Intergenerational Wounds: Healing the Pain that Didn’t Start with You

by | Sep 12, 2021 | 9-Month | 19 comments

We’re living in an extraordinary time on our planet: a time of extraordinary pain and also extraordinary possibility. In our 24/7 media culture designed to light up the amygdala’s fear response, it’s easy to only see the world’s pain right now, and there’s no doubt plenty of it. But there are also other streams and currents that speak to a consciousness of equality, interconnectivity, and justice that are growing into beautiful swells. I mention this because whenever we’re in transition, either personal or global, we have a potent opportunity to change structures and interrupt patterns, to see the pain in stark relief and the possibilities for growth and healing that live within the pain.

I’m seeing this on all fronts right now, from the world’s pain to the personal pain that comes into my virtual office. The personal pain that I sit across from every day typically shows up as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, worry, and compulsions. There are many ways to cope with the pain of life, but for the highly sensitive population who find their way to my work, the underlying pain typically morphs into anxiety. Why? Part of this is genetic and ancestral, and here’s where it’s important to name and note that there’s an element of your wounds that didn’t start with you. When I ask clients if there’s anyone else in their family who struggles with anxiety the answer is always yes. Always.

My niece, Victoria, with whom I co-host our Gathering Gold podcast, recently wrote on Instagram about how she challenged her anxiety by going on a camping trip, but anxiety still found a way into her backpack. Of course it did, for the pack she carries isn’t only hers but contains the “baggage” of her long line of ancestors who also struggled with anxiety. This is why the “getting rid of baggage” dreams is often a metaphor for the deep dive work of intergenerational healing that many of my clients are doing.

We’re all descendants of a legacy of beliefs, patterns, and behaviors, which means we carry some pain that isn’t ours. Some of these legacies serve us and many of them don’t. For example, most of us come from a belief system around emotions that says, “Big feelings should be tamped down. If you’re highly sensitive, you’re “too much” and you have to learn how to “buck up, get over it, and move on.” This belief system may have served the human race well when our physical survival was more at stake, but it no longer serves us. We must – we absolutely must – for the good of ourselves and the planet, learn how to reclaim our emotional lives, hold them close, and revere them as the guideposts and sources of wisdom that they are.

The result of growing up with this rigid and harsh belief system is that many highly sensitive people aren’t aware that their sensitivity is actually a gift and instead experience it as a burden. As I often talk about, a significant part of the healing path is to learn how to transform the burden of being a lightning rod into the gift of serving as a lighthouse. The first step is recognizing that some of your anxiety – or other manifestations of pain – didn’t start with you. It lives in your genetic code and the learned responses that you grew up seeing. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Your parents and grandparents were products of generations that had virtually no access to the types of resources and information that help us grow emotional intelligence and responsiveness. As we start to move beyond the blame and anger response, we tap into the awareness that perhaps the burden of the family’s pain may in fact shift into a gift once you learn how to work with and wield it.

This is how we transmute the burden of high sensitivity into a gift.

This is how the weight of a lightning rod turns into the beacon of a lighthouse.

This is how the baton can shimmer into a wand that then helps us serve and help others.

I know right now that’s not how it feels. I know how weighty it feels when the unlived lives and ungrieved losses of generations who came before you have been funneled down to you. But it wouldn’t have landed on your psyche’s shoulders had you not had some willingness to do your inner work. On some level, even if it’s unconsciously or in a realm that we can’t understand, you signed up for the task.

It’s a special thing to be chosen. Again, I know it doesn’t feel that way right now, but when you learn the tools and mindsets that help you transform the burden of shame into the gift of sensitivity, you start to sense into the specialness that you have been chosen not only to serve your entire family lineage – every branch on the tree heals when you do the healing – but also the human race at this point in history. And let me be clear: this isn’t codependency. It’s not, “I’ll heal so that you don’t have to.” It’s much more subtle and nuanced than that. It’s that you’ve been tasked with this calling and you can either ignore the call or you can heed the call and give your conscious consent.

Now is the time, my friends. Now is the time to harness the potency of this global transition when external structures are crumbling and veils are being lifted, for it’s in this vulnerable time – and if you’re highly sensitive you can’t escape feeling the vulnerability – that we’re able to see our patterns more clearly and we’re given the strength and motivation to change them. Fear will always enter the picture when we consider changing and healing – and these voices of resistance need to be addressed (as we’ll be doing in the webinar tomorrow) – but if we let fear call the shots we miss the opportunity to take the baton, turn it into the wand of creativity and spirituality, and change the course of the intergenerational relay.

We’ll be exploring intergenerational pain as well as the most common reasons why people are scared to heal in my upcoming FREE webinar tomorrow, Monday, September 13th, at 6:15pm ET.  If you can’t make the live event you can listen to the recording afterwards.  You can sign up here.

