If you aren’t naming and breaking the cycles that have entangled you, you are participating in them.
This is true in most systems we are part of – and is especially true for families. Researchers call it “intergenerational trauma.” They have demonstrated that the trauma of a parent is literally (genetically) passed to offspring. This Simple-Wikipedia article on epigenetics has an easy-to-understand summary for those of us who get a little lost in the technical language used by geneticists.
In abbreviated terms, epigenetics looks into how our development is influenced by changes in gene activity – how heritable traits are passed down from those in our family, and/or how behaviors and environment can influence our development.
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Trauma, Dysfunction, and Cycles: A Quiz
When I initially posted this image to Instagram, feedback included some pushback that not all families could resonate with this. If we limit the understanding of family trauma to abuser/victim dynamics, this critique holds true. But trauma (and perhaps especially intergenerational trauma) is much, much bigger than that limited lens.
Based on these conversations and research I’ve done in the area of intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, and family dysfunction cycles, I’ve created this resource:
If you answered yes to any of these, someone in your family line experienced a potentially traumatic event. Some individuals are far more resilient than others, and some families are better at minimizing the impact on successive generations (often through resiliency-promoting childhood experiences), but adaptive coping patterns leave an imprint. Thoughtful living asks that we consider how our parents, our parent’s parents, and their parents coped with traumas, and how their choices impact how we live in the world now.
Folklore and Modern Science
Long before science proved how the trauma of one generation impacts the expression of genes in the following generation, folklore gave us the language of “family curses,” and ancient religious traditions taught the idea of children suffering for the wrongdoing of parents. These ideas fell out of popularity when the 1600s brought the Age of Enlightenment, and “respectable thought” moved away from folklore toward hard sciences. However, now that science confirms the intuitive wisdom of the past, will we listen for the places where intuition might illuminate our human experience in spaces that science has yet to explore?
User jennk_ asked a thoughtful question in the Instagram comments, “Are there any burdens that we can place on the next generation if we focus too much of our energy on breaking a cycle?”
Answer: It’s such a kind question! I think it’s possible to focus so hard on “fixing” that our kids miss the fact that life is process, and that mindful living isn’t fixing something and moving on. Mindful living means constantly looking at systems and structures and beliefs, and reevaluating what is good and just.