Healing Unhealthy Generational Parenting Patterns

 

In part 1, I stressed that if we truly desire to be our best parent selves then continuous learning in parental subjects such as basic child developmental psychology, emotional intelligence, authentic communication, growth mindset etc is a must.

 

We need training and ongoing education for pretty much any job on the plant. Surely the same needs to be said for parenting. 

 

So I encourage parents to seek out this education, for the benefit of the child, the parent and society as a whole.

 

If the last blog was about doing the mental work then this one is all about the emotional work. 

 

Often overlooked, another part of being your best parent self is the work we need to do on ourselves. This is the healing of our inner child. 

 

Also known as re-parenting, it is about attending to the emotional wounds /trauma we got in our formative years from our primary caregivers, who were not aware of the importance of providing for a child’s emotional and spiritual needs as well as their material ones. 

 

Emotional needs are a child’s need for connection, acceptance, love and affection. To be seen and heard. The need to feel safe so they can fully be who they are at any given moment. The child does not need to be a certain way or do a certain thing in order for this love to come. It flows unconditionally from the primary caregivers

 

Spiritual needs are the child’s need for authentic expression, not just in terms of emotions, but also their unique expression of their sexuality, gifts, purpose, thoughts, beliefs, opinions and imagination. 

 

This implies we encourage them to express their individuality rather than imposing our own beliefs, expectations, fears and fantasies on them in the hope of fulfilling our own unmet needs and creating a 2.0 version of ourselves.  

 

Wounds are the psychological scarring that form when these needs are not met. 

 

Wounds come from (perceived or real) abandonment, neglect, invalidation, ignoring, criticism, control, perfectionism, punishment, withholding love, bullying, spanking, shaming, lack of affection, projection and so on. These wounds do not only come from trauma with a capital T, like death of a parent or abuse. They often form as a result of trauma with a little t: never getting the affection and validation we craved, parents opinions regularly taking precedence over the child’s, rarely anything the child does is good enough

 

Unless we attend to the emotional pain we unknowingly stored in our psyches we

 

  • Stay disconnected from our authentic self
  • Find it difficult to say no and maintain boundaries 
  • Attract dysfunctional relationships
  • Run the risk of aches and pains in the body or worse some sort of dis-ease
  • Live an unfulfilled life, never really feeling satisfied
  • Continue to live life on autopilot/past conditioning anchored in the lower mind
  • Live more like bonsais than real trees, our growth impinged by limiting beliefs: I am not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, fill in the blank enough
  • Rob ourselves of the chance to experience uplifting states of being such as joy, appreciation, rapture and love more of the time
  • Engage in a never ending quest to fulfill the internal unmet need through external gratification e.g. consumerism, alcohol, drugs.

 

(I will talk more to this in part 3)

 

And, as parents, we run the real risk of doing our children harm by unconsciously passing ‘our baggage’ onto them.

 

How Unhealthy Generational Parenting Patterns Play Out: Personal Case Study 

 

I was raised by two loving parents, however neither of them had any training in emotional intelligence because consciously nurturing a child’s emotional well being was not part of the old paradigm of parenting, nor was it modelled or taught to them.

 

Providing for my material needs however was paramount, in which they did an outstanding job.

 

Like most boys now and back then, crying or expressing your fears was not encouraged, in fact it was shamed.

 

Again it was not intentional. No one really thought about the long term consequences of telling a 5 year old who is upset and crying that ‘big boys don’t cry’. I even heard worse from other dad’s: don’t be a cry baby or you’re such a mummy’s boy. 

 

Message received: if I want to be accepted and respected by my dad then best I stuff the hurt deep down inside and show no emotion. 

 

That might serve us well as young boys but does it still serve us to bottle up our emotions as grown men? 

 

Research tells us of course not, yet the programming is so ingrained. Expressing emotion is a sign of weakness.

 

For me, it was only on a long meditation retreat in India, many moons later, that I started to understand the psyche and the need to purge myself of past hurts. Coupled with a welcoming group, I felt safe enough to let out some tears and slowly begin the letting go and healing process that continues to this day. 

 

These days I enjoy crying when it happens, in the privacy of my own home and, although still a little tentative, in the company of others. I allow them to flow because I now know the benefits of letting go v the cons of holding on, plus each release is always rewarded and followed by a feeling of peace, well being and a great night’s sleep.

 

Now it is my children’s turn.

 

Fast forward some more moon cycles. 

 

I am now a dad to two girls aged 3 and 5. I find one of them crying in her bedroom because her sister took something of hers.

 

Now instead of creating that safe space for her to experience the emotion and in the process teach her that no matter how uncomfortable or painful the emotion might be right now, that it will pass, in the same way a scary thunderstorm always passes, and that I am here for her till it does

 

Instead of this I told her, with good loving intentions (wanting to fix her pain and make her feel better – which of course was rooted in my old programming related to crying) that she shouldn’t be getting upset over something so small. 

 

I responded with my head rather than with my heart, reason instead of presence and in the process lost that all important connectivity with her.

