We all have patterns of behaviors that are passed down through the generations. Some are good, and some conduct is harmful and causes ongoing complications. For children of childhood trauma, like myself, if we look with a compassionate eye at our abuser, we most likely find they too were mistreated in their past.
Wounded people hurt others, but it’s not a justifiable reason for the pattern to continue. Each of us injured people need to learn to take responsibility for our behaviors, especially the adverse reactions we have that may harm others. We can be the generation that stops passing them on to our children. We can heal so they don’t have to.
Interestingly, many of us are very vocal about not wanting to be like our parents. My husband is proud to say that he is his anti-father. He consciously worked to be the opposite of who his father was to him. But without realizing it, many of us are still mirroring the behaviors we learned through our domestication process.
So those thoughts, perspectives, or beliefs which are emotionally or culturally passed down through our families are generational patterns. It’s the lens we see the world through, shaped by our families. Unless we know they exist, they continue to leave scars on each generation.
Many of the habits of dysfunctional families use are not from the lack of love but are the result of fear. Knowing the love-limiting habits and behaviors of dysfunctional families is a wonderful beginning to lower the fear, allowing us to be real, allowing us all to learn how to love better. ~ David W. Earle
The Family Mold
My mother was an alcoholic. Whether they are food, work, or drugs, addictions have a similar family pattern of avoiding whatever is causing the addict’s pain. My mother’s pain was having who she was, her identity taken away from her at sixteen. She was given up for adoption away from her sustenance living in a Native American village in Alaska.
Her adoptive parents gave her pretty dresses, a home with indoor plumbing and electricity. They wanted her to fit in at her new school, so they took away her meager belongings. And they forcibly introduced her to Christianity as her adoptive parents were missionaries.
At sixteen, she feared all the changes to every part of her life. But how she handles the fear was to stuff it. She avoided dealing with the distress and pain, and she numbed her feelings.
So, my mother taught my sister and me to stuff our emotions too. I was afraid of becoming an alcoholic too, so my way to numb feelings was to stay too busy to deal with them. As a workaholic, busyness was my way to handle unworthiness, fear of being alone, and fear of living.
The same underlying issue as my mother, but a slightly different form of addiction to avoid the pain we were both going through. The thought pattern of avoidance drove both of our behaviors. And I would pass this onto my children if I didn’t realize the pattern.
Children are not born for the benefit of their parents; neither are they the property of their family. Children belong to the future. ~ Anthon St. Maarten
Awareness of the Pattern
For any of us to stop any harmful behavior, we must realize what we are doing. Awareness is the first step in changing our thought patterns.
Most people who have addiction in their families are aware of the term codependency. It is the excessive emotional or psychological reliance on another person who requires support from us.
My codependent behavior was to take care of my mother when she was drunk. This action meant that I cleaned up her vomit before my dad got home. Or I was hiding her drink after she passed out. As I got older, I looked for other people to “help” and conceal their messes from others.
In the late 1980s, I saw Melody Beattie’s interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show discussing her new book Codependent No More. As she talked, I recognized myself in her story.
I saw the harmful reactions I was having to others, and my need to take care of them wasn’t out of love but from a place of fear. Yes, I wanted to help, but my codependency came from me feeling afraid of not being needed by my mother, which meant she didn’t love me.
This fear drove my actions, and I needed to reframe them in a way to respond differently. But I did little changing until I found out I was pregnant. Then the terror of me passing on my destructive behaviors onto my child forced me to learn how to change.
Our family was stuck in a cosmic hamster wheel of toxic love, making the same mistakes, saying the same words, being hurt in the same ways generation after generation. I didn’t want to keep playing a role in this tragedy of errors. ~ Yamile Saied Méndez
Reframing Our Thought Patterns
During my pregnancy, I read Codependent No More and went through the workbook with the explicit intention of altering my behaviors. Since I knew children are like sponges, soaking up everything they learn from their parents, I didn’t want my child to feel anything negative from me. I didn’t want him to figure out why he was reacting to life in a way that wasn’t beneficial to him.
I must have needed over nine months to do the work because my son was born four weeks late. But the awareness I now gained helped me navigate the emotions that arose when I become fearful. I had to take responsibility for how I felt, even if it made little sense or thought it was irrational.
When we take responsibility for our reactions and our choices, we allow changes to occur. So I had to own up to the fact that I had belief systems in place that were harming me. I had to quit blaming others and stop making excuses for how I was reacting to situations.
Then I needed to reframe my perspective, one from fear to one of love. Instead of thinking that if I didn’t help clean up someone’s mess, they wouldn’t love me, I saw myself as helping them by allowing them to clean up their own messes. This way, they could learn to take care of themselves, and I could learn to put up personal boundaries to protect me.
