Everyone goes through difficult and transformative things in their life. The experiences and actions that shape your life are what make each person unique. However, there are events in our lives that can end up changing us for worse. There are also many people who end up ignoring this trauma and this can be detrimental to more than just one person.
I recently watched the Disney movie “Encanto.” At first glance it appears like a cheery animated musical celebrating traditional Colombian heritage; however, on a closer viewing, it is a story of generational trauma and how it can affect more than just one person. The film centers around a family whose matriarch, Alma Madrigal, lost her husband just after her three children were born. This massive event in her life leaves her all alone with her three children and ends up affecting the way her children grow up, though not always in positive or an obviously negative way. Throughout the film, we see how Alma treats her family in nice but not exactly caring ways. She tells her children and grandchildren how to behave and exactly what they need to be to continue representing the family well. This is a perfect example of a traumatic event being passed down to the next generation. Alma’s trauma and response to it gets transferred to her children and grandchildren; it is not until the grandchildren decide that Alma’s treatment of the family is no longer sustainable that they confront her about it.
It’s quite easy to examine generational trauma in a movie, but how do we work through trauma when we’re the ones who experience it? The first step is acknowledging that things have happened to you and understanding both the positive and negative consequences of the events of your life. Working through things is difficult and doing so can make you better. However, I’m not saying that you should treat every negative thing in your life as actually a positive. That would be completely insensitive and silly.
Once you’ve confronted your own experiences, it could help you to try and talk to family members about how you’re feeling. This can elicit one of two responses: the family member might be understanding, or they might be flippant and see your desire for connection as an affront on them. The most important thing in the latter scenario is to talk about how you are feeling. It can be tempting when an argument breaks out to engage the other person in a fight and make judgements about their actions and thoughts. By making it about how you are feeling, you avoid this.
Another thing that will help you improve yourself when dealing with generational trauma is knowing to not accept negative treatment from family members merely because you are related to them. In many families, family members are expected to treat incredibly horrible and abusive family members differently than they would treat strangers of the same caliber. This is a recipe for disaster. No longer can we accept racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc., family members. We owe it to ourselves and others to confront our problematic family members.
Confronting problems is a difficult thing to do but, for society to function at its highest level, we all have to do the work to create a better life for everyone.