I've shared previously that a few years ago I did a little work with the Mind Body Institute, in which we learned about ancestral cell trauma. This is part of the work I do with my clients within the Detoxification and Wellness program because one can't truly heal without addressing their buried traumas, including those they may not be consciously aware. This made sense to me on a cellular level, much like food sensitivities or even immunizations tag our cells to remember, in effort to protect us, but it wasn't until I really witnessed this unfold in my family did it sink home.
My only family has suffered significant traumas. The women seem to attract very narcissistic men and I do mean that in a very clinical sense. We then create our own drama and abuse from reacting to the insanity narcism creates in their victims. Having more recently connected to my grandmother, listening to her share of family stories through the generations, it really is a wash-rinse-and-repeat cycle. I thought I had rose above this chaos in my family but the reality is that in spite of never having even met most of my family, my children did repeat much of their behavior.
What really impressed upon me as I have studied ancestral cell trauma is that of its occurrence more often happening because we bury these incidents within the locked vault of family secrets. No one talks about it; we pretend nothing ever happened, because what would the neighbor think? Even when it is very apparent everyone already knows, we hunker down and never hush a word, letting that trauma sink deep within our cell memory. My great-great grandfather was the town Mayor and was given land for his family, so when teenage pregnancy occurred outside of marriage, even a touch of mental illness, it was seemingly a life-or-death scenario. Secrets protected their image, and their image was what kept them safe and secure within society.
Add to this the suck-it-up-and-shake-it-off mentality when it comes to feelings and hurts, and we were largely an inauthentic group of judgmental folk without any ability to regulate emotions. Nothing in our family was normalized either, and everything was chaos. My family was very unpredictable. There was intense anger, intense laughter, intense loneliness, intense criticism, and intense hurt. Even those good times were dicey because they could turn in an instant. Any slight misstep may mean your Christmas gifts are being thrown down the stairs outside your step-mother's apartment.
I was the oldest; my sister was just a few years younger. Mom was an alcoholic and my father was a narcissist. I was responsible for protecting my sister from the unpredictable swings. When things got bad, I was her protector, but not just her, also either one of my parents. My mother may be trashed and I would need to bring her inside and clean her up or tend to bruises her abusive lover unloaded upon her. My father was misogynistic so his women were expected to clean, cook, and cater to him. When they left him, it became my responsibility. I was shopping alone in the grocery store before the age of ten years.
When things were great, I was the protector-in-waiting, always on the outside of fun. I have only been drunk once in my life and it was well into my thirties, down in Florida with my best friend. It had never been safe enough for me to drink and risk losing ability to protect myself and others. I was too serious, even in my first few years of college. I was always anticipating how things may go wrong, who might become a threat, and how I would have to save everyone. As Brene Brown has shared regarding her own upbringing in her book, Atlas of the Heart, and for which I identify, she was "always one sideways glance or one smart-ass comment from chaos."
And I had Magical Powers
As if all this wasn't enough, I had magical powers. I knew I was unique and sharing this would make me look insane, so I kept this to myself as well. There were small hints of this magic as I grew up but ultimately, I knew as I grew older and when the world seemed it fit, those powers would be reveal within me. I knew I was going to be called to great things.
The bionic woman and even Wonder Woman herself felt more like family, more familiar and safe, than my own biological family. Seemed I had more similarities to them, always rescuing others, and being pretty good at it. I could predict the future to some degree, knowing when to get prepared, anticipating disaster just before the wave hit. I could sense the emotions of others from a mile away, often more aware of what others were feeling than they were themself.
I was also very aware of the deeper secrets within most people, their triggers, their shame, their insecurities. I've always connected with the misfits because of this, and knew how to listen and make others feel welcomed and loved. I knew when teasing was fun and when it went too far. I also knew quickly how to get on the good side of the physicians who were labeled as mean or cruel, the yellers. They were often the ones with the worst anxiety and greatest inability to regulate their emotions. Their screaming was really more at the situation, although they could be cruel when they intimidated nurses and ultimately deemed them to be weak. I was never intimated so typically won them over. This soon allowed me to protect those who were often bullied.
It took me a few decades, but by at least forty years of age, I recognized that maybe I didn't have super powers. Maybe I just had keen observational skills that allowed me great #empathy. It's a trauma response really; a need to always scan my environment for threat. It amazes me today when others don't see what seems super obvious to me. I see the connections between the feelings of others, their logic, and their behaviors. It's truly uncanny; however, I also recognize today that many intentionally drown out this awareness, this noise, with alcohol, business, or other addictions to take the edge off their own anxiety and pain.