 

The problem with this approach, which I learnt from this experience with Sophie, is that over time we actually encourage the child to suppress their emotions and in the process suppress their authentic self and their innate joy.

 

In that scenario Sophie learnt from me she shouldn’t feel like this and that her experience really wasn’t a big deal.  

 

What would happen if I didn’t have that parenting wake up moment that day and continued invalidating, downplaying or trying to fix her emotional state through reason and logic?

 

Well research says that over time I would erode that precious bond/connection I have with her. 

 

Chances are that she wouldn’t want to share matters of the heart with me any more and our relationship for years to come would be superficial; talking about politics, sport or the latest series on Netflix, rather than anything deep and meaningful.

 

I mean, do teenagers stop talking to their parents just because they turn 13 or could it be because their parents have been unconsciously, albeit as I said with good loving intentions, invalidating their emotional experiences, and thus them, for many years already?

 

Worse still is that this approach teaches Sophie that she shouldn’t trust her own feelings, her own inner voice, after all dad doesn’t. So she will be more likely to stuff them inside. 

 

Instead of feeling, accepting and letting her emotions go, this energy might try to express itself through unhealthy behaviour. Self esteem and belief in herself would be minimal rather than optimal, so she might seek out and believe in the opinions of her dominant peers more than her own inner guidance. 

 

And, as with all humans who choose acceptance and belonging at the cost of their authenticity, she will develop personality masks to cope with and manage the pain. 

 

Mine was the pleaser. Others include; bully, perfectionist, controller, comedian etc

 

So far, I have only talked about sadness. 

 

Maybe you already hold a safe space for your child to express their sadness. Perhaps that was modelled for you.

 

What about anger, guilt, insecurity and shame to name but a few? 

 

Do you yell at your child, or even raise your voice to get them to do what you want them to do? 

 

Do you run a dictatorship at your home? Is it your way or the highway? 

 

Did your girl getting a really short haircut trigger you?

 

or 

 

Don’t you even let it get to that stage, instead guilting, shaming or convincing her to get a normal one?

 

What about your boy who is still hanging onto your leg when you think they should say hello to the neighbour? Do you support him in this or do you feel uncomfortable and pull your leg away and try and force him into communicating?

 

Do you engage in ‘tough’ love?

 

Are you quick to jump in and impose your view or guidance on pretty much everything? 

 

The permutations are endless so lets say

 

 

Anything your child does that triggers an uncomfortable emotional response in you is a sign post pointing directly towards the area within yourself that needs tender loving attention. 

 

It is why the wise folk refer to children as our greatest awakeners. 

 

It definitely is not an invitation to pass the pain you are feeling onto your kid by yelling, spanking, withholding love, invalidating, guilt tripping or shaming them. (Unhealthy behaviour, of course, needs to be addressed but it is not knee jerk reaction while you are emotional dysregulated yourself)

 

The emotion is your emotion caused by the way you are perceiving the outside event, which, don’t forget, is the result of your childhood programming. 

 

It is not the fault of the child. 

 

They are simply being a child, certainly not conjuring up ways to piss mummy or daddy off.

 

What is required from us parents is a little pause and some emotional regulation rather than a spur of the moment, unconscious reaction. 

 

By owning the feeling and taking responsibility for what is happening within, we are able to respond more effectively, more lovingly. 

 

Later, once the emotion has been regulated, you can, through reflection and journaling, explore what really caused your emotional discomfort and attend to these wounds.

 

It might look like this: this morning this happened and I felt angry. At lunch this happened and I felt angry and guilty. This evening I felt guilty when I said that.

 

Keep it short and simple. But include all the emotions throughout the day and for more fun add in intensities. Gee that anger was an 8, guilt was 4 

 

Notice what is going on in your inner world as you do this. Is the inner critic awake and active or is there acceptance and love.

 

At the end of the week, look for patterns with curiosity and wonder, look for the wound. 

 

In doing so you get to know yourself more intimately and with compassion. 

 

E.g. the mum who got overly upset at her daughter’s short hair cut, suddenly recalls that when she was a child her mum, in order to save money by having less haircuts, would get her hair cut really short. No surprise,  much to her daughter’s displeasure. This event created trauma in her inner world: my opinion doesn’t matter, I am not heard, not loved etc. 

With this new found awareness, this Mum was able to recognise that the two situations were completely different and she is overlaying this scenario with her own past. 

Once she could separate the two, the emotional discomfort subsided and she could leave her daughter to authentically express herself through her own haircut.

Instead of feeling judged and shamed the daughter now felt accepted and validated. In the end the experience actually strengthened their bond. 

 

In closing remind yourself, you were conditioned to respond in these ways but you are now taking steps to evolve, become more conscious and respond to your child more skilfully by loving them with less conditions.

 

You are being your best parent self.

 

In part 3 I will explore how suppressed emotions, pain, impacts all areas of our lives, and how to begin the healing process so we can feel more alive, vital, engaged and joyful more of the time.