Intergenerational trauma - breaking negative family patterns

So many more people are becoming aware that difficulties in their childhood are continuing to affect them today, and whether they have children yet, or are hoping to have them sometime in the future, they are very keen to get to the bottom of continuing issues that they may have so that they can free themselves from behaviours which they feel might affect their ability to parent in the way that they would want to. Lingering difficulties we have as adults, which may occur in our present lives with differing degrees of severity, can often be traced back to coping mechanisms which we developed unconsciously as children in an attempt to navigate difficulties we faced at home.

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Overwhelming feelings of anger, difficulties in relationships, disordered eating, addiction, OCD, anxiety and depression, to name but a few, can often be signs that all of our needs were not met as children. What has happened is that we have unconsciously developed behaviours or thought patterns to try to quell emotions that the adults in our lives were not able to help us manage. One of the ways that trauma is continually passed down from generation to generation, is when our parents/carers are not able to help us to learn how to deal with difficult emotions by soothing us or helping us to process our emotions, as they are struggling themselves.  

Indeed, what is happening is that parents are unconsciously reviving their childhood difficulties in their own parenting, as we tend to internalise our experiences which then start to play in our behaviours and our relationships with others. Being aware of this cycle, which occurs in many families to a greater or lesser extent, and wanting to break it, so that future generations can become liberated from negative repetitive patterns, is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

Psychodynamic therapy can help you uncover the thought processes behind present difficulties so that they can be traced back to their origin and previously unmet needs can be looked at and healed. This process is not about pointing the finger and looking for blame, but about understanding why we feel the way we do and untangling the processes that have led to the way we feel today. Sometimes, emotions and needs have been suppressed and the client needs help to bring them to the surface so that they can be processed and let go of.

I often tell my clients that it is a little bit like the story of the Princess and the Pea: we are able to feel the effects of that pea that lays buried under layers and layers (often years and years) as it is really getting in the way of how we think and behave today, so we need to go back, discover what it is and make sense of it. In this way, we can feel much more free in the present and much more able to parent without the past dictating to us from the shadows.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Billericay CM11 & CM12
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Written by Vanessa Shipley, MA qualified MBACP Psychotherapist & Counsellor for 16 +
Billericay CM11 & CM12

Vanessa is a Psychodynamic Psychotherapist in Essex who has her own practice.
She holds a Masters Degree in Psychotherapy and Counselling and her experience includes working in the rehabilitation dept of a Forensic Psychiatric hospital, working as a volunteer therapist for MIND and with offenders on probation.

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