17 things you can pass down to your children: why it’s so important to work on yourself first before you become a spouse or parent
“So many broken children living in grown bodies mimicking adult lives.” -Ijcomo Umebinyuo
Children model behaviors they learn at home from their parents, siblings, and extended family members. Therefore, patterns within the family can get passed down and frustrate entire generations. This can go on and on until someone is ready to face it, feel the pain, heal and create change. There are sadly many things we can pass down and project onto our partners and our children. This can lead to generations of the same issues, traumas, wounds, and even mental health conditions. Self- awareness is key in order to begin our healing journey so our children and families as a whole are not subjected to these nasty generational family patterns that you most likely experienced.
We are NOT doomed to repeat the past.
It is our duty as parents, stepparents and spouses to be aware of certain patterns within ourselves and the family system so that we can recognize when it’s necessary to break the cycle. If the cycle continues and is passed down, your children may be likely to enter into similar relationships and patterns, and pass them down to their children as well. Not only can we harm our children, and pass down these nasty habits, patterns, mindsets and behaviors onto them and their future children, but we can also project things onto our partner that can toxify the relationship. Anything that has been unresolved in your own life, you can subconsciously “wipe” onto your partner. This is why healing our wounds and self work is SO important and necessary to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.
Passing it on and on. Pattern after pattern…dynamic after dynamic… fear after fear… belief after belief… message after message.
17 behaviors, mindsets, and patterns you can pass down to your children and “wipe” all over your spouse:
Yes, we can pass down trauma, and all the symptoms that come from it, including: depression, irritability, insomnia, emotional overwhelm, hopelessness, shame and worthlessness, nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, mistrust, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic pain, headaches, substance abuse, eating disorders, dissociation (feeling unreal or out of body), numbness, self- destructive behavior, loss of sense of identity, etc. This is especially true if we are unaware of it and how it impacts our own life, and have not deeply healed from it.
As you can imagine, even just one of the above symptoms can impact our own emotional and mental state, nonetheless the state of our loved ones. Imagine how multiple symptoms could impact us, and our loved ones on a daily basis, or for the rest of our lives!
A few examples of trauma that can get passed down include: verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, addiction in the family, etc. Once trauma patterns start, it sets children up to be more susceptible to trauma in the future. They put themselves in more precarious situations, they engage in unhealthy relationships, and they perpetually re-traumatize themselves because chaos is what they’re used to. Recommended read: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD.
2. The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Leading relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman from The Gottman Institute says these four communication styles can predict the end of a relationship with high accuracy. They are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. These are some of the strongest predictors of relationship discord and divorce, with contempt being the strongest. These are also toxic in parent-child relationships, friendships, and really, any relationship. Learn about the antidotes to the four horsemen here.
Honesty is a learned family value. If a child learns that their parents lie, they may learn that it’s okay to lie, and to disvalue honesty. Honestly is a family value that must be honored, learned, and not punished. Lying can also be used as a manipulation tactic.
Again, another thing children can learn from their parents. There are more than 23 different kinds of manipulation, such as: minimizing, lying by omission, denying, rationalizing, provoking guilt, shaming, playing the victim role, projecting blame, feigning innocence, withdrawing love or approval, etc. These can all be learned behaviors and patterns. They are commonly signs that you are in a toxic, abusive relationship, but can also be present in parent-child relationships and family dynamics. Learn more about various manipulation tactics here.
5. Victim Mentality
This includes blaming others (or the world) for everything and not taking personal responsibility for yourself (your words, actions, feelings and thoughts) and your role. This type of mentality gives away all of your personal power, and is a frustrating dynamic in relationships. Imagine being blamed for everything. It takes two or more to contribute to relational issues, and this mentality tends to not own up to his or her own mistakes and how they contribute to conflict and issues in one’s life. To learn more about victim mentality, and how to combat it, click here.
6. Scarcity Mindset
People with this mentality see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. It’s revolved around the idea that there isn’t enough to go around, which is a fear-based mindset, creating sadness and jealousy. Not enough money, time, love, energy, resources, success, happiness… and the list goes on. There can only be one raise at work, only one parent can have all the love, or we must choose sides. Or love is taken away as manipulation and is given conditionally. People with this mindset have a very difficult time sharing recognition, credit, power, love, attention or profit — even with those who help and support them. They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. Sadly, our society promotes this scarcity, competition mentality.
The abundance mindset, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is a love-based mindset. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, recognition, profits, and decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives and creativity. Just like worry, this mindset can be learned and passed down from generation to generation. Our consumerist society as a whole has taught us scarcity mindset to get us to purchase all the things to help make us “good enough”, “pretty enough”, “young looking enough,” “slim enough”, etc. It has brought us into competition instead of cooperation, which isn’t setting us up for long term success, survival as a family and as a species overall. This is especially true for families where there may already be chaos and conflict, such as divorced / blended families.
