Triggered by my own toddler

I'll preface this with I'm going to arrange an urgent appointment with my therapist and have a few lined up.

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Sunday was an extraordinarily rough day for me in terms of taking care of my son (19 months). He's got a cold (definitely not Covid) which he also gifted to me. He'd been sleping very poorly for about 4 nights at that point - waking every 2 hours, occassional mild fevers. So sunday morning comes around and it was my 4th night of 4hours or less sleep (takes me ages to get to sleep still) and B woke up at 6:30am. That was fine.

What was not fine was the fact that he was so cranky all day that he shouted at me, hit me, bit me, pulled my hair, squealed in my ear, pulling my earrings (hard! Ripped one of my studs out and now it's infected), and all around was a naughty little [insert swearword]. I know it's all from frustration of not having the words, being bored, and exploring how rough he can be with me because he can play rough with daddy.

Sunday was also the day I discovered that violence or the threat of violence and pain are major triggers for me. I already knew too much noise or loud noises (shouting, squealing, malls, fireworks/thunder, etc) get me into a jumpy state, but didn't click with the violence thing.

As soon as he hit me (keep in mind, the only things that hurt were the hair and earring pulling) I flicked into a dissociative state and got all floaty, but also extremely mad. I was blacking out for moments too (for example, I don't remember slapping him but I must have because he had a couple of red finger marks on his thigh) followed by feeling all floaty and distant for about 15min (?) which freaks me out. I'm not a violent person naturally and am a normally very calm person. I think the slap might be a "get away from me" response, but regardless it terrifies me that I could hurt my son like that. And at the same time I think my extreme reaction made him see if he could do it again... and again... I don't believe in hitting my child for whatever reason and nor do I believe in things like "snatching".

So I don't know what to do. I have to take care of him and want to take care of him. I'm terrified that as he gets more frustrated with things from lack of words/communication or physical ability, how do I be more present for him so I'm also less reactive?


how do I be more present for him so I'm also less reactive?
You'll need to do some experimenting with grounding techniques, and also with anticipating situations where you might have need of them.

Lots of people on here have success with using taste and scent as ways to stay present, or to regain a state of being present. Sour candy, or very spicy candy, or strong mint - something you can keep near and easily pop in your mouth. Or a strong bright scent in a sachet, menthol or eucalyptus or citrus...

A frozen orange to hold onto can be a great tactile thing - tangerines or clementines or other dwarf varieties are even easier to hold in your hand, and they also release scent as they thaw. They've got cold, and texture, and smell.

There are more cognitive processes - counting five things in the room, or identifying five things of a specific color, but I know I'd have a hard time doing them while managing a toddler - unless it can be easily worked into something that could be distracting for the child as well.

So, my advice would be to anticipate that you may get triggered, and start using some kind of sense-based thing to keep you in the present, before you find yourself triggered and getting foggy.

Have you been able to talk with your therapist about it?
I'm trying a "10 Minute Miracle" toddler technique. It's basically a way to force parents and caregivers to give 10 minutes of undivided attention to their child to increase the bond and to (hopefully) reduce tantrums (for lack of better word). I think the theory is that by providing consistent support and security, then he won't need to ask for attention in a loud/hitting way.

Haven't been able to talk to my therapist about it yet. Other stuff came up in our sessions instead. It's on my agenda for our next session in a couple of weeks though.


My kids are young adults now but I was also triggered by them during their childhood and also dissociated and did things that I didn't remember and definitely regret. For me it wasn't so much getting angry and hitting but I would irrationally decide that we were under attack, at risk of imminent harm, and I would pack them into the car and escape with them, sometimes for hours. Eventually someone would get hungry or have to pee and the reasonable parent would re-emerge and we'd go home. It really frightened my kids to have such an unpredictable parent even though I loved them and met their basic needs.

They are both in therapy, not surprisingly, and we have mended our relationship by quite a bit. They are very clear however, that when I dissociated, they would do things like you describe to get me back. Yelling, crying, throwing stuff and hitting. It's scary to have a parent, someone you are 100% dependent on, that is suddenly absent or worse, a stranger, and making a scene can sometimes get the "good" parent back.

You don't get a redo with kids and hitting them in a dissociated state because you see them as a threat will cause them to lose trust that you can keep them safe.

Please talk to your therapist about this now. Your child's well-being is paramount and you need a safety plan. If you work hard to notice your triggers before you lose focus, you can put the baby down in a safe place and go have your 15 minutes of dissociation in another room with the door closed.