I know I’m not the only one who grew up hearing, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Who else was today years old when they figured out that it really doesn’t work that way?
When we think about things we inherit from our parents, we typically think features and characteristics. What researchers and scientists are only recently starting to talk about, is the influential conditioning that can follow a family for a lifetime, and then some. That conditioning has a name and it’s Transgenerational Trauma, a psychological theory which suggests that trauma can be transferred in between generations. Cultures with histories of oppression have to battle a broader category of trauma called Intergenerational trauma. Both traumas are invisible weights carried often silently from infancy through adulthood.
The thing about generational trauma is that it surfaces most often in our romantic partnerships in adulthood because we learn how to love, how to process emotions, how to respond to stressors, and how to approach conflict from our earliest caregivers. As children, we depend on our parents and our environment to regulate our nervous systems in times of heightened stress because we simply aren’t made to do so on our own at that young age. Scientifically, our nervous systems just aren’t mature or developed enough.
If you had a sick or an emotionally unavailable caretaker, were left alone often, suffered or witnessed abuse then chances are your resilient little self found ways to cope with all of that by either dissociation – physically being present but mentally checking out – or by simply blocking out the experience all together. We as human beings are made to adapt. We’ve made it this far because of this ability.
The most important thing to stress about generational trauma is that it isn’t only a horrific or traumatic event; it is also the way that event was processed, our conditioning. And if we’re learning how to process through conditioning that our parents learned from their parents who learned from their parents, its easy to understand how these things are passed down legacy style.
When I think about what I want to pass down to my children, and especially my daughter, I think of resilience, self-worth, and a true ability to give and receive love; all things that I am currently teaching them, whether intentional or not. So I’m being intentional and breaking down EXACTLY how I plan to break the cycle of generational trauma in my family.
I Will Never Withhold Physical Affection as a Means of Comfort. Have you ever stopped to wonder why skin to skin, an almost supernatural phenomenon, is highly recommended by The World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program to mothers immediately after giving birth? The fact that a newborn baby’s brain is stimulated to seek out her mother and sustenance minutes after learning how to breathe natural air is beyond fascinating. That need doesn’t go away when that baby is too big to sleep in her mother’s arms and when tantrums are the norm. In fact, this need is heightened when they’re trying (and failing) to process an emotion or learn a new skill. Even if my words or disapproval say otherwise, my children will always have a physical reminder of my love daily. Researchers have even confirmed that becoming an emotionally stable adult requires lots of holding, touch and nurturing during the infant and toddler years especially.
I Will Let Them See Me In Some of My Unhappy Moments. We are our children’s first teachers on how to process emotions and that means all emotions. The last message we should be sending children is that there’s only one acceptable way to feel at any given time. How hypocritical! This is not to say that children shouldn’t be shielded from those most extreme emotions whenever possible, but it so important to be an example of how to behave when things don’t go your way or when you’re disappointed. There are invaluable life lessons that are only learned when things aren’t going right. I want my children to know that it isn’t practical to always be happy and I also want them to know healthy ways of managing and walking through hard emotions through my example.
I Will Never Leave Room For My Children to Doubt Their Worth. When we’re left to process or decipher tough situations on our own as young children, the residual effects are feeling lost or unworthy of love and care. The mere act of being attentive and attuned to your child shows them that they matter. Taking it one step further, speaking to them as though they matter reinforces every physical touch with words that can be recycled for the rest of their life. A child’s developing brain is learning how the world works and whether or not he or she is valuable. The last thing that I want are worldly ideals or whatever mess is being toted in pop culture or the media to be the places where my children find their worth. It’s too valuable! Their worth should come from a deep knowing within facilitated by me.
I Will Cultivate an Environment Where Sharing Feelings Is Encouraged. It seems common for children to grow up under the premise that they should be seen and not heard. This parenting style, in theory, elicits a certain standard of respect but what it runs the risk of doing is making a child feel like they have to keep everything inside. Too often children are shouldering the task of receiving constant information and figuring out which of those to download and accept as truths and which ones to offload all on their own. That’s big work! If growing up in an environment where the caretaker doesn’t participate in this process, or, worse yet, doesn’t even acknowledge that there’s something worth talking about, it breeds a belief that they only deserve love if they’re “good,” and scarier than that, it breeds a lack of trust in themselves resulting in codependent relationships. As a woman growing up in these times especially, I want my daughter to feel empowered and know that she deserves to take up all the space in the world, that shielding and taming’s oneself is never required, and I don’t want my son to carry the burden of silence that so many young men of color do.
What are some ways you’re breaking generational trauma in your home?
Jasmin Wells is a wife, mother, and entrepreneur rambling her way through it all. Her favorite pastimes include soul searching, oversharing, and spreading light through her Instagram stories.