Just like verbal abuse above, bullying can get passed down. Children who learn abuse tactics from parents, watch their parents bully each other or others, or who are themselves abused or bullied at home, often will abuse others in the form of bullying. As we know, bullying can have devastating repercussions to those who are bullied, leading to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and even suicide in severe cases. Learn more about bullying prevention in schools here. If you are have been bullied or are currently being bullied, you are not alone. As scary as it is, tell someone you trust. If you need immediate help, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
8. Verbal Abuse
Are you negative or critical towards your children? What about towards yourself? Were you spoken to that way? The way you speak to your children will affect them for years to come, and can even become their own inner voice, and impacts how they speak to and treat themselves. It’s not always easy to speak lovingly, or to bite your tongue when you’re angry. Because of this, many fall into the pattern of the verbal abuser. In many ways, verbal abuse can be more difficult to heal from than physical abuse, because they affect the heart, soul and overall self-esteem. It’s up to you to break the cycle. Recommended read: The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.
9. Physical Abuse / Domestic Violence
Just as verbal abuse, physical abuse and domestic violence can get passed down to the next generation, otherwise known as the cycle of violence or cycle of abuse. Children who suffer family violence are at risk of perpetrating domestic abuse themselves once they reach adulthood, finds a study that followed over 500 families for 20 years. The longer you stay in this dangerous abusive relationship, the more violent he/she will become and the tougher it will be for you to end things. Breaking the cycle of abuse takes strength. Get help. You and your children are worth it. If you need immediate help, please call the Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Growing up with a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can leave lasting emotional scars. Research shows that children of addicts are twice as likely to become addicts and develop emotional or behavioral problems as other children. The chronic emotional stress in such an environment can damage their social and emotional development and permanently impede healthy brain development, often resulting in mental and physical health problems across their lifespan. Children in addict homes most likely never learned healthy ways to cope with stress and emotions, and learned to numb it with drugs, alcohol or other distractions. Fifty percent of addiction is due to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills. Many adult children of addicts later find themselves with partners who also struggle with addiction, and the cycle continues that way.
Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics (and addicts), from Dr. Timmen L. Cermak’s book, A Primer of Adult Children of Alcoholics, include: fear of losing control, fear of feelings, overdeveloped sense of responsibility, feelings of guilt, inability to relax, self criticizing, low self-esteem, denial, difficulty with intimate relationships, victim mentality, compulsive behavior, tendency to confuse love and pity, fear of abandonment, black or white thinking, delayed grief, reactive personality, etc.
11. Codependency (Enmeshment)
This can go hand-in-hand with addiction (above), and being in a relationship with those who are addicted to something. However, it can also be associated with being emotionally dependent on others in relationships. While we are all emotionally dependent on others to some degree, when we make decisions that go against our value system in order to avoid rejection and anger, we are creating a codependent dynamic within the family system. Children who are enmeshed with a parent have a hard time distinguishing their emotions from that of their parent’s emotions, and vice versa. They are usually unaware of the enmeshment or deny it.
Some behaviors for parents to be aware of in order to recognize and avoid perpetuating codependency patterns include:
- Being too rigid and controlling – sending the message that they aren’t responsible for their choices and that someone else has all the power. Children may then be more likely to choose relationships where they feel powerless.
- Using your child to get your needs met – parents need to ensure they get their own needs met so they don’t live vicariously through their children.
When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they interfere with the opportunity to develop problem-solving skills. Parents need to listen more without offering advice as opposed to becoming reactive or trying to rescue children from their problems. Learn about if you are practicing enmeshed parenting here.
Narcissism can be passed down from generation to generation. If there is no intervention along the way, for example, if there is no one to say,“This is not okay,” then there are no consequences for poor behavior.
Parents who “overvalue” children during developmental stages and put them on a pedestal, especially between the ages of 7 to 12 years old, and treat them as though they are superior to others, or tell them they are superior and entitled to special treatment, are more likely to produce narcissistic children, who can then grow up to become narcissistic adults, unless something is done about it. When children are seen as superior by their parents, they may internalize the view, which is at the core of narcissism. But when children are treated by their parents with affection and appreciation, they may internalize the view that they are valuable individuals, a view that is at the core of self-esteem.
Narcissists are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and drug addiction due to low self-esteem. There has also been a rise in narcissism among western youth in recent decades. One of the most harmful beliefs that a person can have is a belief that they are superior to others. “Men are better than women, my race is better than your race, my religion is superior to your religion.” Children who are on the spectrum can be more susceptible to this. Signs you are dealing with someone who has narcissism include: superiority, entitlement, need for attention and validation, perfectionism, great need for control, lack of responsibility (blaming and deflecting), lack of empathy, etc. Learn more about this personality disorder here.
