Tag Archives: Generational Sin

Monday Morning Moment – Abuse – Where Does It Begin and How Do We Respond?

Photo Credit: South Mountain Works

My childhood memories have gaps. A year ago, I began exploring the possibilities that there were memories being kept hidden in my brain. Reading and working through the three books of Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson moved me to consider the power of shame in keeping my memories silent. Dr. Thompson encourages his clients (and book readers) to write down our life stories, in long-hand. Journaling the decades. Especially working on recalling our childhood. Bringing those memories into the light.

My preschool years are still mostly devoid of memories. My mom had told me later that our rarely employed biological father neglected us such that she had to employ a babysitter daily while she worked. Whether neglect is abusive or not, I have no recallable memories of my father from those years. Mom divorced him by the time I was 6.

In doing the exercise of writing out my life, one childhood memory that I was able to re-remember started out happy. It was a neighborhood “garden party”. I was maybe 7 or 8. These so-called garden parties were a gathering of family and friends to process the harvest of large vegetable gardens – for canning and freezing. Those who came enjoyed lively conversations, engaging stories, and finally a large meal together. The adults were caught up in the moment, and the children wandered in and out…and farther away.

I’m not sure who all ended up with me in a large barn some distance away from the home of our hosts. In that barn, an older boy (trigger, sorry) talked me into letting him touch me in inappropriate ways.

I had put that memory far back in my mind.

In remembering it, I also recalled telling my mom that evening and her taking action by going to talk to the parents of that boy. That’s where it ended, I believe.

Later in my childhood, I would discover my older brother’s (I suppose) hidden stash of pornographic magazines. [We didn’t have internet pornography in those days, and this sort of perusing seemed an expected coming-of-age pastime.] Page after page of naked or scantily clothed women in sexually provocative poses. Even as a pre-teen, it drew me in, even though it felt dirty and shameful. I don’t think I understood the power of taking such images into my brain. It is what pornography does and why it is so toxic.

[Could this sort of pornography be a launch-pad for girls who, seeing those images, become sexually aroused, then thinking she might be  same-sex attracted? Especially if it happened today in our current culture…I wonder.]

Being exposed to pornography as a child isn’t abuse, of course, but it forces an unhealthy peering into an adult world. I wish I hadn’t stumbled on it and hope parents take seriously the availability of porn on the internet. OK…done with that topic.

At the age of 13, my parents invited a young co-worker of my step-dad’s for a cookout. He must have been 18 or 19. He stayed long into the evening. I have no idea what my parents were thinking at the time (and they were excellent parents), but they went to bed and he was still there. This seemed to set up a green light for him, and he became very aggressive physically. My 13-year-old sensibility was at first enthralled at his interest in me and then frightened, too timid to cry out or get away. If my older brother hadn’t returned early from a date, and sent him on his way, I’m not really sure where that would have ended. So thankful for my brother that night.

Where does abuse begin? Did it start with the neglect of a father? Even with an incredibly loving and supportive mom, she couldn’t be everywhere all the time. Was I vulnerable to the attention of boys (and men) growing up because of a father who started out uncaring and became increasingly absent (don’t remember seeing him after my early childhood years). Even with the love of a dear step-father, did I struggle with needing approval, wanting to feel special, absorbing the very adult messaging of pornography geared toward adult men?

[I’ll stop my story here for now.]

My extended family has known the searing pain of abuse. The abuse of power, the deceitfulness of sin (protecting the perpetrator), the isolation that comes with shame, and the complicit nature of silence.

In fact, with the statics (of sexual abuse alone), in the US, we’re talking as many as 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused by the age of 10 and 1 in 6 boys.

How do we respond to abuse? How do we even consider such atrocities? Put aside sexual abuse for a moment. It comes in many different ways.

Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Changes That Heal, talks about the role of crossing personal boundaries in abuse…when people step over a line, a boundary, wounding another person.

“The essence of boundaries and limits is knowing what we own and what we do not own…when we do not own ourselves as separate people from the ones we are bonded to, we develop unclear boundaries, and we allow people to cross those boundaries when we should be saying no”. –  Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal

One thing we could all assess within ourselves is our own understanding of personal boundaries – where we stop and another person starts. Abuse can happen with overreach (in parenting, marriage, friendships, and the workplace) or a lack of understanding or ownership of our own personhood.

This boundary breach leading to abuse can happen with strangers, but, more often than not, it happens with people we know – parents and children, spouses, other family members, trusted teachers or clergy.

Abuse Is Never the Victim’s Fault – video – Dr. Henry Cloud

Abuse can be subtle…still with the impact of intimidation or silencing. Even something we are all familiar – the silent treatment – is its own form of abuse.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

I’m not going to cover what we need to do comprehensively in handling abuse. Resources abound in this area. However, my work on memories coming back to light (and processing them as an adult, not as a child) helped me understand some attitudes and behavior that affect my sense of self and relationships today.

