Healing The Past Isn't About Erasing What Happened, It's About Integrating It: Understanding Inherited Family Trauma
Healing the past isn't about erasing what happened, it's about integrating it. When we heal from the past, what happened doesn't change. But how we hold it, or how it holds us, can change completely.
When we do not have the resources to integrate our past, it directs our future. One of the most compelling reasons to seek help from a therapist or healer is that our unprocessed trauma may not only impact us, but our children as well.
Here's just one example of how this happens: A person who is traumatized may struggle with determining when a situation is safe or dangerous. What does a child internalize when a parent is always worried about the potential for danger? They learn that the world must not be safe. Or they learn that they can't believe their parent. Often, they take in both.
Now flash forward to that child's adult life. In most cases, they've either accepted their parent's barometer for what is safe and what isn't or they have had to figure it out from scratch. Regardless, they are at a higher risk for experiencing trauma themselves because they will struggle to perceive who and what situations are legitimately dangerous. In truth, these children are working with the effects of trauma that happened before they were born.
Do you know what is one of the single most powerful gifts you can give a child as they come of age? Tell them the whole story of their family history. Tell them about why the family fled their homeland, how a grandfather was ostracised, or where mental illness exists in the family tree.
By contrast, one of the most damaging beliefs out there is that not telling children about where they come from protects them. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Knowing these stories enables children to break the cycles. As in all things, if we don't know the history, we are more likely to repeat it.
A person cannot erase their past, but it can be processed and integrated. When we integrate, we feel safe to speak about what happened. When we talk about it, the next generation is able to choose their path with a greater awareness of what came before them.
Thank you to Suzi Tucker, whose email correspondence inspired parts of this post