Traumas often repeat across generations, sometimes despite our best efforts to take a different path. When we find ourselves repeating a pattern, we can acknowledge our frustration and treat ourselves with kindness. Resilience also repeats across generations as survivors teach their strengths through stories and behavior.
- Ability to recover from shock or injury.
- Inner recognition of support and warning of danger.
- Stubbornness to keep looking for a better way.
- Yielding and springing back into shape like a living tree branch.
What does resilience mean to you?
Explore your heritage
Does your heritage form part of your conscious identity, or do you think of yourself as “regular, plain”? In what ways are you alike and different from the people around you? When you meet someone, what qualities feel familiar and comforting (or threatening)? What qualities grab your attention with their unfamiliarity?
Are you surrounded by cousins and aunts, or do you stay as far as possible from your relatives? If you were adopted you may have put great effort into connecting with people who share your genetic heritage. We absorb patterns from both our genetic relatives and the family we interact with.
Unprocessed trauma echoes down generations. Present but unnamed, it exerts an increasing pressure on the people carrying it, bending their behavior around it. Children absorb these altered behavior patterns without understanding them, like a family that habitually walks around a hole in the porch even after it is repaired.
We may feel confused and ashamed that we avoid that section of the porch “for no reason.” We consciously understand that it has been repaired and “there is nothing to be afraid of,” but the unresolved trauma pushes us to detour with surprising force.
When we acknowledge our patterns of behavior and listen for the truths behind them, the behavior begins to shift without a battle. Someone who fell through the porch might need to gently remember the sensations and emotions involved. Someone who witnessed the fall has a different set of sensations and emotions to process.
Someone who grew up veering around that part of the porch because everyone else does will hear inside that the restriction has no internal foundation and cross the porch with a light heart. We might want to skip directly to the realization without listening first, but the awareness has to come from within.
Listen for underlying truths
Do you find yourself unhappily echoing family behaviors? What happens when you acknowledge that yes, you have behaved that way, and listen quietly for more information? You could try this to gain insight into family patterns even if you do not participate in them. In some small way, they may resonate inside you.
As we gradually clear out unresolved trauma, our inherited resilience shines through, sometimes in the trauma responses themselves. Avoiding a hole in the porch is a survival skill. Awareness gives us a choice about when to use it.
Seek family stories
Family stories often contain traumatic events as an unspoken backdrop, matter-of-factly accepted as the way things are. Resilience weaves through the stories, including in how the stories are told or avoided. If you are in contact with them, you could ask family members for stories of surrenders in their lives. Listen for their strengths.
For example, my German-Jewish grandparents escaped genocide by fleeing their homes in the late 1930’s and starting over in Santiago, Chile. In the mid-1960’s the political situation in Chile looked dangerous, so my relatives relocated again, scattering across three continents. I inherited a complicated answer to “Where are you from?” and a wary readiness to pull up roots and start over if necessary.
We may take family strengths for granted because “everyone does that” or “that’s easy.” What qualities helped your people survive to bring you into the world? How do those resilient qualities manifest in you? Watch for the strengths you and the people around you use to get through each day.
German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.