“Conscious parenting is activism. You are changing the world.” – Vivek Patel.
Humans, as we have often learned and repeated, are social beings. We live in a society that thrives on interpersonal relationships and community bonding. Right from birth, our life begins with connections and unfolds in the form of fulfilling our needs of affection and belonging, forming a crucial part of our emotional development.
There is an inherent tendency to build relationships with others-which also plays an integral role in feeling safe and finding a sense of comfort. On the contrary, disorganised attachment is understood as “not knowing who is safe or whom they belong to, they may be intensely affectionate with strangers or may trust nobody (Van der Kolk, 2015).”
Childhoods plagued with the trauma of abuse, neglect, control, shame, guilt or overall dysfunctional parenting often find themselves stuck in a world, struggling to build their narratives. They are brought up in a family environment where they learn to be hyper-vigilant, inexpressive and passive because of the routinised cycle of constant fights and uncertainty. The most fundamental aspect while growing up in emotionally dismissive households revolves around a child’s inability to receive love.
They believe that love is only conditional and eventually painful. In this process, they cling onto the negative core beliefs of being unlovable and convince themselves that the relationship would never work out. The better option is to detach oneself from the potential hurt at the beginning itself.
They grow up to become adults with unhealthy attachment styles; their true identities masked from most people. They either detach themselves from relationships and develop avoidance coping strategies or form extremely dependent bonds because they fear abandonment, loneliness and the inability to trust. They learn to exist by suppressing their emotions, internalising the guilt and navigating the world independently.
All these incidences also lead to a child getting habituated to body paralysis, panic attacks, suicidal ideations and the urge to self-harm. The physical and mental agony deeply influences social and emotional development resulting in thoughts like, “the world may be better off without me”, convincing the individual that disappearing is the easiest way out of such problems.
Simplistic notions and suggestions that an individual must learn to cope in such an environment sound ignorant of the lived experiences. The lack of awareness, stigma and insensitivity towards intergenerational trauma fails to recognise the context in which it occurs and its widespread impact. In a collectivistic society like India, there has always been a larger focus on maintaining familial relationships and interdependence, no matter how toxic they might be.
But what if those with whom you are supposed to feel safe — your own family — becomes the root cause of suffering? What if they raise you in an environment that hampers your ability to feel safe and trust others? In many cases, the parent’s constant preoccupation with their unresolved trauma also transcends onto the upbringing of their child in the form of neglect, emotional unavailability and instability.
It is now increasingly acknowledged that neglect has “a potentially devastating impact on all aspects of a child’s development, including their physical growth and health, self-esteem, attention, socialisation, peer relationships and learning capacity (Duncan & Baker, 2003).”
There’s a certain disconnect from reality as an individual slowly gets accustomed to being brought up this way. Conversations amongst external groups like peers, relatives and acquaintances become difficult because of the guilt and shame attached to living in an abusive household. The trauma makes it hard to relate to others because their reality is entirely different.
Such incidences become so normalised that the trauma becomes embodied, affecting their bodily responses and physiological arousals. Heightened fight and flight responses, increased stress hormones, and hyper-vigilant behaviour to perceive threats become a part of them. These experiences become so ingrained that undoubtedly their internal conditioning forces them to think that it is the kind of world they would also create for themselves.
Growing up thinking that they might continue the same destructive patterns of their parents’ behaviour causes greater dissonance and inner conflicts. However, recent research work points out how “abuse breeds abuse” is not inevitable and can be tackled through effective interventions like modified parenting strategies.
Coming to terms with the deep-seated beliefs and years of conditioning that framed one’s entire world view is painful, but must be eventually confronted. There is a greater need to incorporate resilience and self-esteem for the child’s social and emotional development that helps them understand their situation objectively and draw themselves out of the abuse to break the cycle. Learning how to draw boundaries, immense self-love and empathy towards oneself helps them understand their lives holistically.
But it is easier said than done. Recovery from past traumas is accompanied by confronting and acknowledging the incidences that took place. Years of trauma can take a life of its own and result in self-sabotaging tendencies.
The key is to sit down and nurture yourself unconditionally, no matter how hard it is. Being patient and committed to choosing your well-being should be considered an act of self-love and not shameful.
Constantly restructuring the inner self is a gradual process, but something that can be tackled through a journey that would require some significant steps, a lot of self-awareness and the ability to receive love for who you are.
By Anushka Arora