Intergenerational trauma, and why breaking the cycle is hard

I’m doing better than my parents did when they were my age

I saw this tweet recently, and it made me think. It’s riffing off of the “My parents at age” meme, which shows how much easier or better the poster’s parents were faring at a certain age compared to them. The meme mostly consists of showing parents getting married and having babies while the writer is thinking of getting another cat, or some other inconsequential thing. Sometimes it shows the writer Going Through It, their life spiraling out of control, whereas their parents at that age were slipping into something stable.

This one was different, though. Instead of the usual “my parents had it better,” it showed a parent that was indisputably worse off. The father hates everything, including himself, and he’s turning to a self-destructive spiral under the weight of his responsibilities.

This kind of thing has been on my mind lately. I’m turning 25 in a week, which is the same age my parents were when they got married. I’m in a much better place, I think.

This time 25 years ago, my parents had just made the worst decision of their lives. My father, in particular, had just lost his father and dropped out of college. He’s about to get into a string of failed business ventures that will make him bankrupt, a pyramid scheme, and many ultra-conservative Christian denominations that will lead him to teach his future children how to hate themselves. Soon enough, he’ll start cheating on his wife and abusing her for the better half of two decades.

He won’t be the only person in his family to follow that same trajectory. In a lot of ways, he was just copying a mold that his own parents had left for him and his siblings.

Cut to me, and the most drama I’ve had in my life recently is my cat pushing my food off a table. That, and, you know, facing a global pandemic, but I had nothing to do with causing that. 

I’ve seen a lot of ads and campaigns talking about the need to break the cycle, but I’ve never actually seen anyone explain how to do it, at least in a way that’s applicable to someone like me. Most of it I had to learn myself through painful trial and error. I’ve had to teach myself that acting on my instincts can be harmful, and that whether it’s because of my blood or how I was raised, I tend to be drawn to things that are bad for me. I’m drawn to bad people, self-destructive vices, and I can’t say I haven’t found myself in unsafe situations in part due to my own doing.

Case in point: my first boyfriend, who told me and my friends that he was going to take me away to save me. If you’ve watched “Waitress,” just know that Earl and his song “You Will Still Be Mine” hit a li’l too close to home. 

I’ve learned to embrace my small victories. This might sound cringe-worthy to some people, but I’m proud of myself. I graduated from a big college, have a stable job, and I’m able to sustain myself. I rent my own place that I pay for out of my own pocket. It’s not much, I know. I see a lot of people my age who are already achieving astronomic things. Some of them already have their own big houses or fancy condos (although I do know that most of these people have generational wealth to thank). Some of them have already risen through the ranks in their industries. But I come from a small city south of the archipelago and my parents never owned their own houses. My father, too prideful to ask help from his siblings, has just been kicked out of a halfway home because of bad behavior. 

I’m already far from where I came from, and that’s enough for me.


Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

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