In every family, if you go back far enough in the generations, there is some form of tragedy:
Maybe it was the destruction and losses of war. Or perhaps there was a complete loss of fortune or property. Or maybe there were drugs and alcohol or violent acting out behaviors. Perhaps it was murder or rape or other horrible examples of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man; or maybe something entirely different occurred, like a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent stricken with severe mental illness.
Whatever the case may be, the result was that the generations afterward felt the effects of these traumas whether directly and in obvious ways, or indirectly in more subtle ways.
You see, we humans, whether we are aware of it or not, are absolutely affected by the traumas of the generations before us in sometimes very subtle ways, and we pass on the effects of these traumas down to the next generation through our various adaptations and personality traits which were originally meant only for sheer survival.
So even if we ourselves or our parents didn’t suffer through one of the great calamities I’ve listed above, we do suffer what I call the “shell of the trauma” as it gets passed down to us, then to our children, etc., through the CHANGES in personality of the original survivor.
Think about it for a moment: if you yourself survived one of the traumas above, then it would make sense that, even though you survived it, you did CHANGE because of it as well.
Trauma requires that, in order to survive it, we CHANGE. Thus the term “survivor.”
We humans “survive” trauma, but it leaves its mark upon us; on our hearts, our minds, and on our souls.
So let’s say that great granddad survived World War I (or II depending on your age), but he came home with all the signs of what we would now call PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)– short temper, poor impulse control coupled with a sense that life could end at any minute, mood swings, problems sleeping, etc.
Granddad then gets married and has children. Guess what? With these CHANGES in his personality, he now has to deal with his wife, his children, and with post-trauma life itself. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that his family will very likely be on the receiving end of these CHANGES.
The kids will get yelled at quicker, he’ll lose it faster, he’ll be overwhelmed more easily and act more erratically; maybe he’ll use alcohol or gambling or affairs to escape his pain. Whatever it is, these CHANGES in him, though he “survived”, are transmitted to his children by his very reactions and interactions with them. By his very personality.
Now they’ve been traumatized too. And guess what again? Now they’ll pass this “shell of the trauma” down to their children as well even though they themselves were never in a war at all!
So the kids of the kids of the traumatized man are now traumatized too! They have been hurt by the “shell of the trauma”—i.e. the very CHANGES in granddad which resulted from his original traumas and which may have even helped him survive the original trauma in the first place. (Quick impulses to react and a degree of paranoia may have helped granddad survive on the battlefield, but now, with his family, these personality CHANGES cause fear and anxiety in his loved ones and traumatize THEM too.)
And so it is the case with all of our adaptive CHANGES from our own traumas–we pass them along to our children and they to theirs, over and over again as the “shell of the trauma” which we were originally exposed to. It’s in our personalities; i.e. our reactions, our fears, our paranoias, our impulsivities, our defensiveness and our sensitivities. Our very personalities have CHANGED and have been shaped either directly by original traumas, or by parents who have passed on the “shell of the trauma” to us via THEIR personalities.
What were once useful and perhaps critical CHANGES for survival become destructive and self sabotaging personality traits and what we call “defense mechanisms.” They get in the way of true emotional intimacy and connectedness with our loved ones and they perpetuate the original traumas onto them.
The way we can “reverse time” and help neutralize our traumas is by using the LVACTM Technique.
It is really very simple: when we do LVAC (which stands for Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment), we are Commenting last, if at all.
A little secret I’ll share with you is this: we pass our traumas onto the next generation with our Comments. These can either be Comments literally with our words, OR with our behaviors.
With LVAC, we are Listening first, then Validating what the child is saying. Then we Ask open ended questions to them about what they’re saying so they can explore this with us and within themselves. This way we are giving them a chance to find out what THEY are thinking and feeling, rather than passing on OUR reactions and baggage to them, which we already know have been distorted and CHANGED by our parents’ Comments to us.
Instead, we Comment last, if at all. This way, when you finally do make a Comment it will at least be more accurate with regards to what’s really going on with the child in front of you and less about the reactions that have been passed down to you.
Notice that the beauty of this method is that it forces us to Comment last.
It makes sense if we think about it: our Comments come from OUR reactions, OUR opinions, OUR experiences, OUR filters in life, and OUR defense mechanisms. In other words, they come from OUR traumas.
If we’ve already established that our original traumas or the “trauma shells” which have been passed down to us CHANGE all of the things I’ve just listed in the previous sentence, then it follows that we really can’t trust our Comments to be very neutralized and emotionally “clean”. In fact, they’re loaded.
In your life you’ve probably noticed that if you want to learn about somebody the best thing you can do is to listen. On the other hand, if you want others to learn about you, speak.
The trick with “reversing time” is to not allow our raw Comments to come out on a day to day basis for this is the way we will transmit our traumas. Instead, follow LVAC and you’ll help stop the trauma cycle in your family.
All The Best In Your Healing Process,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
(Next time we’ll discuss the idea of “Coming In For A Landing”.)