One of the most important and difficult aspects of recovery work is finding balance in our lives. During our traumatic experiences, our inner parts split off in an attempt to keep us safe.
In doing so, they stored their childlike beliefs until they had the opportunity to heal from their past experiences. And these beliefs consider the world from a black and white perspective. It is not a balanced view. But in healing, we can find that balance. Not surprisingly, it takes time and patience to get there.
While we need to find balance in every aspect of our lives, one of the most significant is how we view our family. I have heard from most survivors that they struggle to let go of their family. We usually have at least one part who feels an inextricable connection to them. This part is tied to them through blood, DNA and traumatic experiences. All these things can create a contract with those who treat us horribly. Strings are attached and they are hard to cut.
But that is only one side of the pendulum swing. Within us, we also hold that inner part who despises the family. And while that anger is not misplaced, that same anger may also be aimed at the self. “If the family is bad, so am I.” “If the family is capable of horrible abuse, so am I.” And on some level, that may be true. All people are capable of both good and bad. But it is our choices that make the difference. We aren’t born with an unfulfilled destiny to commit evil written on our cells. We make that choice to go one way or the other (or somewhere in between). But we may be using our own DNA as a reason to hate ourselves.
Coming to a place of separation and understanding can be critical to our healing journey and quality of life. And yes. We can hold both. We can understand that our family members made horrible choices because of their own trauma and the trauma of the generations before them. We can also understand they have good characteristics and strengths that were used for very bad things. We can even understand they may have had strengths they used for good things on occasion. But we can also separate from them because their behavior is abusive and does not allow us to heal. We can do all of this simultaneously.
While that may feel dissonant and impossible to hold, it is important to consider all these aspects. I have been separated from the majority of my own family for the past eight years. I did it for the safety of my own children (and inner children). I knew the pedophiles in my family would move in on my kids too. I was not going to let that happen. I have expressed intense rage and anger toward my family through my own healing work. And all of it was justified and valid. At the same time, I have come to some balanced understandings about my family.
My parents did not invent the trauma they perpetrated on their children. They were acting out a pattern of behavior hundreds of years old. My mother enabled the abuse and trafficking of her children because deep down inside, she believed she was keeping us alive. She chose “traumatized and alive” over “dead” in her mind. And she unconsciously believed that was the only choice she had. More than likely, my parents remember very little of their abusive actions because of their dissociative state. All of this is true. But none of it excuses what they did. They could have chosen another path.
I have also come to understand that the generational trauma may have been in their DNA in some ways. (Yes, I do believe it can be changed through recovery.) But I also understand my family has powerful strengths. These strengths were used to wreak havoc on the world and cover it up. And that is far from a positive thing. But I can see how these strengths, when not mired in trauma, could be incredibly powerful.
Recently, I was privileged to see my son act in a play. He was incredibly good. And that isn’t just his mother talking. He received so many compliments. I have never been an actor, but I do enjoy the spotlight. There is no doubt the apple did not fall far from the tree in that regard. However, I could not help but look at the family history (despite my desire not to). My grandfather acted in many plays and musicals over the course of his lifetime. And he was not the only one. But even more important is the connection between acting ability and what it takes to mask trauma in a family. Every one of my family members was acting, whether they knew it consciously or not.
So maybe we aren’t meant to fully shun our families who perpetuate trauma. Maybe we don’t deny their strengths and the characteristics that come with the name, heritage and history. But maybe we are meant to shun their choices and actions. Maybe we are meant to reject the way they used their strengths. And maybe now, we can embrace who we were meant to be without the trauma to screw everything up. Maybe we can love the family strengths while rejecting the trauma.
And maybe, just maybe, that will help us love ourselves a little bit more.
Generations of acting
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW
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