By Priyanka Jaitly Judge
“People who live together naturally catch the looks and air of one another and without having one feature alike, they contract a something in the whole countenance which strikes one as a resemblance.” – Frances Burney
Families are tied by emotions, by the gene pool, by history and also by a common fate to a large extent. Through the generations some things move in circles and become a constant, emotional resemblance perhaps being one of them.
Emotions are a legacy; we carry them without our consent and science has now shown that there are chances we can map them back to experiences and emotions that strongly resemble our ancestors.
Clearly, the emotions we carry influence and impact our behavioural patterns and our relationships and much like the tip of an iceberg and are deep rooted in our subconscious.
Parenting styles are deeply embedded in the perception and memories of different parenting approaches seen throughout with each memory being an emotion that is either comforting or frustrating and this emotion finds its way out in behaviours with the children.
Each day of our life we make deposits in the memory bank of our child. – Charles R Swindoll
When we talk of emotional inheritance it doesn’t mean that we will necessarily respond the same way as our parents did. What it means is that we are prone to swing our behaviour in that direction if and when certain circumstances emerge.
There is a collective consciousness which refers to a set of values and beliefs that get passed on through generations. We make a mental list of things to do and not to do with our children with reference to what we would like to pick and leave out. Parenting practices determine the overall physical and mental health of children and therefore it is important for us as parents to understand the roots of our parenting preferences.
When the genes catch up: Emotions can be trans-generational
In a study at Emory University at Atlanta, researchers have been able to transmit fear of a certain smell down to two generations of mice. It was found that the mice that were given electric shocks whenever they were exposed to that odour passed on that fear up to the second generation despite the fact that the offsprings were conceived by invitro fertilisation and had no contact with their parents.
A similar effect is possible in human beings and it may be significant to study especially with regard to abusive behavioural tendencies and susceptibility to psychological disorders such as depression, trauma and anxiety to name a few.
Research in Epigenetics highlights how our psyche can be the sum total of emotions our parents or our ancestors have had and therefore while we are not bound to behave in the same way, we are certainly more prone to those emotions resurrecting and showing up in our present-day relationships. We are predisposed to acquire a certain emotional response because our parents or grandparents had them and it is likely that we inherit, apart from other things, strong emotions that may get passed on across generations.
For example, this could mean that if you have constantly lived to be insecure around your relationships your child might inherit a lack of trust. The scenarios are endless. The good news is that if your child’s life circumstances match his emotions then it will be a coping mechanism. Like if he is in a situation that calls for him to not trust anyone then he will be strong enough to sail through. However, the flip side is if your child is in a secure environment this chronic emotion of insecurity will be dysfunctional to say the least.
There is a good chance if we make this connect that we may actually be able to pull away from this and learn to respond to the situation differently in a manner more desirable as a behavioural and emotional pattern for you and your child.
Whether it is your relationship with your spouse who is also a parent to your child or your responses to your children, your responses are a mix of your vulnerability and your strength in a situation.
Parents are constantly torn between holding on and letting go of their emotions in the hope of balancing the right mix of emotions around their child. Your child gets the legacy of the calm within you just as he gets the storm and there you will see an emotional resemblance.
(The writer is a fulltime mom and writer, who has a Masters in Psychology and also works as a management consultant.)