A triggering situation is anything that produces automatic thoughts that create references back to difficult times in our lives and activate our self-protective behaviours while causing unpleasant emotional response. Automatic thoughts are just that: automatic. They can enter and leave our awareness too fast to be noticed. Some stay and linger and lead to spirals in our thinking. Whether they are fleeting or lingering, thoughts lead to behaviours that match them. Behaviours produce outcomes that are evaluated and tend to reinforce our old patterns of interactions. In our example: frown = adversarial interaction.
In cognitive behaviour therapy we start by identifying your automatic thoughts and patterns of behaviour and learn how to make sure that thoughts match the situation at hand. We then move to tracking patterns of behaviour and uncover assumptions that dictate them. Then we learn how to ensure that these assumptions are applied in the right context and to distinguish between past experiences and our current reality. We focus on targeting reaction patterns in here-and-now. Past informs our present but knowing the past is not enough to change our reacting habits in here-and-now. These habits are deeply conditioned in our minds and require some hard work to get entangled from.
Keep in mind that not everything is “parents’ fault”. Intended and accidental hurts can cause equal amounts of pain. The key is to allow yourself to let go of the unnecessary protective behaviours . Even if someone else is at fault and deserves all the blame in the world, blaming will not change the automatic reaction patterns you carry within yourself. Overcoming Low Self-Esteem: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Melanie Fennel and Mind over Mood: Change how you Feel by Changing the Way you Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky can help you along the way.