And I’ll be teaching the deep dive template for healing your pain, shame, and anxiety at the root in my 9-month course, Break Free From Anxiety, which will start up again on Sunday, September 19th, 2021. This is the last week to sign up.Learn more here. 

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19 Comments

  1. Excellent. Peter Fonagy has an interesting paper on intergenerational trauma amongst Holocaust survivors

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    • Yes, it seems like a lot of this work around intergenerational trauma is around children of Holocaust survivors. Dr. Edith Egar’s book “The Choice” is also extraordinary on this topic (and many other topics).

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      • Hi Sheryl, you may already be aware of it but I highly recommend the book “It didn’t Start With You” by Mark Wolynn, it’s all about intergenerational trauma and epigenetics – the case studies are absolutely fascinating.

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  2. Lately I have been alternating between feeling incredibly optimistic about the future (a feeling which seems untethered from “reality” as I see it in the the news) and of course fear and sadness. Thank you for articulating so clearly what is actually happening, that we are living both in a time of extraordinary pain and extraordinary possibility. It’s no wonder I alternate seeing things from these two viewpoints. <3

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    • That makes so much sense, Sarah. Thank you.

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  3. Yes! Beautifully written. And our souls did sign up for the task to be the here at such a hard time, at the end times when mashiach is approaching. Our great grandparents and our ancestors actually did have resources and information that help us grow emotional intelligence and responsiveness; they had the Torah. We started shifting away in Germany in the early 1800s and the shift escalated for the next 100 years, then even more the next 100 years, and the shift away is still getting further today. May we all merit to return ❤❤❤

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    • Yes, all traditions have incredible wisdom and resources to share that could help us navigate this transitional time with more grace.

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  4. Thank you Sheryl for this beautiful post and affirmation of our changing times from lightning rods to lighthouses. As I bare the gifts of synchronicities in healing what has been passed down to me, I am so deeply grateful for your work. It has given me language to understand when intrusive thoughts are pointing to grief that needs tending to or when liminal spaces require that I give more time to filling my well of self. In my transformation as I heal, I have also noticed more dreams with metaphors, something I have come to see as such thanks to your work. Thank you for healing and leading us in our collective transformation!

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    • As I go through my midlife transition, I find myself cycling through emotional shifts more rapidly than ever before.
      I assume it’s all ‘internal,’ but maybe some of it reflects the external turmoil too.
      Interesting post, Sheryl. Thank you x

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      • That makes sense and I imagine there’s a confluence between the internal midlife shifts and the external global transitions we’re in. It’s a lot to navigate.

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        • This post makes so much sense to me. My grandmother & mum “suffered with their nerves” as it was then referred to & their intrusive thoughts manifested as fear of thunderstorms (grandmother) & gale force winds (mum). My anxiety has been present during every single transition in my life & held me back. For decades I wouldnt commit to marriage due to RA & have never had children due to fear of childbirth (something rarely discussed). Midlife mental breakdowns forced me to recognise & deal with my anxieties ……. & your work has been a lifeline. I could never understand what was “wrong” with me & felt like a freak till I found your work, which has been life changing for me. I’ve just finished reading your book The Wisdom of Anxiety & I use what I’ve learnt daily to cope. The day I found your work I was truely blessed Sheryl. Heartfelt thanks for your insightful blogs helping me along my inner journey.

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          • A beautiful comment, Lynn. Thank you. I’m so glad you found your way here! Interesting that back then people referred to anxiety as a “case of nerves.” 😉

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    • Thank you for this beautiful comment, Patricia! It fills my soul with warmth to read your words.

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  5. Beautiful and interesting post. Also, I love your podcast. Your niece is so insightful, honest and shows vulnerability. I think it’s rare to find people like that, she is a gift. Xxx

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    • Yes, she’s a rare and amazing human! A true gift :).

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  6. Beautiful post, Sheryl! This advice is so timely for me as I’m having these exact issues with my dad. I recently shared with him that the tough love parenting does not work on me, it never has, and to please encourage me, support me with positive reinforcement (basically build an emotional relationship with him). Our conversations have improved since that talk, but we slip back sometimes. Like you said the ‘buck up, get over it’ mentality was used for generations to survive (family history of poverty, grandparents were immigrants and interned in WW2) so allowing space for emotional development hits a nerve. I feel like I need every tool in my spiritual toolbox because the intrusive thoughts get so intense.

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    • It’s quite beautiful and heartening that your dad was able to hear you and try to change his parenting approach ❤️. He’s doing the work alongside you. And yes, it does require every tool to break open the intrusive thoughts so we can attend to the pain and fear that live at the center.

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  7. My recent post has ended up amongst the replies to a post by Dawnymim. Hope you see it Sheryl

    Reply

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