There is nothing more confusing than parenting after trauma. Our complex trauma teaches us to erase ourselves. It teaches us to ignore our most basic understanding of how the world works. It tells us that our emotions are not valid. And it instills generational messages of unworthiness and mistrust. We lose our inherent intuition and instincts. And with that, we lose our understanding of how to relate to our children naturally. This makes parenting so challenging for us. We know what we want to do, but we just can’t seem to get there. When we can see what is happening, we can start to shift back to who we were meant to be. So in honor of my twins turning 13 a few days ago, I thought I would devote this blog to the habits that tend to plague us as parents with trauma.
We will project. Projection is a word that is overused and underexplained in the psychology world. But the overuse is justified because projection is everywhere. So I will explain it a bit more. In parenting, projection happens when we are taught to suppress our own behaviors. We put these behaviors away and label them as bad or unsafe. When our external children exhibit the same behaviors we are suppressing within ourselves, we use our suppression tactics on them. Projection leads to a generational impact because the only way to stop it is to deeply heal the trauma at the source of it. And unfortunately, it is unconscious and hard to reach without practicing daily awareness building.
We won’t know what to do with their emotions. Suppression can apply to many things, but it almost always applies to emotions. Children are emotional beings. And adults with complex trauma have learned that emotions are unacceptable. At the least, we view them as inconvenient and unlikely to attract positive attention. But at the worst, we see them as dangerous. While projection is a part of our suppression of emotion, there may also be the feeling that our children’s emotions will also get them in trouble with others. The fear of these emotions can make us suppress them in children for their safety and our own.
We live with guilt and regret. There are no parents who get it right all the time. That is impossible in parenting. But when we have been through complex trauma, we have been loaded down with shame. We have been taught that we are unworthy. We have been projected upon until we believe that we are just as bad as our abusers (which isn’t true by the way). We will liken our small mistakes with our children to the traumatic abuse we experienced. And we will spin and spin in our minds about how awful we are. But there is another side to this tendency. If we can keep our focus on our guilt and regret, we can stop ourselves from feeling anger at our abusers which often feels dangerous to our defenses.
We will feel jealousy toward our kids. This might sound awful, but it happens. We have inner children who wanted the life we are trying to provide for our external children. And it is normal for them to feel jealousy. It is normal for them to be angry at the lack of gratitude from our external children. It makes sense that we want to tell them, “You have no idea how good you have it.” And that’s a tribute to how hard we have worked. Don’t forget that. We have worked hard to make change happen and now we are seeing the results. Take that in.
So how do we deal with these challenges in parenting? It is so important to allow our real feelings and not to squelch them like we were forced to do in childhood. If we feel fear about our children’s behavior or emotion, we can allow that fear and express from it. If we shame at our mistakes, let that shame speak up in writing. If we are angry with our children, we can find healthy ways to express that anger and get to the real target (hint: it’s not our children). Let that expression come forward. Accept the struggles that come with being a human dealing with generational trauma. You are allowed to feel how you feel. The more compassion and care you can provide to yourself about this, the more compassion you will be able to find for your external children. And that will create a huge break in the generational cycle of trauma.