take a complacent stance, stating; “ I didn’t learn about it, so the heck with it. I’ll do what I do know, and hope for the best”?

Or, do you feel like you can to “do-no-wrong” by your children and overcompensate for things you wished you’d be able to give them but can’t {ex. wonderful grandparents they don’t have, that family vacation they desperately want} ?

Do you hesitate to set solid boundaries or helicopter your children to an exhaustive degree?

Sometimes, people may go to one extreme, though either of those can make child rearing more complicated in the long-run. When you notice an urge to go to complacency, or to perfectionistic pressure, pause, and see if you can get curious about what is going on, and take a compassionate approach.

Curiosity and compassion: first, to yourself, then to the situation and your child{ren} involved.

Why yourself first? You deserve heaps of care and compassion while parenting. It’s frightening to have not been properly prepared with appropriate resources, supports and healthy experiences to face whatever is being faced.

Ask yourself if you’re missing data about what happened, if you’re getting stuck in assumptions or are jumping to conclusions. Slow your pace when reacting to ensure providing a stable, balanced, and loving base for your little {and not-so -little} ones.

3) Blended Emotions?

Love & Fear, Pain & Pleasure, Connection & Disconnect, Confusion & Consistency

In circumstances where there wasn’t emotional safety or when you had to navigate the murky waters of emotional neglect, abuse or trauma, two emotional experiences often get jumbled and leave you feeling confused.

 

For example, if affection, love and attention came along with a feeling of fear {of whomever was providing the care or love}, you may get triggered when someone reaches to you out of love, from a place of gentleness and safety.

You may want to notice if there’s a blend of emotions that needs to be unblended, or in somatic language, is referred to as “uncoupling”.

Uncoupling refers to unblending two things from each other, as they are not meant to be. For example, when thinking about home, family or boundaries, you may have a feeling of angst, anger or disconnection due to what you experienced as harmful {or in neglectful situations, the positive experiences you did not get to experience}.

When your child reaches for affection: do you lean in or pull away?

If your child reaches for an extra cuddle and you feel a drop in your stomach, a feeling of tightness as you embrace him, or do you possibly notice an urge to push him/her away? You may want to check if snuggly time as a kid was “coupled” with something of discomfort.

Did you not get enough physical touch?

Did your parents not know how to sooth you when you were in distress?

Or did your own inner child feel like she had to parent her own parents and needed to sooth her parents when she saw them in distress {parentified child}?

Did she need to give the relatives hugs and kisses even though she didn’t want to? Was there no privacy in her younger years when she needed her own space?

On the flip side, do you notice the that the adult you need too much soothing and reassurance from your children; are you seeking the approval you never got?

Are you bringing your insecurities to your children that are not appropriate? {Yes they can tell you if they like your chicken soup, but no they don’t need to know the details of your adult argument and take a side}.

Your body carries a narrative: The body remembers experiences and develops a template which impacts how you parent later on in life.

Regarding this, and specifically touch and emotional closeness, Bessel A. van der Kolk addresses this in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. In it he writes;

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies.. The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves.”

 

You can begin reconnecting to yourself by engaging in your own healing work; start by giving a narrative to your experiences, understand you natural knee-jerk responses and sooth your mind, body and spirit so you can love deeply and connect more authentically. You can begin this process by journaling, speaking to trusted others or drawing emotions that come up.

As well, attending therapy can help you more confidently navigate all these complexities and shift your inner template to healthier one, which brings me to the fourth point below.

4} Prioritize Your Own Healing- It goes farther than your therapy hour.

In his wonderful book called “Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive”, Dr Dan Siegel explains something invaluable about why doing your own work carries such significance;

“When parents don’t take responsibility for their own unfinished business, they miss an opportunity not only to become better parents but also to continue their own development. People who remain in the dark about the origins of their behaviors and intense emotional responses are unaware of their unresolved issues and the parental ambivalence they create.”

― Dr Daniel J Siegel 

Change your present, your relationships, and your family by making sense of the past and creating hopes for the future.

By engaging in your own work you’ll be offering healing not just to yourself, to your children but you’ll also be providing a shift to the transgenerational patterns in the family.

The bold ones who survive family dysfunction or trauma are those who put the brakes on chaos, and invite newfound joy, serenity and possibility.

You can be that person.

If you’re reading this and notice anything that resonates, I bow in respect to your work, your process and the Herculean effort it takes to show up for those you love.

Your role may be silent but your job is powerful.

If you’re seeking additional one-on-one support to help you heal your past, relieve your current anxiety or need someone to be by your side as you build a better future for yourself and your family, reach out to a local therapist who can help you in taking the next steps to a better life.

 

*originally posted on integrativepsych.co