Can you think about what you would like to pass on to the next generation? Maybe the importance of family, open communication, forgiveness. Think about it for a moment.
It is my responsibility to use the stories, experiences and hardships found within the fabric of a family legacy to discuss how the harm and the trauma can be unpacked and understood as losses that do not need to dictate what happens moving forward. At Carole Consults, I invite my clients to sit with the feeling, be open and aware and to then offer themselves a kind invitation that allows them to understand that this hardship did not begin with them, but it can end with them. Much of the work builds upon a growth mindset framework that incorporates other therapeutic modalities, such as CBT and narrative therapy. These types of framework move away from guilt and shame, asking the client, “What can they learn from the situation and what can they do differently?”
Generational hurts are issues found within the family system that can be passed on through unhealthy coping behaviors, beliefs and our genetics. Therefore, if a parent is impacted by a traumatic experience and they do not receive the help they require, that pattern can be passed on to their children. This can impact how one sees the world, how they interact with others and their self-esteem.
This hurt can be passed down through generations emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally. It is important that we pay attention to negative patterns from our families of origin and be more conscious of the connections so that we do not repeat these unhelpful models. When we recognize these issues, it’s best not to ignore or reject them, but try to understand them.
For example, if you recognize that divorce is common in your family, what you want to evaluate is what are some of the blind spots each person struggled with and what types of assumptions you have about marriage. Ask yourself where it developed. You may not be able to do this exercise with all historical hurts, however, getting into the habit of identifying and understanding our emotions and, more importantly, the impact it could have on the next generation can have positive implications.
According to Dr. Joy DeGruy, generational hurts influences how we communicate, how we understand others and our confidence. When we pass on unresolved issues such as abuse or domestic violence, people can spend years of their life longing for healing and in some instances numbing the pain. Do not be afraid when you notice unhealthy patterns (struggles with violence, mistrust, aggression, abuse). When we become aware of why we respond the way we do, it reduces the crippling shame.
Sometimes it takes the second or third generation to recognize that certain actions are having an impact on their physical and mental wellness. They need to do the work required to give themselves the necessary care that they did not receive. In my work with couples and individuals, I see them as extensions of family systems that require the same amount of care and attention to help them to move forward through the pain.
Generational legacies of pain continue when a negative pattern in a family is difficult to navigate because individuals before them did not learn a different way of doing things. So, as a therapist I support clients with finding ways to look at these issues with more curiosity, patience, care and understanding. In fact, I bring more discussion around what they can now do differently to become the change that they now want to see for their own lives.
We must do more than just survive, in fact, when we leave our families of origin and begin our lives, I am of the belief that we are to increase through the generations. This means do better, achieve more and experience healthier connections. This is very challenging work that has the possibility to impact many generations and, in some ways, this work stretches pass those who are in the room during therapy.
For parents, the more aware they become of their thoughts, actions and how they manage their emotional responses, the less likely they are to pass on these traits to their children. In other words, if we do the work for our children, they are not left to do the work themselves. This requires individuals to be humble and recognize that they may not get it right all the time, but it is important to work at it anyways.
Carole Sandy is a couple and family therapist who helps families and individuals resolve personal issues. She supports families and individuals by helping them create healthy relationships, healthy work-life balances while offering hope in the face of difficult circumstances.