What are transgenerational traumas and how do we transmute them?

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Healing legacies of pain

There have been a lot of studies that have attempted to show that mental illness is genetic. For example, two percent of the population is bipolar. However; the probability of a person being bipolar raises to fifteen percent if they have one parent that is bipolar and to fifty percent if they have two parents that have this condition. I have facilitated hundreds of healing sessions. Therefore; I can explain why we get this correlation. From my perspective, this is not about genes but about the psychological condition of the people raising us.

The first important thing to understand is that, as a child, we are all wired to bond with our primary caretakers, typically our biological parents. This bonding is critical to our survival and our primitive brain has instinctively learned this behavior through many thousands of generations. In ancient times, children that erred away from the protection of their parents would be eaten by predators and their genes would be lost. So naturally bonding between parents and children became instinctive to improve survival rates. In order to attach to their parents and feel safe, children need to make their parents right, perfect and good even when there are far from being exemplary. This is how all transgenerational trauma get passed from one generation to the next.

Child bonded with parents

Let’s say someone had some severe spankings from his father when he was a child and continued to have a good relationship with him throughout his adulthood. Unless there was conscious work done around these punishments, this person had to make his dad right as a child to continue bonding with his father even despite the fact he was beating him. Therefore he started developing beliefs such as “Dad is right punishing me because I am bad” or “Dad beats me because he loves me and is making me a better person this way”. These beliefs get subconsciously anchored in the inner child and will resurface in adulthood. Such a person will have a high tendency to reproduce the same physical punishments on his children because his inner child still believes that loving someone means beating them at times. They could also attract violent partners because deep in their subconscious mind, beating equal love. Or they may simply suffer from low self-esteem because they had to make themselves bad to keep dad good.

One of my clients was raised by an unstable borderline narcissist mother. She would give him severe beatings even after he became physically stronger than her and could have easily defended himself. He learned to always stay in control, de-escalate arguments and never express anger to sooth her neurosis. His mother was very sexual and flirted often with him when he was a teenager. He felt very ashamed with his sexual attraction towards her and buried those feelings too. As a result, he has been married twice to severely borderline women. The first one committed suicide and the second one left him for another man after destroying his life emotionally and financially. His inner child had to make mum perfect and good so he had to make her erratic behaviors, her rages, her constant dramas and her collapses as something good or even sexy! This is why he has been attracted to women like his mother all his life. When the scary and dangerous behavior is displayed in a potential mate, he feels irresistibly attracted. This is why we say falling in love and not jumping in love. Sexual attraction is more driven by shadow than conscious compatibility.

Borderline Angelina Jolie

One of my other clients was abandoned by his mother when he was 9. His mother felt unloved in her marriage, met a new romantic partner, and wanted to give a chance to the promise of love. He had been deeply hurt by his mother’s sudden disappearance but he had to justify his mother’s behavior because he had to continue to love her. Later in life, he got married and had children. When his own daughter turned 9, he also broke up his marriage, fell in love with another woman and moved out of the state. He actually did not see anything wrong with his behavior because his mother did this to him, and his mother could not have done anything possibly wrong. So he passed on his own abandonment traumas to his children because he subconsciously had to make his mum right and good. Actually his mother had been herself abandoned by her own mother as a young child too.

Vaillant healing an African woman in Cameroon

When I was in Africa, I provided healing to a number of people who had been abandoned by their parents and given away to an aunt. This is actually common practice in some parts of Africa as children are often seen as objects or helpers. This old custom is not frowned upon, but does considerable psychological damage because these children believe there was something wrong with them to be given away. They wonder why they were given away instead of their biological brothers and sisters. These abandoned children have to make this harmful practice normal or even beneficial to keep a good image of their parents. Consequently, they have a tendency to repeat the same pattern with their own children. This is how unhealthy behaviors get passed from generation to generation. This is why 80% of juvenile sex offenders have themselves been victims of sexual abuse. Horrors such as incest also get passed through the family line in the same way. Incest victims are more likely to enable the same dysfunction with their own husband later in life. By failing to protect their own children from sexual abuse from their partner, they are making dad right again. This sick behavior comes from the unconscious need from the child to bond with parents at all cost. Unfortunately, these aspects get frozen in time and stay at a very immature level of development. They cycle of abuse then continue.

When we are abused by someone we need to love, we fragment and we bury the traumatic event into our subconscious so that our conscious mind can just remember a good, protective and flawless parent. The mind then files the traumatic subconscious memories in the same category as love/fusion/safety/connection/affection because they are the values we associate with a loving parent. The mind not only buries all the traumatic memories but also all emotions that come with them. Fear, grief, anger, despair and many negative emotions get buried at the same time. Instead of being released with the body for healing purpose, these discordant vibrations go deep within our psyche to poison it.

Some other times, the conscious mind is not able to accept or justify the abuse anymore, so it will go the opposite way and demonize the formerly loved caretaker. The child becomes obsessed in not being like the abusive parent. He rejects all good aspects of him too. From all good, the parent becomes all bad. All aspects of the parent within the growing child become then repressed but they still exist in his subconscious mind. Self-hatred and denial develop within the individual. As a result, she or he is even more a match to attract romantic partners or co-workers displaying the same attribute as the rejected parent. The law of attraction always reflects the individual inner world whether it is conscious or not.