It's Okay to Share Our Stories
Interestingly, yesterday, my daughter, just six years old, returned from her father's home having spent a week there for fall break. We were grocery shopping and she says to me, as she always shares when she returns home, that she doesn't want me to talk badly about her father or my family. I ask her what she believes I've said that was unkind. She tells me it isn't nice to say that her father left when she was a baby.
My daughter is very inquisitive and at some point in her upbringing she recognized that her mother and father didn't live together, and she had no memory of us ever doing so. She found it peculiar then that we were living with Jeremy and began asking questions. Historically, with my older children, I had thought the best approach was to remind them they were loved, to keep the dirty secrets quiet, and to paint a rosey picture of our reality. A therapist quickly corrected me sharing that teaching them bad behavior is love can be catastrophic. Rather, we need to teach them what love looks like and be honest about their reality because not doing so, is ultimately gaslighting them. When we are honest about hard things, we can assist them in processing their hard reality so they can regulate their emotions as they mature.
Apparently my little lady mentioned to her father that she was aware he left us when she was still in my belly and he didn't know how to respond to this, so as is his main defense, he gaslit her. He rewrote history and made me look like the villain. I simply explained to Ruby that sometimes the truth doesn't sound great, but it is my story, it is the truth, and it is perfectly okay for each of us to tell our own stories. We don't have to be cruel or condescending, but there is also no need to pretend what happened didn't actually happen just to make someone feel better about their behaviors. If they wanted a different story, they should have behaved differently.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Rather than numbing oneself from the pain and anxiety of our realities, or even #gaslighting others so we feel better about our own circumstances or the perception others may have of us when we fall short, we can learn to take some accountability and draw some healthy boundaries. The first is really challenging when your own self-identity is so fragile admitting any wrongdoing feels like you may implode, so work there is essential, but the latter is also exceedingly tough. It seems cruel to tell others no, to not show up when someone is in need, to not martyr yourself for others when that is all you have ever known. We have to learn to love ourselves and prioritize that over making other people comfortable.
If you are an #addict, and many, many of you are - more so than anyone may ever believe about our society - then one must recognize that using alcohol, food, work, caretaking, sex, or whatever else you get your hands on to numb your anxiety and vulnerability, only means you mask your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. My partner struggles to recognize that his drinking isn't just a problem when he gets trashed; it is also a problem when he drinks just two or three beers each evening because this calmness he perceives is actually a numbing of his emotions. This isn't regulating or being embodied. It isn't experiencing life, living authentically, and learning about his own personal growth; it's an attempt to outrun and outsmart his own vulnerability and pain.
A healthy person recognizes their edges. Their anxiety, fear, stress, angst, and even anger are identifying markers that help guide their next step. They sensitive to these and use each as helpful tools, grateful for their direction, more so than they are afraid of these emotions and seek to wash them out, to diminish them so they can ignore integrating healthy boundaries. Power too, can be good, but when we use it to overpower others, this is not courageous. This is a desperate attempt to maintain a very fragile ego. When people are hateful or cruel or just an asshole, they're showing us exactly what they are afraid of and while this doesn't make them easier to tolerate, it does give us choices. When we subject ourselves to that behavior, it isn't loving; it's a sign of our own lack of self-worth.
This is the pattern in my own family, whether the women - my grandmother, mother, myself, or even my daughter marry a narcissist, an alcoholic, or a raging monster - we stay because this is familiar, we feel we can navigate it because we've traversed this terrain before, and ultimately because we fail to recognize we deserve better. I was loyal to a fault, trying to prove I was a good Christian woman. I perpetuated the cycle in my family's cell memory.
What I need to teach Ruby is that as she comes to better understand her own story, while she may feel an immense about of empathy for her father, even her sister, she can be compassionate and also hold them accountable, tell her story, and avoid gaslighting herself in effort to protect their feelings. They may feel shame, but that isn't the same as shaming them. She isn't responsible for their emotions to their own accountability. Even though she loves them, she can let them experience the consequences of their own behavior. What she should avoid however, is rewriting a story that makes excuses for bad behavior and creating a sense within her own cell memory that she wasn't worth being loved, protected, and provided for as a child. Their behaviors had nothing to do with her. This was her reality; it is her story and there is no shame in her speaking her truth. It allows her body, her intuition to recognize that she can show up for herself and protect herself. She can show herself love. This is how we heal our family patterns of toxic behaviors.