Dear Reader, I wrote this entry a few weeks back, and have been waiting to publish it. Somehow it wasn’t quite the right moment. In light of the recent and heart-breaking events in Paris, I think now is the time. People who will kill themselves and others are deeply disturbed and the product of an emotionally and mentally crippling belief system. This system enables them to act in a way that draws traumatic circles in the lives of the people that had the bad luck to be near them. This makes my appeal even more urgent, I believe. It is our job to work against it with all our might.
Time to Break the Cycle of violence and pain.
A lot of people I meet for the first time ask me why I wanted to study psychology. Other than my deep-seated need to understand my surroundings and human nature in general, I feel the calling to help this – my – generation to break the cycle.
New research has given evidence to what psychologists have been hypothesizing about for years: traumatic experiences such as war, famine and violence are not only passed on through story-telling, maladaptation to difficult family situations and continuance of abusive patterns, but they also become embedded in our genes. This means that our children will receive parts of our DNA that have been altered through trauma.
We all have that strange aunt, twice removed, who had everything taken away during the war and now she can’t throw a gum wrapper away for fear that she might need it later. Or the man who had been beaten as a child and finds himself throwing his kids and wife around just like his dad did. These are extreme and rather obvious examples. But what about the small, private patterns we are hardly aware of? Those emotional insecurities we act out every day without wanting to. – Gregory* is deeply convinced that all women are whores, even though he tries to hide his misogynistic thoughts from his wife and three daughters. Ellen* lives with the unspoken fear to be worthless and unlovable, but each of her friends would call her fierce and bold.
Where do these notions come from, and what are they doing to ourselves and to our children?
Let’s see what Alice Miller, a well-known psychologist, has to say about how unsolved psychological issues can damage a child: in the 70ies she explored the theory that an intelligent and empathetic child will do anything to please his** caregiver, thus securing love and increasing his chances of survival. This child will bend to the needs of the person in charge, even if that means he will not be able to develop parts of his personality the guardian cannot handle. Alice Miller gives the example of the overbearing and fearful mother shaping a meek and quiet child, who will try his best never to alarm her. Or, seemingly paradox, an overbearing and anxious mother having a wild and rebellious child, who falls from trees and develops drug habits as a teenager. That child is keeping his mother’s attention away from herself and on himself. He is keeping her ‘busy’ – which is just what she needs.
Now just imagine our parents’ generation. They have been through war, or have been born right after it. They have suffered authoritarian upbringing, gender and race inequality. They had nowhere to go when they were suffering emotional pain, and they didn’t know what was happening to them if they developed a psychological disorder. Some of us look back at them in disgust and anger. And please don’t misunderstand me – having suffered does not allow one to inflict pain upon others in return, but there is not much we can do other than to understand and try to forgive if we want peace.
And now our generation comes into play. Psychology and Psychiatry are well advanced, and there are therapists in nearly every city all over the world. We have the chance – no, the duty – to break the vicious cycle and start working on ourselves. We have to work on understanding what our parents have unintentionally done to us, to understand how we have developed because of their shortcomings, and then to make sure that we rid ourselves of that emotional baggage. We have to work on straightening out our twisted psyche and fill the development gaps subsequently.
Gregory needs to understand why he thinks women are whores, emancipate himself from his father’s view and develop his own opinion about women. Ellen should understand that her depressive mother has been emotionally abusive and that her toxic parenting style did not reflect Ellen’s true worth.
Everybody has a burden of his own to carry. Some big ones, some small ones. If you decide on keeping that burden even though it is causing you pain and impairs your quality of life, well, that’s your decision. But please do understand that it is not only your life anymore you are ruining as soon as you have children.
Therapy can be long and daunting, but if we manage to break the cycle and to heal mentally and emotionally, we also will be able to allow our descendants to become the persons they really are, free from our forefathers’ chains and pains.
* Name changed
** For easier reading, I shall use “he” in this text, even though, of course, I am implicitly referring to “he or she”!
Written by Silja
Please check out her website HERE