This blog is part of a challenge in Welcome to my World and to answer the question today, “what was the first thing I thought about when I woke up?” I was woken rather early by a neighbor’s phone ringing. As it was so early I hoped it was not bad news. My mind went straight back to the time my father woke me up early to tell me my cousin had been killed in a road accident. This was a very traumatic event for our whole family and will have a lasting effect on our generation and quite possibly the next generation or two as we process emotions that run deep when triggered by something like an early phone call.
Numbers 14:18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’
Native Americans have a seven-generation principle, that the decisions that are made today need to be weighed in the light of their effect over the next seven generations. Today we are living with the previous seven generations’ decision-making. This principle is also Biblical when it is stated that the fathers’ sins reach the third and fourth generation, a generation can be between 20 to 30 years, and a Biblical one 35 years, so we are looking at about 200-250 years down the line.
The French Revolution
My interest in history around two hundred years ago during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars stems from the fact my ancestors left Europe to make a better life for themselves in 1820 in South Africa with the 1820 Settlers. My research has taken me down many fascinating research roads. Joseph Scherer, the brother of Bartholomey Louis Joseph Scherer, one of Napoleon’s generals but one of the old guard. They fell out over strategy for logistics. His brother, Joseph, our ancestor, left France to go to England. I knew he was French at heart as he named his daughter Marianne, which symbolized the attachment of the common French citizens of the revolution to the Republic – Marianne stands for liberty, equality, and fraternity. When Marianne and James Smith married, their first child was named Sarah Fish, I thought this was a most extraordinary name until I found a reference to Sarah Fish around the same time who was a radical Quaker abolitionist and advocate for the Native people in America, and it then made sense to me. The Revolution had cut deep into the family, and they were showing solidarity with just causes in the names they chose for their children.
Retracing the family history were many threads of trauma over the following generations in Africa, both familial and institutional. The Settlers were abandoned in Africa by the British after arriving there, and they suffered greatly.
Bessel Van der Kolk, a Dutch Psychiatrist, and researcher in post-traumatic stress wrote a book called “The Body Keeps the Score,” in which he says “the ability to feel safe is probably the most important aspect of mental health. When we grow up with family dynamics that make us feel unsafe, invalidated in our feelings and experiences, we can struggle to move past our personal and familial trauma.” We also know we are connected to our past through our DNA, and this trauma has been stored in the very cells of our bodies.
“The ability to feel safe is probably the most important aspect of mental health. When we grow up with family dynamics that make us feel unsafe, invalidated in our feelings and experiences, we can struggle to move past our personal and familial trauma.”Bessel van de Kolk
Living with War
My interest in the times’ social history has enabled me to try and live in my ancestor’s shoes to see the world as they experienced it. I can imagine that they did not feel safe most of the time, from the generations since the French Revolution, through the Native Wars, Boer Wars in South Africa, the two World Wars, right up to my generation with the Bush War in Rhodesia. Replicate that on a worldwide scale with other families, editing the countries and the wars they went through, we are now reaping the crisis of the seventh-generation decisions in mental health that plague the population as the trauma of each generation build on the previous generation.
We may respond in a certain way to stimuli when we are dealing with issues that need to be examined. Are we are repeating our parents’ and grandparents’ behavior. We may have been taught to respond in a particular way or react in a certain manner. If we can understand the meaning of the trauma fully, we can heal from it. It is not always a problem we have created for ourselves.
I have identified one particular generational trauma both my sister and I have embedded in our DNA. We both have an overwhelming fear of snakes, more than a normal person would have. Our Great Grandmother Jessie Orchard was blinded by a Ringhals snake (similar to a cobra) when she chopped off its tail instead of its head with an ax, and it turned around and spat her in the eye, blinding her for life. This event in our family history has given us a hypersensitivity to an image of snakes or, heaven forbid, coming across one in the wild.
How are we going to heal from all this generational trauma? I don’t know the answer – but with more research and more understanding, self-care, and caring for others, we need to find the way. Bessel van der Kalk says that our homes should be a ‘safe place’ where we can feel loved, where someone can hold us and calm us down when we come home from a traumatic day at work. When our homes are not safe places, it becomes difficult to heal as domestic violence adds trauma to trauma as often there is no escape for women and children. When the church is not the refuge we had hoped for and adds to the abuse, we have nowhere to turn. We need the safe space of home, relaxation, and touch. We need to have our bodies calm down with a soft touch or massage. We need the sound of a soft voice to soothe us, to let us be safe just as we are and who we are. We all have the power to make those around us feel safer. When we can make people feel safe, protected, and loved, we are already on the pathway to healing those around us and the society in which we live.
our homes should be a ‘safe place’ where we can feel loved, where someone can hold us and calm us down when we come home from a traumatic day at work.Bessel van der Kalk
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you have anything that triggers generational trauma? Please comment below, and if you have not signed up to receive my newsletter, please take this opportunity to do so.