5 Triggers Of People Who Had Emotionally Volatile Mothers

Photo: - Yuri A / Shutterstock
girl lying alone

When I was a little girl, I didn’t know that my mother was different from other mothers.

My mother had two sides to her — a kind, calm and loving side and an impatient, angry and punishing side.

It literally felt like she was two different people.

I had no idea that my mom was different from other people. I just assumed that everyone's mothers were like mine.

At times when I was young, she terrified me. As an adult, I have learned to manage her emotions but the effect that they had on me as a child was profound. To this day, there are things that I encounter that really cause me stress.

To that end, I want to share with you five triggers of people who had emotionally volatile mothers so that you can identify whether your mother’s emotions have affected you the way my mother’s affected me.

RELATED: 4 Subtle Ways Childhood Trauma Affects You As An Adult (Even If You Think You're Over It)

RELATED: 6 Signs Your Past Childhood Trauma Is Making You Physically Sick

Here are five triggers for people who were exposed to a volatile parent during childhood

1. Any kind of raised voice

I am not a yeller. I never have been. I do get impatient with people but my reaction to them rarely involves a raised voice.

When I fought with my ex, both of us stayed very subdued as he had an emotionally volatile mother as well. It was one of the good things in our marriage.

My sister, on the other hand, is just like my mom. When she gets impatient, she gets snappish and raises her voice. I hear her yell at her kids and it freaks me out.

When other people, outside of my family, raise their voices, I can feel myself turning back into that child, folding in on myself, trying to make myself invisible as if to shield myself from the words.

I have more awareness of the effect that raised voices has on me and I have been able to get somewhat accustomed to them because they are literally everywhere (especially when you live in NYC).

But there are times when I just can’t manage those raised voices and I shut down, turn away and run. Not a good feeling as a grown-up woman, feeling like a child again.

2. When someone shuts down on me

Much like I shut down when someone yells in my presence, so does someone else shutting down trigger me.

For my mom, when she transitioned from happy mom to sad mom, the in-between phase involved her shutting down. Whereas when I woke up in the morning, she happily fed me Life cereal and kissed me, by lunchtime she would barely be present for my grilled cheese sandwich. At dinner, I was forced to eat mashed potatoes, which I hated.

For me, that shutting down was a signal that the anger was coming. That I would be yelled at and punished for something perceived mistake.

Once, I lost my ballet shoes. I remember literally watching her shut down right in front of me. I was in the car so I couldn’t walk away and I was scared of what would be next.

That night I was fed a plate of baked beans, which I hated more than life itself. I promptly threw them up which got me sent right to bed.

In the morning everything was fine again.

Now, when people around me shut down, it triggers this flight-or-fight in me. I get so scared that being shut down will lead to harsh words and I want to run. I curl in around myself and wait for it to pass, keeping my head down as much as possible.

RELATED: 11 Signs You Were Raised By A Bad Mother Or Father (And It's Affecting You Now)

3. Being abandoned

Being abandoned is a big one for me. Huge.

When my mother transitioned from happy to angry, I felt like I had lost my mother. I felt like the nurturing mom who was so wonderful to me when she was happy, completely disappeared from my life. Even if she was in the house, she wasn’t my mom and I had been left alone with her anger.

My ex-husband knew how bad it was because he saw, firsthand, the effect that my mom’s volatile emotions had on me. He swore to me that he would never leave me.

But he did. One day he announced that he wanted a divorce and ran off with his college girlfriend.

What I remember most about that time is not so much that he had asked for a divorce but that he had left me. After years of promising me that he would never leave me, he did. And I was devastated.

It has taken me a really long time to get past his abandonment. It triggered me a way that I didn’t know it would.

And I know now it’s because I had always felt safe with him and suddenly he was really angry with me and walking away for good and that just took me back to my childhood — one that wasn’t a happy one.

5. When we must manage someone else’s emotions

For me, whenever my mother was angry, I would do whatever I could to try to make her happy.

I remember on her birthday one year when I went off to school, she was shut down. It worried me all day, wondering what I could do to make her happy.

In an attempt to do so, I planned an impromptu party for her, one involving all the kids that I knew who knew her. Somehow, I gathered cupcakes and a few presents and we had a lovely afternoon tea birthday party.

The party did raise my mom’s spirits and I was happy, but pretty emotionally drained.

Now, as an adult, I find that when I am responsible for managing someone else’s feelings, I definitely get triggered.

When my sister is angry and I know that I must tiptoe around her and try to do things that will make her less angry with me, it brings me right back to my childhood, trying to be the adult in the house, taking care of my mom. I hate it and it makes me want to interact with her as little as possible.

RELATED: What It's Like To Be Raised By An Abusive Mother

5. Other people’s mothers who are calm

My husband-to-be had an amazing mother. He tells me stories about their childhood and how loving and calm she was. Of course, she would get frustrated with them and her husband but she never snapped or yelled or scared her children.

He has a very strong relationship with his mother and it makes me jealous and triggers me in a big way.

What I wouldn’t give to have had a relationship with my mother that made me feel safe. That didn’t leave me walking on eggshells regularly, hoping that she didn’t turn into pod mom — the one who was really scary.

I do love my mother and I have worked really hard to not be the mother that she was to me (to a very large degree of success, I must add), but the way that she was when I was a child has definitely left me with a degree of uncertainty about my place in the world.

It has been a lot of work for me to stay feeling safe and centered in the world and sometimes I just can’t be. I doubt my ability to cope and do whatever I can at the moment to feel loved.

This has gotten me in a fair amount of trouble over the years with men, leading to a whole lot of raised voices and abandonment.

RELATED: Why I Won’t Talk To My Parents About My Childhood Trauma

Everyone's story is their own

Of course, these triggers are my own personal ones but I do know that, for my friends and clients whose mothers were volatile, their triggers are very much the same.

As an adult, I have worked hard to forgive my mom for the way she acted when I was a child. She was just a woman in the world, one who hadn’t been handed a manual on marriage and child-rearing as an adult.

What I know now is that she was in a miserable marriage and, as my father traveled a lot, she took her feelings out on me, the child who was most like him. When my parents finally got separated when I was a teenager, a lot of that emotional volatility evaporated. Her marriage had been keeping her emotionally off-kilter and having it over-mellowed her out but for me, it was a little too late.

My mother is gone now and, to some degree, it’s easier for me because I don’t have to await her outbursts or help her manage her emotions but I know that the effects of her volatility will be with me live on.

But it’s up to me to learn how to manage those triggers that I work on every day.

RELATED: Mother Apologizes To Her Adult Son For The Pain She Caused Him As A Child — Even Though He Tried Hard To Please Her

Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be in this crazy world.