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generational trauma

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 183 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's topic is on breaking the cycle of generational trauma.

I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com

Now it’s so great to have you guys here today for an episode that will hopefully shine some light on how to understand the challenges others face, why they put the same challenges on others, and perhaps most importantly, how to help them make good changes for themselves. Our asker today can see his friend start to unravel in this way and is looking for some tips on how to help him reframe to provide a better life himself and his son. I’m excited for this one. Let’s get into it…

QUESTION: “I see a friend of mine going down a bad spiral. He grew up in a very bad situation that I had the displeasure of watching as a kid. His parents would never let him be himself. They controlled him all the time, making him do only what they wanted and telling him that if he didn’t like it he could leave and live on the streets.

He had some confidence issues, but mostly took in stride and was a fun friend to be around, quick to fit in with everyone. But he now has a 5 year old child, and I’m starting to see shades of his parents come out when he says similar things to his son that I remembered his parents saying to him.

I’m in a tough spot. I don’t want to tell him how to raise his son. But I also don’t want to stand by idly watching. Do you have any tips for how to talk to him about this or can you help me understand better why’d be do this knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of it?”

Listen to Greg narrate this post on breaking generational trauma on Episode 183 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

Parenting is Especially Personal

Yes, this is a tough spot for sure. It goes without saying that parenting is especially personal and hard to tell others how to do, and you’re clearly aware of that.

I’m glad you reached out because I do think there’s a legitimate concern here based on how you’ve described really everything about your friend.

With that being said, you ask for both tips on how to talk to him as well as how to understand why he’s doing this, so let me start by explaining to you what’s going on with him so it can at least all make more sense to you – something that will likely make it easier for you to approach him with this should you choose to.

So, why would he be doing this knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of it?

Listen to Julie's thoughts on the types of rest every parent needs on Episode 924 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Not Knowing What He Doesn't Know

Even though he was raised the same as he’s raising his son, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of it because this flow of having one’s own desires suppressed has been normal to him since before he was even old enough to understand the extent to which it was happening.

We’re all raised like this to different degrees. We’re all taught to withhold parts of ourselves – many of our inner desires – for the sake of retaining a sense of normality, functionality and power in the outside world.

For most of us, basic desires are stifled. These include but are not limited to: trying to mate with every single person we’re attracted to, stealing anything we see that we’d like for ourselves, or physically assaulting people who cross us even a little bit.

As a result, many of us go on to hate these urges within ourselves because we submit to this ideology, relying on our caretakers to guide us in the right direction.

Restrictions, Habits, and Behavior

But depending on how we’re raised, restrictions can stretch far beyond these base instincts and into much less consequential behavior (as is the case with your friend). I’m talking about parents who don’t let their kids wear tee shirts, only button downs and polos. They don’t let them sing because they insist it will never get them anywhere and it’s annoying to listen to.

So kids are put in the habit of holding back and filtering their behavior to fit the outer world. This becomes a normal feeling, and again, the desires we have that go against the model laid out by our caretakers that we perceive as love all of a sudden feel suspicious or unacceptable.

I hate to say it and I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but this aligns perfectly well with your notes about how he was quick to fit in and had low self-confidence.

Listen to Leo's thoughts on the the best things he's learned about raising children on Episode 514 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Of course he’s quick to fit in and assimilate to others rather than being steadfast within his own path AKA self-confident. Why wouldn’t this be the case?

The equation he’s been tailored to live by due to how he was raised is “love = do what others tells you is right or else you can leave and be alone”.

Generational Trauma, Parental Love, and Survival

He’s treating his son the same way because this is what he recognizes as parental love, and it’s hardwired in him that optimal survival depends on quieting the unique parts of oneself that might not be so popular or are guaranteed success or cooperation within the functioning adult world.

‘Treating his son the same way is a subconscious form of protecting him.

I realize that’s a lot to take in. And you’re probably now feeling even more confused as to how to talk someone with all this in mind. Well, so am I. It’s not easy.

But the good news is, at 5 years old, his child is just now getting to the age where your friend could start to see the repercussions that his actions have on his child. This could help him to change his ways if it becomes increasingly clear to him that his son is silencing his inner desires and losing his creativity.

It’d be ideal if your friend were to realize this on his own, but you can’t depend on that.

Coming from A Place of Concern

If I were you, I might try to talk to his spouse about this if he has one and you feel they’d be receptive to it. Depending on the relationship you have with them, you can potentially address it in a way similar that you have with me – a way that lets them know this is coming from a place of concern rather than judgment.

With that being said, if you know your friend to be someone who responds well to honest concerns or is aware of the damage done unto him by his own parents, you may be able to be candid with him. I’ll leave that up to you, as it really depends on who your friend is and how well he receives certain suggestions. Parenting advice is a tight rope, though.

Short of talking directly to either of them, I think that, conservatively, you could take a heartfelt, backdoor route to instill these ideas. That might’ve been a strange way of wording but I’ll elaborate by using an example.

Listen to Dr. Seidnman's thoughts on when friends' help hurts on Episode 746 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Say your friend tells his son not to waste time with artwork as it’s something that he’s deemed impractical, he doesn’t think he’s good at it, or whatever. You may passively mention to your friend that you think his son’s artwork shows a lot of potential and that you can tell how much his son enjoys doing it. You could mention how free he seems when he’s working on a project and how you think it’s a great avenue for him to meet other kids and create friendships.

When I say “passively” mention this I mean that you can do so casually, rather than as a direct attack or personal engagement.

It’d be, “Wow, his work looks great and it’s easy to see how much fun he has when he’s drawing,” not “Why do you discourage him from drawing? He obviously likes it and you’re not helping him by telling him not to do it.”

You see the difference?

Generational Trauma: Conclusion

By doing this the right way, you’re starting to change the narrative for your friend in a healthy way. He starts to hear from an outside source that his son’s artwork does have value, as it he’s reminded that it makes him happy and he now sees that it even bodes well with others.

He’s in a better position to put the pieces together himself rather than getting if you scold him and tell him that he’s doing something wrong. Whether or not he does it will be up to him, but you can plant good seeds.

This isn’t meant as a means of manipulating your friend, but rather showing him through your actions that there’s space for all kinds of people and pursuits in the world in spite of what he’s believed up to this point. If his goal is to protect his son, this shows him that it’s indeed safe for his son to explore his inner life a little bit more.

To the man who sent this in, thanks so much for sending this question in and sparking what I felt was a particularly important episode touching upon generational trauma. Though we only talked about one example today, it’s my hope that all of you are able to connect the dots and see not only how easy it is to perpetuate these patterns and treat others how we’ve been treated, but also that you can get an idea for just how vast this landscape is and the countless ways in which we can silence parts of ourselves and others.

We can have restrictions put on us regarding one idea or one aspect of life, or many ideas and many aspects of life. So take this opportunity now to question how blindly you may have followed those who molded who you are, how you can confront these limitations within yourself and let yourself breathe more, and how you can harvest that same openness in the lives of those that you may have influence over.

That’s going to do it for today on a dense episode. I really appreciate you being here with me and supporting the show. Wishing you all a wonderful rest of your day and inviting you back for more in the next episode, where we’ll tackle another question. Take care everyone.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on breaking generational trauma on Episode 183 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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