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My last entry (my "vlog") introduced generational trauma-what it is, the impact it has, and ways to address it. today, I thought to myself, "why not bring it all home with a true story on one of the most common faces of generational trauma, parental abuse."
Let me preface this by stating this is not my story; it Is (with her permission) the story of one of my most influential clients who I will call Liz to protect her identity.
Cycles or repeating patterns often occur in families. One of the most devastating forms of generational trauma is the cycle of abuse; for Liz, it is physical abuse. It is not out of the ordinary for a child who has been abused to "take in" the violence he or she has experienced and pass it on to other more vulnerable members of the family be it younger relatives or even animals. When that child becomes an adult, the abuse is passed on to their own children.
When Liz was a child, she had no clue how dysfunctional her family was or how badly she was being abused. However, she had an inkling that something about her family was not quite right. She did not have the type of relationship that many of her friends had with their parents; her best friend idolized her dad, another, wanted to be just like her mother, referring to her as her "best friend". Liz could not relate; she was never excited to see her father; he was hardly home, and when he was he hardly spoke to any of his children unless it was to yell at them. She definitely did not want to be anything like her mother who was always arguing with her father, always angry and when she did not have her father to get angry at, it would be Liz and her siblings who would get the brunt of their mother's anger.
One of Liz's earliest memories of her mother was being beaten by her even though she begged her to stop. She can't recall a time when her dad didn't shout or yell. Her parents rarely spoke to her, the siblings, or even each other; though she was a young child, she could clearly see that her parents did not even want to be around each other.
Liz's normal was growing up in a household that was dysfunctional and abusive; part of her normalizing was blaming herself for her parents being unhappy. She believed herself to be a "bad girl" which (in her mind) justified her parents' anger and sadness. She thought if she could be a good girl maybe, just maybe they would be happy.
For several years, Liz tried her best to make her parents happy. She was a very good student, including nabbing a number of certificates and plaques. Her teachers adored her, yet her parents still didn't care. In her mid-teens, she took on family chores such as cooking, cleaning doing the laundry to prove to her parents that she was not a burden.
Liz never interacted with boys in high school because she felt it would make her mother sad. Her mother had no friends and as her eldest, Liz was the only source of emotional support. She did her best to be a friend to her mother; even at the expense of never formulating peer friendships of her own.
No matter how much Liz tried, her family dynamic did not change. Her father was still the emotionally angered man and her mother a shell of a woman. All of the efforts Liz put in did not generate her any peace or love to the family; instead she was left drained, broken emotionally, seeking comfort in the act of self-harming, cutting in particular. As a young adult, she came to the realization that her family operated in dysfunction; she found herself carrying out a lot of those toxic behaviors her parents displayed.
It was not until late adulthood that she had the epiphany-she along with her siblings were the products of a marriage that was nothing other than a legal contract between two people who didn't love each other but stayed together because of societal expectation. Liz learned that her mother who had blamed her for being born a girl and "ruining" her life, was abused by her father who later forced her to marry a man against her will. Liz's father's anger issues were deeply rooted in unresolved trauma in his life.
The more Liz learned about her parents' lives, the more she realized that they were both deeply hurt, flawed and damaged individuals who never experienced or were taught how to love. What they got from their parents was hatred, anger and apathy which then was passed on to her. Through self-reflection and work, Liz understood that a decision had to be made; she could go with it and move forward the family cycle of abuse, resentment and pain or make the conscious effort to break the cycle-she choose the latter.
Liz never had children; it was a decision that her and husband (yes she found love!) made; knowing that recovery from abuse is never an easy journey, she wanted to focus on her own inner healing so not to negatively impact those more vulnerable than her, conscious or sub-conscious. She understands that the journey to break the cycle of abuse is not an easy one; healing is painful and a process; there have been times when Liz wanted to give up reliving past trauma is an experience in of itself; but she knows that as a "cycle breaker" the benefits has been well worth it....