African polygamous priest

One of my other clients had a father that was a womanizer. This was a source of distress for his mother and him, and from the time he was a teenager, he cut all contact with his father and he judged his behavior very severely. He was very righteous and became a successful pastor in a church. He was a model in the community and led an exemplary life with his wife and two children. As he was a gifted orator, he attracted a lot of attention from the churchgoers. Ten years into the marriage, he felt however that his sexual life was unexciting and unfulfilling, and that he was missing out. He could feel the sexual energy of these young women looking at him like he was the eighth wonder of the world. The pull to experience adultery was getting stronger and stronger, and he felt more and more confused and haunted by the devil. One day, the temptation became too great and he had an affair with another married woman that attended his sermon regularly. He felt very tormented as a result. By being obsessed about not being like his father, he had actually made these aspects control him.

When we hate a parent, it is like hating oneself because we had to internalize them at an earlier age to deal with the abuse. So we create a war within oneself and in a war, there is never a winner, only losers. We cannot kill these internal aspects without hurting ourselves. These aspects still needed to be expressed but because we made them unacceptable, they had to hide deep in our subconscious. Because of this, we are only able to experience them through projections, just like this righteous pastor who would judge infidelity so severely.

There is a better way and it is neither in idealization or demonization of our primary caretakers. Truth will set us free. This truth lies in accepting that we will always love our parents and when we have the courage to see their flaws, limitations and good qualities for what they are, without judgment, we will be liberated. When the truth of our past gets revealed, our conscience grows. We then allow the same aspects within us to surface in our conscious mind for integration. For example; if your father is a sociopath, it is likely that you would have aspects of you that are very insensitive and shut down. If you are able to see and observe these sociopathic behaviors in your father with compassion, then you are able to have the same awareness about your own insensitive behaviors and make the choice not to act upon it. This is why awareness is everything in the process of integration and healing. These aspects of ourselves may be repurposed and used consciously. For example, there are some situations in life when we need to think and not feel (ie when dealing with toxic people or situations). This would be a good time to bring our sociopathic part. A romantic dinner is not a good place for it! Alternatively, we can recover the pain that we felt being raised with our aloof father. By doing so, we are able to develop more awareness to make people around us feel more supported, cherished and nurtured. Every part of us, even the most hurt and undeveloped, can grow and increase in vibration if we have the courage to objectively see our flaws and how they impact others.

Honest not perfect parents

Before we can reach this state of objectivity with our parents, it is critical that we allow ourselves to feel all the emotions about them that we have repressed since our early childhood, whether they are feelings of rage, hate, envy, pity or fear. We express all these raw feelings to ourselves through meditation or to a skilled therapist. Through this process, we become aware of them, and the light of consciousness will automatically transform them into higher emotions such as sadness, acceptance or even gratitude. However, this process cannot be rushed and we need to stay authentic about how we truly feel. If we are able to see our parents’ imperfection with compassion, it means we have made our own generation more conscious, which is expected of us. It shows us the progress we have already made. We also want our children to go further than us. One of the most important things we need to do on this earth is to transform the transgenerational trauma that came from our family line. This is what will bring us the most happiness, joy and inner peace.

Integrated family

Someone who is not at peace with his parents cannot be at peace him/herself. It does not mean we need to have frequent interactions with them, because in some situations, it would not be self-loving if we have toxic parents. Peace is above the polarity of adoration and detestation. It sits in the middle. It can make space for both perspectives without judgment with full awareness. It is simply interested in the truth. There are many extraordinary people that had very abusive parents. Just like the lotus, which grows from mud, our soul grows from life struggles and we have the power within us to transform the most unsavory into the most sacred.

From the difficulties of our childhood, we learn important lessons that we can share with our children and our community to make this world a better place. We can extract the most wisdom from the most painful life situations. When we suffer, we cannot stay stagnant and it has the potential to accelerate our growth as long as we do not get broken in the process. We need to see transgenerational weaknesses as unexpressed potential. A sex addict can become the most amazing lover, violence can be channeled into athleticism or a desire for peace, the perpetrator or the victim can become protectors. We need to accept that we were co-created by our ancestry (earth/matter) and God (heaven/spirit). To become whole, we cannot reject one or the other; we need to integrate both together. Healing our ancestry is to transcend the polarities that we inherited from our genealogy in terms of abuse, abandonment or neglect. It is to recognize that all these parts exist within us and stop judging them. Through the miracle of unconditional love and presence, they can start growing again and mature. Eventually inner torment will make way to a lasting inner peace.

Most of us spend the first half of our life very heavily influenced by the transgenerational traumas of our family line. As we heal these fragments, we can start living a more conscious life from our authentic self. We become more anchored in the present, more sensitive to what actually is, in the moment, instead of living through the filters of our upbringing. Things begin to flow naturally and the scope of possibilities expands dramatically as we are not limited by our ancestral traumas anymore. It is then that life takes on a completely different dimension, and we are then free to be the expanded, transformational and joyful beings that we came here to be. 

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