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"How Does Family Trauma Impact Future Generations?" Understanding the Trickle-Down Effect

I'm uncertain as to how many of us who've been abused by our families realize that family trauma actually trickles down through the generations.


When you look at what Buddhism teaches about the afterlife, you see that it's about rebirth. In specific, compulsive birth. Simply put, our "actions committed in the past determine experiences in this life... actions committed now will determine the equality of one's afterlife" ("Buddhism Without Beliefs," Stephen Batchelor, p 35).


In listening to one of Thich Nhat Hahn's podcasts entitled  "No Sameness, No Otherness"  he introduces the idea that every generation before us is still a part of us in our genes. This means that if you've been abused by someone in your family, then more than likely they've been through some trauma themselves.


For a while now I've held this truth but it's nice to note where this belief originates from. I've held this belief as so relevant that I've honestly looked into what's known as  

family constellation therapy. This therapy believes that a family makes up a constellation and via short-term group intervention you can gain insights into this constellation so that you can make changes to its inner image. By doing so you're able to transform the behavior of a conflictual system in relation to that same system. Family constellation therapy was created by Konkolÿ Thege and while I couldn't find any information about it, I believe he was probably Buddhist (or at the very least held some Buddhist beliefs).


At the heart of this therapy we find the butterfly or ripple in the water effect. In other words, when a butterfly flaps its wings it alters the air around it. Or when a pebble is thrown into the water ripples form moving outwards. This is how each of us is. So, when my family inflicted trauma upon me it effects the world around me including all the decisions I make and how my life's path is forged today. All seriousness aside for a moment, I've been heard to say "If I didn't have shit for luck, I'd have none at all." This is because what my parents have been through is trickling down to me. In this way we're interconnected.


As I look back on this ("If I didn't have shit for luck, I'd have none at all.") though, I notice that this is the wrong attitude to take and it's something that needs reformed which is one of the many things that family therapy could help with.


Why is it wrong to think this way? Well, it goes on to what Buddhism believes about words: We use them to give purpose to our life but they only add to our anguish because what we tell ourselves isn't always positive. While I could be tough on myself for this realization, I'm choosing not to be. Instead, I'm choosing to re-frame my thinking and see it as a part of the path I need to traverse in order to become awakened. In doing so, I hope to work through the pain that's been passed down through the generations and heal myself. While it's something family constellation therapy could definitely help with, I also believe it's work that I can and am committed to doing myself.

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