In episode 281, I received a question from a listener who has already come so far in their mental health journey but worries that they still may pass on the negative remnants of their childhood trauma to their own child. In this post, I talk about this in detail and highlight my thoughts on what you can do to help prevent these things from being passed down.
Hello! I have a question for the pod. I’ve had a lifelong struggle with anxiety stemming from a childhood of neglect and some emotional abuse. Through couples counseling, individual therapy, and EMDR I’ve worked on this a lot and my once severe anxiety is now very manageable. I’m also currently on a low dose of sertraline for PPD which has helped even more. Occasionally though, ways that my childhood messed me up still pop up. For example, something I’m currently working on is every time my husband loads the dishwasher I think he’s mad at me and I have to stop myself from getting us into a huge fight. He assures me that he has no emotional associations with the task.
My question is, what can I do to ensure that I’m not passing on these anxieties/traumas/whatever to my son who’s currently 6 months old? I’m a preschool teacher and I feel very confident in my teaching and parenting but I still worry about this a lot. Thank you for all you do, your podcast is wonderful!
Thanks for the question. First off, I want to commend you on such a good job doing so much work for yourself. Couples counseling, individual therapy, EMDR, medication… that’s amazing. It’s no wonder that you’ve been able to make some serious strides.
So, now the issue is that mostly everything is fine and good, but sometimes things surprise you. Issues from your past creep up in subtle ways that bug you. I imagine these instances are even more frustrating for you because of all the progress you have made. I want to reassure you that this is totally normal. You’ve been through significant trauma. You’ve done a great job of removing the frightening immediacy of your trauma memories, but there will always be little things that slip through the cracks and surprise you. There are also interesting subtle things that aren’t like full-blown triggers, but more things in the background that paint your perception of events that occur in your daily life. This is sort of like trait vs state anxiety. Immediate elevation of symptoms or issues vs an influence over the way you interpret the world.
At this point, I think that one of the things that you can do is be careful about interpreting these issues popping up as a sign that there is a real problem. In other words, these feelings are allowed to pop up, but may not require urgency in addressing it. You may feel a sign of something wrong, which you can address and talk about, but later. It can be very helpful to journal about it and process it on your own vs with your partner as well. It might also be helpful to check out my previous episode on 10 Common Thinking Traps. There might be communication changes you can make in general – like how you approach topics, how you listen etc.
The big part of your question is: what can you do to not pass down these things to your 6-month-old son?
You’ve already done a big part of it by not ignoring it and getting help – that draws a line in the sand and helps to stop generational issues. Working on your communication and how you model conflict/important issue resolution for your child is great. You can also be aware of when you might be personalizing things or projecting insecurities and try to be conscious of when that is happening with your kid. This can be both in terms of personalizing what they do and also encouraging them to personalize the actions of others. Focusing on being a good scientist can be helpful. treating assumptions as hypotheses and trying to slow down and look at the evidence before committing to action. These are all things that will play a role later on, but you can build the foundations of now.
You are probably in such a great spot and it is special that you are so interested in making sure that your kiddo has such a good life. None of us are perfect and you don’t have to be perfect as a parent. There are going to be hiccups and missteps and all of that. Trust me, I understand the feeling of wtf that comes with feeling like you feel short of what you should know professionally. Either in a relationship or as a parent. But that’s how it works. Embrace your humanity. The power is so often in the follow up. Show your child that you are allowed to adjust and address things without fear of serious consequences or repercussions.
You can listen to this on Episode 281 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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