Consider letting go of the barriers between yourself and others, let go of the definition our culture has inflicted upon us and allow the best part of ourselves to connect with the wondrous parts of others. ~ David W. Earle
Why We Have to Break the Pattern
My mother beat me with a wooden spoon when I was little. She believed violence was an effective way to deal with misbehaving children. But viciousness doesn’t resolve conflicts or fix problems. It only escalates them.
We can only pass on to our children what we know. My mother knew aggression, so that is what she passed on to me. For me to break the pattern, I had to learn a different way to handle conflicts.
To stop these destructive behaviors from being passed on to our children, we have to grow. We have to be aware of our dysfunctional mannerisms and then abandon them for something better. This change takes practice because altering bad habits takes time.
Be patient with ourselves as we go through this time of discomfort. It’s normal to take a misstep. We need to course correct when we do and move forward. Patience is also a practical way of dealing with our emotions.
The generational patterns don’t have to be endlessly repeated. We can take small conscious steps today that will have dramatic effects on our children. Thus, altering all future generations, but we have to take the first step. It’s never too late to move away from dysfunction.
Perhaps nothing so accurately characterizes dysfunctional families as denial. ~ John Bradshaw
Altering Our Coping Mechanisms
Once we reframe our thoughts, we need to change how we react to situations that trigger us. The strategies we used to deal with our feelings, like avoidance, need to be managed better. We need to learn to respond in a healthier way.
When we react poorly to a set of circumstances, we make the problem worse. We may see the world as more hostile than it is and make assumptions about others. We can see these patterns in our families and how everyone gets angry, is passive-aggressive in their replies, or outright avoids all issues.
When we know the dysfunctional ways we deal with our emotions, we can shift towards better coping mechanisms when dealing with our feelings. We can learn these novel ways through our trusted tribe of friends. Especially ones we can model who’s able to cope with life in a healthy, loving manner.
When we consciously choose to learn from past experiences, we can heal ourselves from these generations’ behavior patterns and stop creating more hurting people. It’s up to us to overcome the barriers that keep us from responding with love to the situations in our lives.
When we chose to work on self-improvement, all parts of our lives progress. Our souls want to change destructive patterns and outdated belief systems. When we discover our authenticity, we can better understand ourselves and others, thereby developing our communication and connections.
Persons in dysfunctional families characteristically do not feel because they learned from a young age that not feeling is necessary for psychic survival. ~ Kathleen Heide
Empathy and Forgiveness
As we change how we cope, we will see our parents in our reactions. When we do, be compassionate with ourselves and empathic towards our families. Yes, we can blame, shame, and judge them for causing these wounds, but that doesn’t help us heal.
When we better understand our families and how they became who they are, we can empathize with their experiences. They couldn’t do better because they didn’t know any better. This compassion doesn’t exonerate their behavior, but it allows us to free ourselves of the negativity through forgiveness.
If our families don’t apologize for the words and wounds that scarred us, forgiveness can be challenging. But we are forgiving to free us of being bound to the generational patterns we are choosing to overcome. It’s about saying that our healing is more important than holding on to the destructive pain and having it spill out to harm others.
I forgave my mother because my child was more important to me than she was. In forgiving her, it permitted me to stop living in the past. I acknowledge what happened, accepted it, and then released it, so I no longer carried the pain. Furthermore, forgiveness allows us to love others, deal with our feelings in a healthy manner, and strengthen our relationships.
Making amends is not only saying the words but also being willing to listen to how your behavior caused another’s pain, and then the really hard part… changing behavior. ~ David W. Earle
Moving Forward by Modeling a New Pattern
The generational patterns we’ve learned don’t have to keep us stuck. And they don’t have to define who we are or where we are going. We can empower ourselves to change how we cope to ways that are healthy for us. We can start a new limb to our family tree that bears sweeter fruit.
Acknowledging and honoring where we’ve come from is virtuous for our children. But they don’t need to acquire the dysfunctional behaviors we’ve inherited. Instead, we can provide a new legacy, one where they are kind and respond with love.
Take some time and look back across the generations of our families and search for the patterns. What do we see? Addiction, trauma, separation, exploitation, passive aggression, domination, envy, scandal, arrogance, victimization, despair, pessimism, isolation, perfectionism, rage, negativity, unforgiveness, etc. Whatever issues we see are affecting us unless we work towards our healing.
I explain to my patients that abused children often find it hard to disentangle themselves from their dysfunctional families, whereas children grow away from good, loving parents with far less conflict. After all, isn’t that the task of a good parent, to enable the child to leave home? ~ Irvin Yalom
As we become more conscious of our patterns of behaviors, we can learn to alter our fearful reactions. When we do, we can teach our children to respond thoughtfully from a place of love.
Do you need support to help you break generational patterns of behaviors? Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please reach out to me at TerriKozlowski.com, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.