Posted in counseling, motherhood, parenting, trauma

A Messy Inheritance

After the passing of my grandmother, I received her beautiful floral china that held a special place in my memory.  We often hear of stories such as these as our friends and families inherit material belongings that are meaningful to them in the wake of a loss.  These inheritances are considered sweet and allow us to treasure the memories and experiences of our loved ones that are no longer with us.

When considering inheritances, material possessions listed in a will are not the only items that find their way into the lives of our loved ones, for better or for worse.  We humans pass on beliefs, traditions, physical characteristics, habits, and, unfortunately, trauma.  I recently read a quote that spoke to this topic: 

“Pain travels through family lines until someone is ready to heal it in themselves.  By going through the agony of healing, you no longer pass the poison chalice on to the generations that follow.  It is incredibly important and sacred work.”  -Unknown

The beautiful thing about our bodies and our brains is that we are capable of healing and changing, but it comes at the cost of vulnerability and difficult work.  “Stuffing,”—as is often used to describe the denial and avoidance of the hurts, losses, and abnormal dangers that have impeded our lives—feels much safer and easier to do as we often convince ourselves that it is less painful and less risky.  However, unresolved trauma effects us and the generations that follow in much greater ways than we are often aware.  So what do we risk passing on to future generations if we are unable or unwilling to deal with our own trauma?

We risk passing on relational difficulties. 

Those that have unresolved trauma often struggle to experience meaningful connection and intimacy as trauma often hijacks the brain and hyper-focuses and scans for trouble, diverting attention from the safety of relational connection.  An individual’s ability to connect to a spouse and child are foundational for establishing a home of safety, security, and belonging.  This basic human need is not met when caregivers use their energy to continue surviving the internal battle that wars within rather than tending to the intricacies of connection and relationships. 

We risk passing on poor mental health. 

Children can often develop psychiatric disturbances due to the psychological abnormalities experienced and modeled by a parent suffering from unresolved trauma and psychiatric disorders.  Simply said, it is expected that when a child is modeled mental disorder and unhealth, their brilliant brains will spend effort replicating and developing the deceiving patterns modeled for it. The international Society for Traumatic Stress Studies reports, “…depression, anxiety, psychosomatic problems, aggression, guilt and related issues may be common in the offspring of trauma survivors (Felsen, 1998).”  

We risk passing on harmful behavioral patterns. 

Unresolved trauma, suppressed under layers of shame and hurt, often finds its way to the surface in behaviors that harm others.  These behavioral patterns are all too easily picked up and repeated by the children we raise.  But there is hope.  Trauma does not have to remain unresolved, waiting beneath the surface like a land mine to harm others.  We can do the hard work of addressing our traumatic past and thus altering the way we live, love, and relate to others. 

My encouragement to you is this.  You are capable of change.  You are capable of storing up a wealthy inheritance of mental health for your child by laboring and storing up the fruits of healthy living, thinking, and processing.  Mama, be the one in your family line that refuses to pass the poison chalice on.  Instead, pass on the fine china of health, safety, and security.  Seek counseling and sweet relationships.  Tell your story.  Refuse to hide in the shame and waste your energy keeping the hurts inside.  Spend that energy on promoting your health and well-being, and investing in the health and well-being of generations to come. 

Keep up the diligent work mamas, Tiffany Raley

References: (2002). Trauma to One Family Member Effects the Entire Family.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

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