So in brief, I would say:

  • Do a journey of self-discovery (with a counselor or trusted friend) – examining and reframing painful childhood (or early adulthood) memories.
  • If abuse is still a part of your current life – get what distance you can from it, as you develop coping skills to protect yourself but also the generations coming after you. Building forever boundaries between you and that person/those persons can be its own abuse. It is a stop-gap measure and still holds the abused in bondage to the abuser.
  • Don’t be silent. Talk to someone. Tell your story.
  • For those who suspect abuse in another, don’t be complicit in the abuse, by your silence. Prayerfully, carefully, come alongside the abused. If you have a relationship with the abuser, reason with that person, if you can.
  • Isolation is a product of shame for the abused and the abuser. It also works to keep the abused more vulnerable. Shame, isolation, and secrecy.  Don’t ignore isolation (even in these post-pandemic days when it may be harder to detect). Be vigilant in surveilling those in your circles – your family, neighborhood, workplace, and friend group.
  • Finally, be aware of “vicarious trauma” – for those helping, caring, mentoring persons – experiencing a secondary trauma because of your leaning in and coming close to the trauma of another. You may need help from another as well, choosing not to leave the room but needing support yourself.

This is just a start.

Again, there are so many resources. Curt Thompson’s books and podcasts. Dr. Diane Langberg‘s website and YouTube channel. Adam Young Counseling podcasts and videos. Counselor Matthias Barker podcasts. Just to name a few.

I’d appreciate your thoughts in Comments below. Please…don’t keep silent. There is help…and healing.

Photo Credit: Connecting Paradigms, Matthew S. Bennett

15 Trauma Therapy Techniques to Implement to Help You Heal From Trauma – Gala Gorman

Understanding Trauma – Loretta Grieve

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Sin and Trauma – Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Generational Sin and Trauma – Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You

Photo Credit: Seneca, Facebook, Natural Life

My maternal grandfather was a drunk. When he wasn’t withdrawn, walking trails in the woods, he could be mean to both his wife and his five children. How he and my grandmother, a pampered and passive woman, came to be married, I didn’t think to ask. Nor did I ask them or my mom about their childhoods.

My mom was an elegant woman. Beautiful, generous, selfless. She took the brunt of her father’s rages – standing between him and her mother or him and her two younger brothers. The two older brothers left home as soon as they could lie about their ages to join the military.

How she and my biological father married was less a mystery. she thought he was her way out of a hard life at home. It turns out maybe he thought the same about her. Whatever their affection before marriage, it cooled as the years and responsibilities folded on top of each other. It would turn out that although there was not so much violence in our childhood home, there was neglect. He wasn’t a drunk but he never cared to work. When Mom finally divorced him, her heart had become so wounded and weary, it was a matter of just having one less mouth to feed.

Mom would later marry my step-dad who was a sweet daddy to me. He was harder on my brothers…and on his own kids from his first marriage. It made me sad and a little frightened, especially for my older brother. He was old enough to have seen our grandfather drunk; he knew the dismissive behavior of our biological father; he felt the anger of our step-father. My younger brothers and I missed a lot of that.

Divorce and its fallout became something I would determine to avoid…even if it meant not marrying at all.

I did marry, and a wonderful man. We are very different from each other. We have different struggles and different childhood experiences. However, from the beginning, we shared the personal experience of the nurturing love of parents, faithful to God and each other. This has been a strong foundation for us to learn to love well and parent well (hopefully). It is not the whole of it though.

In all of this, there is still the puzzling over what we bring to our marriage from past generations…and what will we transmit to our children?

Looking into our pasts isn’t always inviting. Some prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie”. I’m learning that our past informs our future; in fact, our past can predict or prescribe our future. It seems wisdom then to examine what we can of our past, and that of parents and grandparents.

Not to blame. Not to lay responsibility for some present lack in ourselves. We all make mistakes as parents even when we deeply love our children. The look back is to help us to heal any harm and to guard from bringing past hurts to our children…without thinking… without intending.

When our parents experience trauma in childhood – or endure the consequence of sin from a parent – they carry that into adulthood and potentially will transmit it to their own children. Not all survivors of adverse childhood experiences will follow this cycle, but it’s rare to avoid altogether.

My mom was very intentional in showing us love after experiencing so little in her childhood home. She did bring some of her trauma forward and we experienced it…without her meaning for us to. I remember trying, from an early age, to be as good as I could be for my mom…and failing. She had tried to do the same as well, in her growing up years…but with harsher consequences than I had.

“The child speaks what their parents could not. He or she recognizes how their own experience has been authored, how one has been authorized, if unconsciously, to carry their parent’s injury into the future.”Molly Castelloe, How Trauma Is Carried Across Generations

Photo Credit: Twitter

Have you discovered areas in your own life that if left unattended will transmit to your children’s lives? Fears, self-worth issues, anger, negativity, anxiety, perfectionism, sadness…or sin of all kinds that we have harbored (and maybe witnessed in our childhood). We can change the future, with God’s help, but taking a good long look at our past. Asking questions and considering what consequences are playing out in our current lives and our children’s.

We can break the cycle of generational trauma or sin, but it requires relentless intentionality on the parents’ part. Both for our own healing and for our children’s health. I didn’t want my children to be afraid or unsure of how valued they were. I wanted them to always know the experience of being safe, seen, soothed, and secure. Was I successful…not always…in fact, I was unaware of how generational sin clung to me. I didn’t have words for it like now.

The Adam Young Counseling podcast has been a tremendous help to me in looking at childhood trauma and generational sin. He gives practical and reasoned helps in how to heal from our own trauma as well as how to curtail the repeat of generational sin in our children’s lives.

What are your thoughts? Please add to Comments. May God help us all to be blessings (and not cursings) to our children and to theirs.

What Is Generational Trauma and Is It in the Bible? – Ashley Hooker

The Sins of the Fathers Visited Upon the Children – S. Conway

What Are “Sins of the Father”? Understanding Generational Consequences – Michael A. Milton

YouTube Video – Generational Sin + Trauma – Gospel Care Class