Recently I had a social worker come over to meet with our 4 little foster kiddos and touch base regarding some of their needs. It was mostly a run of the mill meeting, a brief discussion, and nothing more. It was short. Nothing negative was said or occurred. The social worker is lovely and kind and I really like her. Later that day, however, I found myself crying for no reason. Repeatedly. I was supposed to go out with my adoptive mom’s group for a ladies night, and I just couldn’t bring myself to go. I snapped at my husband for absolutely no reason (well..maybe he was doing something annoying haha). What on earth was wrong? I knew I was acting out of sorts but didn’t know why. That afternoon one of my best friends messaged me asking how the meeting with the social worker went. That’s when it hit me. My meeting had been a trigger. For various reasons not important to this post, I get triggered when social workers visit.
In the world of foster care and/or adoption, triggers are in abundance. Sometimes it might be a person that triggers you; a bio family member, a social worker, a child you once cared for and has since returned home. A trigger might be a place; maybe your local children and family service office is a trigger, perhaps your adoption agency, or maybe the last place you saw your foster child before they went home. Other things can be a trigger as well in the adoption and foster care world…perhaps a certain outfit, a particular smell, the filling out of paperwork, or the mere thought of losing a child. To some, even the process of adoption can be a trigger, often freezing experienced adoptive parents in their tracks, terrified of moving forward.
For years I thought triggers were a sign that something was wrong. A sign that I wasn’t coping or managing with these huge, immense emotions that went along with foster care or adoption. I yearned to feel normal, even though I knew my life was anything but normal.
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Recently, however, I learned just how wrong I was. Getting triggered wasn’t a sign that I wasn’t coping; it was a sign that I am human. I sign that I get attached. A sign that I love these kids. I feel emotions the way I that I am supposed to feel them. If I didn’t get triggered, then there would be real cause for concern. I didn’t need to eliminate these triggers, I needed to learn how to prepare for them. And so do you.
Identify Your Triggers
The first step in navigating triggers, is identifying what it is that triggers you. Think about what activities, places, people, or events cause you to feel anxious, sad, nervous or angry. Remember that anger is an emotion that often emerges in place of other emotions. Pay close attention the next time you do something in the adoption and foster care world, and whether or not any big feelings emerge afterwards. Once you are able to identify what your triggers are, you can move on to the next step.
Identify What Makes You Feel Supported
You’ve established that you get triggered, unhinged, and can react to many things in the adoption and foster care world. What exactly can you do to move past these feelings and bring you back to a place of calm? Think back to the last time you were triggered, or even just upset at something that went on, and how you coped with those feelings. Do you enjoy writing in a journal? Does going for a quiet run, or a drive by yourself with music, calm you down? Some people find support in talking with a friend, watching a favorite movie, or curling up with a good book. Some people just need to be alone, while others need to get out and have a good laugh. The list of ways you might feel supported is endless, and can differ for each individual person. Just be sure to find what works well for you.
Plan for Your Trigger
So you know what triggers you. You know how you feel supported. Now all you have to do is combine the two and plan out how you’re going to navigate an upcoming trigger. For triggers you can foresee, it is much easier. If a social worker visit is your trigger, you can plan accordingly. Perhaps you will arrange pizza for dinner so you don’t have to cook. Maybe a girls night is just the thing. Your spouse might take over while you retreat to your bedroom for some quiet R&R. Whatever it may be, plan ahead and put your supports in place. Having your favorite treat on hand doesn’t hurt either…provided you’re not being triggered every day 😛 If you live with someone, be sure to let them know ahead of time, so they can be prepared themselves, and know why you might be acting a little bit out of sorts. It is also important to let others know what supports work well for you. If going out with friends is a way to brighten your mood, you might find after a trigger that going out sounds terrible; misery can easily take over. If someone knows, however, that going out with friends is what works well for you, it allows them to gently support you in going out, even when you might not feel like it in the moment.
For those of you that get triggered by things you can’t necessarily foresee, it helps to notify those people in your life that act as supports, and inform them that a “support call” could come at any time. It could be as simple as telling your spouse, parent, or best friend (someone you trust and who understands the magnitude of these triggers) that you are experiencing triggers and on occasion might need to “support call” them as needed. This might look like your mom taking the kids out for dinner, a neighbor having them over to play for an hour, your spouse grabbing sushi so you don’t have to cook, or your best friend swinging by with a care package to brighten your spirits. The possibilities are endless, but the important part is letting your support system know these support calls might occur, and what you need if you call on them. By telling them in advance, it takes away the stress and anxiety of thinking of what you need while in the middle of a trigger, or causing you to second guess yourself when asking for support.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
An important step in navigating triggers, is not beating yourself up over having them. In the adoption and foster care world, they are so common, and something that has really helped me, is connecting with fellow adoptive and foster moms and finding out I am not alone. Knowing that others experience the same thing, many being triggered by the same people, places or events, truly helps make a trigger that much more bearable. It reminds me that I am not crazy or broken for having them. Unfortunately, the reality is that foster care and adoption are built from trauma. It will always be based in trauma, and avoiding triggers is almost impossible. Your best possible line of defense against triggers is identifying, supporting and planning for your trigger so you are ready for it any time it hits. You might not be able to prevent a trigger, but you can be prepared to take it head on and quickly and easily move on to your next important moment in life.
If you think your triggers are more than just triggers and you might also be struggling with post-adoption depression, be sure to check out my post here.
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