I’ve said it before — nutrition may be my number one passion, but the mind-body connection comes in a close second. I’ve written before about how stress will affect you physically — not only because of stress hormone release but also how we learn patterns of tension in the body (trouble breathing, which can lead to anxiety, which can cause the brain to not receive enough oxygen, which can prevent muscles and glands from receiving adequate blood flow, over-production of stomach acid, muscle pain and more.)
Sometimes stress comes in the form of our daily life experiences — difficult relationships, difficult decisions to be made, feeling sick from a diagnosed illness, financial troubles, and more. But I want to challenge you to also recognize that GENERATIONAL WOUNDS can keep us sick.
What is a generational wound? Well it’s the patterns of thoughts and behavior that we inherit from our family members. We learn how to think about the world and how to behave from our parents (or caregivers). And they learned how to think about the world and how to behave from their parents, and their parents learned from their parents, and so on and on and on.
The problems is that most often, generational patterns are never broken and we inadvertently inherit them from our family. So the way that your grandmother always worried herself sick (literally), or the fact that your great-great grandfather was an alcoholic, or that your great grandmother was ashamed of her figure and was always putting herself on unreasonable crash diets, or that your father never learned positive communication and instead only knew how to yell, or that your great-great-great grandmother suffered in poverty, are likely all still reflected in your thoughts, actions, and how you feel about yourself even if you don’t know their stories.
Does it sound like a stretch? It’s not. The sum total of the lessons we have learned from our caregivers is a direct result of what they have learned over the course of their lifetime — and what their caregivers taught them. The anger, shame, frustration, poor communication, anxieties, fears get passed down. So although you are not living in poverty, you still feel shame that you are not in a better place financially. Even though you are not an unhealthy weight, you still impose strict calorie restrictions on yourself because no woman in your family has ever been happy with her appearance so what gives you the right? Or, although you don’t want to fight with people, you never learned how to communicate in a clear and healthy way so you aren’t sure why your conversations always end in anger. And, even though you aren’t in an abusive relationship, you still feel like you are always walking on eggshells because you learned that anyone can become angry at you at any moment and for anything.
Think of generational wounds as the memories we subconsciously pass down to others. And because life can be painful, pain is very often what we pass down and our brains and nervous systems choose to remember most. Remembering pain is a survival technique, after all. It’s the brain’s attempt at avoiding anything that can jeopardize our safety. Unfortunately, these wounds also keep us locked in figurative cages. We hold ourselves back, don’t allow ourselves happiness, choose pain and suffering over joy, recreate our own cycles of shame and anger, and live our lives to please people who are no longer even alive.
To break this cycle, start by recognizing your own generational wounds. What is the behavior you recognize in your parents that isn’t/wasn’t healthy? Now think back to their parents and try to recognize the wounds and unhealthy patterns that were passed down to them and how it must have affected them as people. We want to have empathy for our ancestors, instead of blaming any one person for how they may have acted in this life. The idea isn’t to point blame, but to see the struggles and events that led up to the dysfunctional behavior. Then we can distance ourselves from the pain of the generational wounds, instead of being triggered by them. We can recognize problems in our own lives that we inherited and work to change them. We can stop the stress patterns and stress hormone release. We also need to identify where in the body we store tension from these generational wounds. Is it a tensed stomach? Tensed muscle or shoulders from fear and stress? Clenched jaw? Shallow breathing? Everyone will have different wounds and different patterns of tension in the body. Identifying them is the best way to start to heal.