By Jason Briggs, MA
According to the Global Survey of Violence Against Children put out by the United Nations, “every year, between 500 million and 1.5 billion children worldwide endure some form of violence”. 1 Alice Miller, PhD, is a psychologist, sociologist, philosopher and renowned author of many books on child abuse describes in her book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Societies Betrayal of the Child, how past child abuse is meted out against children in innumerable ways and typically by parents who assume consciously or not, a “for your own good” maxim. Miller shows how the many parenting approaches endorsed in western society produce a multi-generational conflict cycle, through overt and covert trauma bonds. These bonds within the child/caregiver relationship are felt and aren’t impacted by analytical thought so they touch all our families equally, regardless of educational level, socio-economic status, race, etc. This blog will explore one aspect of this generational conflict cycle and be a part of a series of blogs with some solutions offered in each blog. The goal is to help parents identify and begin healing to eventually resolve the generational conflict cycle. (See Alice Miller’s book: For Your Own Good: Hidden Roots of Cruelty and Violence in Child Rearing for exploring the ways this cycle is perpetuated.)
The generational conflict cycle begins when parents with unhealed emotional wounds unconsciously attempt to get their own emotional needs met by their children. Parents will do this both consciously and unconsciously and often see their children through the veil of their own unfinished business (by bypassing this aspect of their powerful inner life), which consists of “…past internalized perceptions, which are ‘frozen’ and usually stemming from childhood.” The effects on children are they must idealize their parents to survive as their own healthy needs go unmet, the ability to soothe themselves is further perceived as hopeless, and the true self (the entire access to ones innate inner life: feelings, thoughts, wants, needs, choices, decisions, beliefs, sensations, dreams, fantasies) goes into hiding in the unconscious while a false self emerges. This child’s false self is the one that complies and relates from the parental emotional wounds as solidified judgments, which are projected onto their children, seen predominately as children’s misbehavior, oddities, attitudes, or any other judgement. This is the way a parent unconsciously ends up placing the emotional needs of the parent above their children’s emotional needs and maintains the generational conflict cycle.
Emotionally neglected children, commonly grow up to be adults who in turn, emotionally neglect their inner emotional world and those of their children. Our neglected emotional and psychological needs by the now adult parent are automatically passed on to the next generation. This generational conflict cycle, when denied, operates as generational conflicts maintained in the parent/caregiver/child relationship and takes many forms (See Alice Miller’s book: Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Societies Betrayal of the Child, for exploring more in depth ways we function in society to hold power over children, to the betrayal of children).
As parents, cultivating a mindful stance that addresses the neglect of our own unmet emotional needs helps shift the parenting stance from mindless to mindful. The hope of making this shift from the mindless to the mindful means choosing to end the bypassing of doing one’s own inner work and being self-responsible for the condition of one’s own mind. One way to do this is by choosing to see our pain as an opportunity for healing and growth, rather than a curse. Exploring that opportunity as a healing choice means to begin addressing one’s own generational conflict cycle, regardless of the time, patience, and persistence required. Therapy that helps promote healing maintains that parents focus on certain essentials to recovery, by: 1) slowing down and understanding the steps in going from ‘zero to sixty’, 2) learning about projection and it’s guises (projection is an emotional wound that is seen in another, because it is been denied in ourselves), 3) seeking therapy that focuses on experiential work that at some point includes body awareness work, 4) learning about the nature of the psyche, what constitutes its dynamics, and explore if and when a self-help approach is limiting our efforts to heal (as we may be unknowingly perpetuating a belief that we must do our inner work alone), 5) being willing to learn about mindsight research in attachment and effective parenting (see Daniel Siegel’s work), and the way the caregiver’s role, emotions, and psyche condition impact our children’s healthy and unhealthy development, 6) exploring new and creative ways to heal and nurture ourselves as parents, as the cause for our truly being there for our children, 7) being willing to cultivate understanding and compassion in our healing and growth process, as parents.
All parents have a thankless job with most never consciously wanting to harm their children, and appealing to that truth, I see this daily in service to my clients who are parents, and see this is true, being mostly out of awareness. The generational conflict cycle may mean we need help in understanding its causes, effects, and what heals it. One way to explore essentials to healing it is to enjoy a great read by Charles Whitfield, MD, researcher and psychotherapist from Atlanta, Georgia, titled, Boundaries and Relationships, Knowing, Protecting, and Enjoying the Self. For help with understanding these skills more experientially by using emotional, psychological, or spiritual disciplines, ask yourself, “Is it time to give a gift to myself and my children by seeing my own emotional and psychological pain as a classroom for learning about my inner life?” For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES! Before I cultivated a proper focus on addressing my own unmet emotional and spiritual needs, I was a smiling, charming and successful parent but was only one half alive, meeting only my physical and mental needs! We are here to live life fully and with joy. As parents, one way of taking steps toward that fullness of life is to explore our choices for healing, and when ready, to decide to begin to explore what it means to see parenting as a classroom for healing our own generational conflict cycle.
Miller, Alice (1984). Thou shalt not be Aware, society’s betrayal of the child Toronto, Canada. Collins Publishers
Miller, Alice (1997). Drama of the Gifted Child, the Search for the True Self Garden City, New York. Basic Books
Trout, Susan (1990). To See Differently, Personal Growth and Being of Service Through Attitudinal Healing. Three Roses Press
Whitfield, Charles (1993). Boundaries and Relationships, Knowing Protecting and Enjoying the Self. Health Communications, Inc.
https://www.compassion.com/poverty/child-abuse.htm United Nations, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children. Toward a World Free From Violence: Global Survey on Violence against Children, October, 2013.