Transitioning - this word sounds like a fairly simple thing to do; to transition from one place to another place, from doing one task to another task, to even just move from one focus to another focus. Yet how often do we acknowledge just how many skills it takes us human beings to complete a transition? Transitioning, especially with ease, requires multiple skills working in unison. Without self-regulation, our internal systems may become overwhelmed, and we can lose our ability to be present even to ourselves. Often our implicit experiences (nonverbal memories that form below the level of our conscious awareness and form our expectations of the world) hijack us into familiar "fight, fight, or freeze" reactions, rather than supporting us to show up in congruence with our deeply held values.
I have observed that when my son is hijacked, his implicit template automatically triggers his emotional alarm system into the fight response, and my alarm system oftentimes responds by hijacking me with the fear response. Part of my self-care program continues to be intentionally focusing on transforming these stuck patterns using resonant empathy, time-travel processes and journaling.
Time-travel processes allow you travel back to root cause events in your life to make sense of them, bringing in warmth and care for integration. Many discover that the root cause event loses its charge, restoring the pre-event sense of safety. Any subsequent events of a similar nature are no longer experienced through the lens of fear.
I remember when we began the process of moving our home to live just west of Spokane WA and for quite a while, we were living in two places at the same time. My husband stayed mainly at our old home, getting it ready for sale, while Rylan and I focused on getting our routine settled into our new space. This was an ongoing transition for everyone in the family as well as for our extended family and friends.
I remember when we would return to our home in Waitsburg, as we entered the driveway, I would slow to a stop so Rylan could jump out of the car to run as fast as he could, to jump into his Dad's arms and squeeze him tight. This was a ritual I never tired of witnessing. Their joyful reconnection grew stronger with each repetition.
That even though, I noticed I felt rather fuzzy and a bit edgy. After dinner I asked Rylan, "Hey, are you ready to take your shower and brush your teeth? Remember, your brother invited you to go on a date night with him at the end of the week to celebrate you taking responsibility for yourself."
(Notice I didn't really track with my sense of being off-balance; I jumped straight to strategy rather than grounding in connection.)
Richard followed my lead, "Yeah, come on Rylan, I'll get the shower started."
Posturing with fists clenched, Rylan shouted, "I don't want to take a shower!"
"Oh, come on now," I coaxed, reaching out to rub his back, "You said earlier you'd be willing to take your shower and brush your teeth after dinner."
"Don't touch me!" His voice began to grow in volume as he withdrew from my touch, knocking my hand away, "You are forcing me - don't touch me, I said!"
I pushed back at his hands with irritation, "Knock it off!" I said crossly, moving in closer to pick him up.
Crawling as fast as he could, Rylan cringed away from me, curling up in fear between the couch and side-table. He cried out in alarm, "No... no!"
"What's going on in here?" Richard asked, looking around as he came back into the room. "Rylan won't take a shower now." I replied with exasperation.
Richard moved toward Rylan to pick him up, as Rylan's implicit template further hijacked his system. Squirming swiftly away from his Dad's grasp, he screamed, "No, don't make me; I don't want to get wet! You're forcing me!" I heard Richard sigh heavily as he turned, walking away to turn off the shower water.
Desperate to experience some ease and harmony, especially feeling irritatingly off-balance, I moved to stand over Rylan. I reached out to touch him gently, asking, "Won't you please just get up and take your shower quickly?" I saw Rylan's eyes widen in fright, and I heard him say, "I don't want to test, I'm scared to write, I need to stay with my Mom... I need to stay with my Mom!!"
It was as if time suddenly stood still, I could literally see myself standing over my son. I could feel my blood "boiling" and see how irritated, frustrated and down-right angry I was feeling. I saw myself with astonishment! I was impulsively acting from total attachment to my strategy for him to shower and brush his teeth - right now!
Wow, this anger was such a new experience for me. Again, I checked in with my bodily sensations I felt a burning in my solar plexus. Normally my stomach would be clenched tight, feeling anxiety and stress coming from fear - what's up with these angry feelings anyway?
Then I noticed a tingling lightness radiate out from my scalp as I remembered the time-travel process I had completed the day before. I remembered experiencing the total relaxation of my stomach and how the peace within that followed had been so profoundly new. The pieces swiftly fell into place as my impulsive reactions began making sense to me.
Let's pause for a moment and look at how our system integrates our implicit memories, moving us into new uncharted territories of experience. The impulse to freeze in the face of perceived danger takes our nervous system into immobility, where our heart rate and breathing slow, our blood pressure falls, and we are in total energy conservation mode. Historically, this freeze has been my reaction to Rylan's big energy.
Anger happens in the sympathetic nervous system and allows me to take action on my own behalf rather than shutting down completely. As I have worked on my healing journey, I have begun to have more complex and energized reactions to emotion, and so suddenly I had the opportunity to experience and learn to manage my anger.
As I stayed with my bodily sensations, I felt an internal shift. I could then see with compassionate understanding the fear underlying my son’s impulse to fight. My body slumped slightly forward with the weight of sadness I could feel in my heart. I saw my son shift, he looked up at me with curiosity and asked, "Are you crying Mom? Are you okay?"
With tears in my eyes I answered, "I just can't do this Rylan; I don't want to act in anger and fear, with pressure and stress, especially when we have so much going on in our family. I want us to have ease and flow, harmony and well-being in our family. I'm sorry I got so angry; will you forgive me?"
Rylan jumped to his feet and with a look of determination said, "Where's my clean clothes? I'm going to take my shower."
A moment later Richard walked into the room with a bewildered look and asked, "What did you say for that to happen?" With new awareness I answered, "I saw him as a 'human being' rather than a 'supposed to be doing' and he responded to the change in me."
This was new information, and my experiential understanding surrounding transitions continues to take on new form and color. To transition with ease, I need to be able to channel my perceptions and construct my responses to my environment. This requires my left hemisphere (my story teller) to draw on information from my right hemisphere (my nonverbal memory). When the information is not available, or floods my system, I am not able to make sense of my experience to transition with flexibility.
The integration of new information also involves the prefrontal cortex, which is important for a wide range of processes including response flexibility and the regulation of emotions. Rather than supporting me to access higher levels of functioning in the midst of transitions, my prefrontal cortex was hijacked by my emotional alarm system.
As I made sense of my experience by noticing my bodily sensations, compassionately observing my emotions, and eventually naming what I wanted for my family, I moved back into self-regulation. My internal system "transitioned," bringing me into the state of presence, not only with myself, but also into the state of resonant attunement with my precious child.