We Are Getting a Puppy: Caring for Our Younger Selves
We are getting a puppy. My boys have been asking for a dog for years. I have not had good experiences with dogs. When I was about 6, I opened our back gate and the family dog ran out and never came back. Four times during my life, I have been randomly bitten by dogs. But, like I said, we are getting a dog…
As the beginning of the school year has come and gone, I have had a lot of anxiety: schedules, allergy shots, soccer, jobs start again in full swing. Not to mention, I was significantly triggered and couldn’t find my way to back to myself. So all my anxiety became about the dog. It is easier to make all the anxieties about this one thing. Doing so “helps” me to channel my energies (read: fixate), and to believe that if I just keep going over and over the issues related to this one thing, I will somehow be able to solve the riddles of my life. Late night researching of what to do with puppies has brought nothing more than a chest full of tightness stemming from the-weight-of-everything.
Yes, I am anxious about the puppy, but I have taken all the anxieties of my life and placed them on this imagined addition to our family. In a recent meeting in my therapist’s office, I offered a recap and talked about how anxious I have been of late. Together, my therapist and I began to locate and to tend to a younger part of me that had gotten triggered by life’s happenings. As we cared for her (my younger self) and helped her out of the terrifying place in which she was stuck, I began to find my grounding again. As I offered my younger self a place to rest and to be safe and warm in my imagination, I began be able to breathe again.
So often, it is easy for me to turn a blind eye to these hurting places and parts of me, and to just keep moving. Even as I have acknowledged that I was triggered in recent weeks, I did not take time to care: to stop and to engage.
Acknowledging the trigger is an important step, but acknowledgement is not care: it is not the tender care I needed to help me find more breath and footing.
As a mom, I am asked to bring such care to my boys on a regular basis. Last week I was driving with my four year old, and he said, “Momma, don’t talk to anyone, not even yourself. When you talk you can’t play with me.” This was his way inviting me to play, and to engage solely with him. Similarly, then, my younger self was calling me to herself when I became triggered. She (my younger part) was asking for me to see her, to be with her, and to care for her without distance or distraction.
Trauma is stored in our brains and bodies differently than other memories, and it needs particular attention to be integrated. We can therefore see times when we get “triggered” or emotionally flooded as opportunities for the healing that comes from integration. Such attention grabbing experiences are invitations to care for those parts of ourselves that needed more than what they originally received, and are therefore trying again with our adult selves.
Triggers are coded messages from our younger selves, calling us and our attention to the places where we need more care.
As a therapist, I see people getting frustrated at themselves for getting triggered. But the re-frame I am learning to offer to myself, and what I now am more readily able to give to my clients, is the reminder that triggers are coded messages from our younger selves, calling us and our attention to the places where we need more care. Jesus tends to all the places in us where we are stuck and needing movement. He came to heal and redeem all parts of ourselves — not just the parts that are in the present. The more we find freedom from the places we get stuck, the more capacity we have to be loved and offer love.
Since that day in my therapist’s office where I began to take better care of my younger self that was so scared and so overwhelmed, I have been able to grow in my excitement for our soon-to-be puppy. I have no idea what I am getting into with this new creature, or how she will mess up and help to make right my life and story. But what I know for sure is that Jesus invites all of the parts of me—even the scared and anxious parts—to come. He will give me (and you) rest.