"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
"...the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, he acts it out, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it...."
We had a chance on Wednesday evening to take a stroll down good ol' Memory Lane. We shared the family stories that are never reminisced about at the dinner table. These are not nostalgic stories; they are disturbing and shocking, and they are persistent--consciously and unconsciously—and while they are unique, are strikingly similar to the other the stories that become permanent features in everyone's family. Some we lived through and acted as players in ourselves, some were passed on to us by other eyewitnesses, and others were whispered as rumors, conjectures, and suspicions. Unspeakable, unspoken, or however they are kept alive, every family has these stories.
We talked about parents who were stern, harsh, violent, unavailable, passive, absent, criminal, deranged, damaged, misguided, or ignorant. Many of these parents were (and are) unaware that they were passing down a family legacy, generations if not centuries old. They taught (and teach) us what it feels like to be cared for by a parent, what it means to be in a family, and what love is at its core. If this love is not in alignment with what our instinct (our intuition, our collective unconscious) tells us that innate, natural, nurturing human love should be, then our programming becomes skewed. Our intuition gets overwritten, our child nature is corrupted, and the damage is installed.
You may not believe that all mammals love their offspring, but there is no denying that parental nurturance is part of all mammals' genetic blueprint. We instinctively take good physical and emotional care of our young, unless we ourselves were messed up, shortly after our arrival. We are born innocent, vulnerable, and full of trust. Capable parents respond to these traits in ways that reflect how they were treated as babies. This is what attachment theory teaches us, and it is self-evident if we look around the room and listen to the stories.
But our other instincts are strong. We tend to keep doing what we've done. This is an ancient survival mechanism that, concerning unhealthy relationship with others and self, is utterly useless and extremely counterproductive. But we are a very successful species. And successful species bring a lot of pre-programming with us to this sphere.
As we have discussed before, these changes don't happen overnight. Disengaging from traditional entanglements that have ensnared us in the past can be a trial-and-error or baby-steps process. It can be attempted over and over before headway is perceived. But we have learned that the last and most important step is persistence. Rewriting your chapters in your family stories can be done. You can do it; we all can. Together, let's mark our combined progress by telling new, hopeful stories. Stories full of compassion, surprises, empathy, thrills, chills, spills, humor, and of course, love.