Codependency: Passing On The Baggage

We all have unresolved issues from our past, some conscious and some that we are not aware of. These issues, if not dealt with can have a huge effect on our relationship with our own children and subsequently moves the issue from one generation to the next.

There are many cases of parents who in normal everyday interaction with their children are triggered back to their own past, affecting their judgement and behavior. By leaving these issues unresolved, parents are not only missing the chance to become better parents, stopping the issues from affecting their children but also developing themselves. When we become parents, we bring emotional baggage into the relationship with our child. This baggage comes from our early significant experiences that formed the way we see and look at the world. A good example would be if a mother left the house without announcement to stop a child crying due to her leaving, a feeling of loss, insecurity and a loss of trust could occur. This would be consolidated by the child`s fruitless search for the mother leading to a sense of abandonment. As an adult, this child could have abandonment issues that would prevent a healthy relationship with his or her own offspring.

One may rightly ask how our past affects our present in such a way, leaving us with these unresolved issues. Here the answer lies in the study of memory and how our brain`s functions and structure affect our mind and consequently shapes who we are. From early on, we are able to alter the connection amongst neurons, the basic building blocks of the brain, seen as a key process in remembering experiences as these connections constitute the structure of our brain. This process goes onto affect the structure of the brain, brain structure affects brain function and goes a long way to creating the mind. Although genetics play a role, it is thought that it is experience had that more directly alters our brain structure. Memory is the way that the brain responds to experience and creates new neuron connections. This is done in two ways: implicit memory creates connections that develop before our second birthday, responsible for feelings, non-verbal behavior, behavioral and instinctive responses and bodily sensations. This is often associated with childhood amnesia meaning that we usually have no memory of life before two due to the brain not being fully developed. Implicit memory takes the form of the formation of mental models which create generalizations. For example, if a mother comforts a baby every time it cries, it will come to generalize that security can be found around its mother and vice versa. We are generally not aware of what we are absorbing at this time and even though, these feelings are often recalled in the present, we have no knowledge of their source. This often leads us to giving automatic responses to events that trigger us back to these times and especially with our own children.

The second form of memory, explicit, develops after two and includes our autobiographical recollections including a sense of time and self. At this time, our pre frontal cortex is being formed which regulates self-awareness, judgement, flexibility, mindfulness and the regulation of emotions. This development is hugely affected by attachment and interpersonal interaction making the early experiences we have critical in forming our mind. When issues from our early childhood are left unresolved, it can lead to what is known as parental ambivalence. This means that situations that we find ourselves in with our children become overwhelming due to our internal noises being extremely loud. We then tend to look at our children through our own autobiography and it becomes more about us as a parent than the child. Often we feel controlled by these automatic thoughts and responses and have no clue where they come from. We try to control our children`s behavior, not realizing that it down to our own internal experiences. We seem to forfeit our own self direction and allow situations to drift on, not aware that our behavior is affecting our children. If we pay attention to our own internal sensations when we are upset with our children, we can start to develop an awareness of how these are interfering with the loving relationship we wish to have with our young ones.

One way to do this is to keep a journal of feelings and emotions felt when interacting with the children and then trying to expand this by thinking of how this behavior could have been developed via implicit and explicit memory. Are there elements of your past that could be contributing? Can you remember a time when a time when you experienced the same feelings. This calls for much self-exploration but surely our children are worth it.

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