“You might need to answer that.” I said. “Never mind.” he said. His phone however kept ringing. At some point it bothered me but he also started to look bothered. “You could go ahead if it’s something urgent we can always catch up some other time.” I said. “It’s my wife” he said reluctantly. From experience most of my coffee meetings have a way of turning into a counselling or coaching session. I think it’s part of our culture. Most people will not call and ask for a counselling or coaching appointment. They will ask to buy coffee, to catch up because it’s been a while or they want to discuss business. I have however learnt to show up prepared because the conversations take a turn pretty easily, as it did on this day;
Him: I locked her up in the house.
Me: What happened?
Him: It’s a long story…..She went through my phone last night. I heard her call the brother this morning asking him to pick her up today morning. Am tired of her drama. Every time we have an issue she leaves for her matrimonial home.
Me: What makes her do that?
Him: I think it’s the way she was brought up. She comes from a family of single women. Every time we fight she reiterates how well her cousins are doing yet they are not married.
Me: …What made you lock the indoor instead of trying to address the issue
Him: She needs to respect me and she knows when I get angry am like my grandfather. You don’t step on me.
I was impressed at how well he could tell where the wife’s issue comes from. She has a learnt behavior from her family. He however was blind to where his gap was coming from. He also has a learnt behavior from his family. Having been brought up by the grandfather he picked a lot from him consciously and unconsciously. His grandfather addressed issues by avoiding them, playing tough and misplacing his anger yet deep down he was hurting. My friend seems to be replicating the same.
This is a typical case of generational/family trauma. Every time we hear the word trauma we think of physical abuse, drug abuse or neglect. We however all observe our parents and relatives handle situations and unconsciously copy them. Every time I discuss communication styles in a training this concept comes up clearly. A quote I came across also reflects this, “Some of you get irritated with people easily because your parents did the same with you. You cannot communicate because your parents could not. It did not start with you. Generational trauma is passed through the family line until someone is ready to feel it, heal it and let it go.” In my last training two participants brought it out pretty well;
Participant 1: I think for the longest time I was a passive communicator. I let everyone have their way even if I was not okay with it. I however thought that that meant I was polite. I watched my mother do it but looking back I now understand why she looked unhappy most of the times.
Participant 2: I can be dramatic sometimes and I also think with some people you have to shout for you to be heard. I have also taken after my father. He was an authoritarian. (He was trying to justify why he is an aggressive communicator)
Me: What makes them not hear you unless you shout?
Participant 2; Its just who they are
Participant 3: No its because mmezoeana (They take you for granted)
Participant 4: Yeah they don’t respect you, you need to earn their respect.
The two gentlemen have taken after their immediate role models. The downside is that they may not have thought about the details of how much they have taken up from them or how that affects them and the people around them. It is also possible that the older men were also unaware of why they behaved the way they did. Chances are they picked it from their environment or also inherited it from their fore fathers.
We all carry some aspects from our parents or the people who were closest to us when we were growing up. How often do you find yourself talking to your children or to yourself the way your parents talked to you? How many times do you reference your actions and behavior to your parents? These are indicators that we can barely detach ourselves from our caregivers. We however need to be conscious of how the consciously or unconsciously learnt behaviors affect us.
Generational trauma means we can view psychological effects being transferred from one generation to another and this affects the way individuals understand, cope and heal from different situations. It’s when a therapist wonders, “Is this a pattern in this person’s family and how can we break that cycle.” Generational trauma shows up in many ways;
- Struggling with emotions – older generations often set the stage (knowingly or unknowingly) for how emotions within the family are dealt with. Do you hide your emotions and act as if nothing is happening? Do you internalize your emotions until something triggers them to come spilling out? Or does your family drink and/or use drugs to cope with the pain?
This may manifest later as emotional numbness or strong hesitancy to discuss feelings. Seeing discussing feelings as a sign of weakness.
- Anxiety – Anxiety can be passed down through generations even without abuse. Coping abilities are developed through interactions with emotionally stable and supportive caregivers. If a parent lacks ability to cope with anxiety. It’s impossible to teach or pass healthy coping skills to their children.
This later manifests as having trust issues with ‘outsiders’ and Being overly anxious and overly protective of oneself or other family members even when there is no danger.
- Trauma bonding – Adults with a low self-esteem use manipulation to gain love from the people around them. This occurs in families and intimate relationships as patterns of violence or emotional abuse interchanged with reconciliation and nurturing. When children mature they are likely to unconsciously repeat these patterns.
Unfortunately, most people cope with family/generational trauma by;
- Denial – refusing to acknowledge the trauma or negative patterns exist.
- Minimizing – ignoring the impact these patterns have on their life or rationalizing the patterns. This is what the aggressive participant tried to do.
If your parents did not know how to love themselves then it would be impossible for them to teach you to love yourself. They were doing the best they could with what they had been taught. Pain is passed through the family line until someone is ready to feel it and heal it and when we heal ourselves we heal the next generation.