Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I’ve been thinking about inter-generational loyalty issues lately. Inter-generational loyalty goes something like this: We all come from families that believe in and express certain values. These belief systems and values are handed down from generation to generation, and without examination they control us without our awareness.
Some examples of positive family values include contributing time and money towards the greater good by volunteering and donating, and showing family loyalty by sticking up for and protecting younger siblings if they are picked on.
Many of my clients have survived traumatic childhoods, and were raised by parents who also survived traumatic upbringings and so they value safety. In and of itself, safety is a perfectly reasonable value. Problems occur when safety becomes cross-wired with fears of insufficiency.
A family belief system of danger in the world at large is expressed as a family identity which discourages expansion and growth. Some examples of this include “We are hard working blue collar people and we are better than those sissies who can’t build things” for instance, or “We don’t trust people who aren’t like us…white/black/Jewish/Christian/intellectual/artistic/etc…”
A very funny example of this primitive belief system and its fundamental preoccupation the danger of the unknown is The Croods, a (great!) movie about patriarch Grug’s attempt to protect his Neanderthal family from death. This movie also vividly portrays the great cost of a fear-based belief system.
In order to heal the inter-generational belief that “the world is a dangerous place and everyone is out to get you” we need to disobey our family programming, to essentially be disloyal to our parents and reject their teaching. This creates internal conflict, because even a paranoid and dysfunctional family provided us with life in the first place, and a sufficient level of care that we have reached adulthood.
A good thing to remind ourselves is that a loving parent wants their child to exceed them. A loving parent wants their child to be happier, healthier, better educated, more successful, more loving and more loved. In fact, it is a thrilling thing for a parent to witness the ways in which their beloved child kicks their own examples’ fanny. I love that my children have been able to out spell me from the time they were in third grade, and can do mental math that I need a calculator and scratch paper to do (now if only they could learn how to not dump their backpacks, shoes and lunch bags all over the living room floor)!
If you did not come from a family that encouraged you to grow beyond what they demonstrated, you can hold an imaginary conversation with your parents—alive or deceased—in which you imagine them giving you their blessings and permission to soar and grow. You can free yourself from the cage of any negative inter-generational values and beliefs that once used to limit you.
If doing this exercise feels overly daunting or impossible, consider getting support from a friend, therapist, minister or another healing person to help.