13. Conflict Resolution Skills (or lack thereof)
Just like any other skill, this can be learned from family and parents. A common age-old way to deal with conflict is to “sweep it under the rug”, ignore it, and thus never resolve the issue. However, conflict is inevitable, throughout all areas of life: family relationships, friendships, work, school, etc. This is very commonly called conflict avoidance, and is not an effective way to deal with conflict, or to build strong long-lasting relationships, or become successful.
However, if more healthy and adaptable ways to deal with conflict are not learned, one is very likely to continue to avoid conflict throughout their life. It is understandable that people sometimes avoid conflict because they do not want to deal with the painful emotions that come with it, or they may not want to hurt others or cause relationship problems. In the short-term, they may feel relieved because they do not have to face the other person. However, this does not solve their problems and can cause more pain in the long-term. Eventually the problem comes back, and often with a vengeance.
14. Emotional Regulation Skills (or lack thereof)
Just like dealing with conflict, children need to be taught how to manage and deal with their emotions. And that it is OKAY to feel their emotions, no matter what they are. If children get the message that emotions are bad or weak, they will internalize such as that they themselves are bad or weak. This will cause them to suppress their emotions, which leads to a whole array of emotional issues and mental health conditions. If they were never taught positive ways to cope, they may resort to negative coping strategies such as avoidance, numbing through substance abuse, dissociation, self-harm, overeating, not eating at all, reassurance seeking and checking, and the list goes on.
15. Insecure Attachment Style
Attachment style refers to the internal “working models” we develop of how relationships function. They influence the way we relate to important people in our lives. The attachments we form in our early relationships with caretakers can have a serious impact on our feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear, avoidance, and satisfaction in our closest relationships throughout our lives.
Attachment research has shown that our attachment style with our own parents is the biggest predictor of the attachment style we’ll have with our child. The good news is: attachment research has also found that it isn’t what happened to us as children but how much we’ve felt the full pain of our childhoods and made sense of what happened to us that predicts what kind of parent we will be. No matter how bad things may have been, if we are willing to explore and face even the painful realities of our childhood and create a coherent, healthy narrative of our story, then we can become a different kind of parent and have a healthier more secure attachment with our child. Learn more about the four attachment styles here.
16. The “Narrative” we have in life
We can have many narratives in life. Our narrative is the story we have told ourselves based on the events that have occurred in our life. For example, let’s say I had a neglectful or alcoholic father, and blamed him for many of my problems in life, and never had a good relationship with him. The narrative is “my father neglects me and doesn’t care about me.” Then, later in life, let’s say my daughter has issues with her father. I may misattribute the issues to him being neglectful of her and I may teach her that it’s all his fault, and therefore teach her to blame him, as I have my own father, and not work out the issue in a healthy way through communication and conflict resolution.
This would be ESPECIALLY true if I, myself, was not on good terms with her father, and I had my own issues with him. Therefore, I am subconsciously projecting my own issues onto my daughter and her father’s relationship, as well as passing down the same narrative, such as “my father doesn’t care about me and neglects me.” This also brings forth a “blaming” and “victim mentality” narrative, and may never result in resolving the conflicts and issues, just as I never resolved them with my own father. You can see how messy and complex this can get.
17. Racism and Political Views
Hatred is learned. It isn’t the natural state of a child or any human. It comes out of a place of fear and non-understanding. Racism and hatred towards others is learned at an early age, as young as three years old. Children are quick to demonstrate racist behavior and form connectivity between negative biases and episodes of discrimination. The same thing is true with political views, where parents can try to train their children to represent how the world “should” be. I think it’s important to be as open and honest as possible with children, and most of our news sources are biased. Just as we instill our values such as working hard and responsibility into our children, we also can instill negative biases and beliefs for them.
If you relate to any of the above behaviors, issues, or mental health conditions, it is always a good idea to see a therapist to help you break the cycle, manage the symptoms, and work through your own issues, couples issues, and family issues. The best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your children is to heal the pain of your own childhood and learn healthy ways to cope.
It’s of course best to do this before you get married or have children, but if you are already married or a parent, that’s okay, too. Now can also be the perfect time to start working on yourself so that you can minimize the damage of what has possibly already been passed on. This article isn’t meant to shame you, but simply to help you be more aware of your own issues and how they can impact others, because awareness is always the first step towards change and healing.
And if you’re not ready or willing to seek counseling yourself, at the very least, set up some counseling for your family or child(ren) so that they can learn to process through and cope with some of the side effects of generational family issues. A therapist can also help you work through the resistance and nerves that come from the thought of working on ourselves or our traumas — because it’s not fun, nor is it easy. But the results can be so worthwhile to finally heal our wound and improve ourselves and our relationships. If you have a history of trauma, I’d highly recommend EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. Find a therapist near your on psychologytoday.com.
Now I would love to hear from you.
Has anything been passed on to you from your parents / family? How did that impact you? Have you been able to break any family patterns? How? Let me know in the comments below and I look forward to going deeper with you. Much love, self-care, and gratitude.