Parent Healing: What’s Ailing You Could Hurt Your Child

father and son talkingLast week in my hometown, there was a shooting at a local high school. Unfortunately, two freshman students lost their lives. The reality is that there could have been hundreds of lives lost had the school district not had a solid system in place and not been prepared for such an event. Given the number of rounds in the shooter’s backpack, his apparent intention was to take many lives.

As a marriage and family therapist, my first question when hearing of such a tragedy is, “What kind of emotional pain would provoke an adolescent to premeditate and intend to carry out such a violent act?” I believe the answer lies in the insecure attachment that is often passed down from generation to generation.

All children need at least one adult in their lives who loves them unconditionally and who believes in them. When children do not have what is called a “secure base,” they are unable to create a secure emotional connection to others. As a result, those children often become adults who are unable to create a secure emotional connection in relationships because they are “emotionally wounded.” Unfortunately, unhealed emotional wounds are passed down from generation to generation unless the cycle is broken, typically through the process of therapy with a caring therapist.

What are often referred to as “defense mechanisms” are unconsciously developed in childhood in order to tolerate emotional pain that is traumatic for the child. Over time, these defense mechanisms become hard-wired into the brain and are unconsciously used in adult relationships despite the fact they are no longer needed. The emotional pain the defense mechanisms were created to protect the child from during childhood is often acted out in adulthood; as a result, the pattern continues to repeat and to be passed down to the next generation.

In order to “break the cycle” of the emotional wounding that is often passed down, parents must do their own healing work. When the acting out displayed in the example of the school shooting occurs, it needs to be recognized that the root of the acting out is the result of the defense mechanisms developed to tolerate the emotional wounding and pain that was unconsciously inflicted during childhood. This is where therapy with a therapist who is a good fit comes in. As parents launch their healing journey, the repeated patterns that stem from unresolved emotional wounds will be interrupted. As a result, parents will begin to heal on an individual level, which will eventually turn into healing that occurs on a global level.

The following are some things parents can do to break the cycle of passing emotional pain down from generation to generation:

  • Parents need to identify the patterns being passed down from previous generations that are inflicting emotional wounds onto children.
  • Parents need to ask themselves if they are acting out their own emotional pain in ways that are forcing their children to develop defense mechanisms, which will then be passed down to the next generation.
  • Parents need to ask themselves what they are doing to heal their own emotional pain as part of the process of preventing the cycle from repeating.
  • Parents need to speak out in order to bring into awareness the unconscious defense mechanisms that continue to be acted out and to get to the “root” of the emotional pain that is often passed down through generations.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Gene

    June 30th, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    While I think that it is fair to look at the lives of the parents when things like this occur, I also think that there are just as many cases where the parents did everything right and you still have an outcome like this. Sometimes there is nothing that you can do to steer the child toward good behavior and nothing that you can do short of locking them in their room to keep kids away from the bad influences that they inevitably come across. You can only do so much and the rest you just have to wing it and hope that you have given them the tools that they need to stay strong, to be able to come and talk to you when they have a problem and not try to fix things through a violent act that will do nothing to ease the pain that they are no doubt feeling.

  • Posey

    July 2nd, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    how much healthier we may all be if some of these parental scenarios were dealth with before more children were brought into the world…

  • Ernie B.

    July 4th, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    What is frustrating is that too many parents turn a blind eye to the things that they have or have not done which will have contributed to the child’s behavior. We have a hard time looking at it from the eprsepctive of what we may could ahve done to change the outcome of things. Maybe there was nothing more that we could have done, but maybe there were a ton of things that we perhaps could have done a little differently to show our kids that we care about what they become and how they behave.

  • OWEN

    July 7th, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    I would hate to think that my own personal emotional baggage caused me to do all of the wrong things when it came down to being a good parent.

  • Dee

    July 10th, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Yes working on one’s past is important in creating emotionally healthier children and letting them know you are not perfect and have flaws too that you are trying to improve but that you still love them unconditionally when they act out or not. Unfortunately there are so many other influences out there that have negative effects on our children and I feel like I am constantly dodging emotional bullets especially from social network conversations where children hide behind a screen or schools that do not really understand how to put an end to bullying issues because test scores are more important, as well as trying to understand our children’s stages of development in a different era!

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    July 11th, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Hello everyone! I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses!

    I would like to clarify that this is NOT about blaming the parents for the choices our children make. I don’t know of any parent (including myself) who doesn’t have a list of “If I had a do-over, I would do these things differently.” The fact that we all have our own baggage is not a life sentence for being a bad parent. In fact, it can be a catalyst for becoming a better parent.

    All of that being said, the objective of my article is to emphasize the importance of emotional connection between parents and children and that when the emotional connection is missing, it can impact children in a significant way that may influence their acting out. How does a parent know if/when the emotional connection is missing? I believe that if parents have the awareness that they need to be ’emotionally present’ for their children is a huge step. With older children, parents can have that conversation………honestly acknowledge that parents make mistakes, that parents generally have their children’s best interest at heart, and actively listen to feedback our children give us. If parents sense a lack of emotional connection with their children, they can acknowledge that in the conversation (e.g. “I’ve noticed that it feels like there is some distance between us. What is your perspective? What do you need from me that would strengthen our emotional connection?” Children may not know or be able to articulate what they need or want from their parents. However, if parents start that conversation, children will know parents are open to their feedback and it will provide the opportunity to create and/or strengthen the emotional connection. Children will be more open and receptive if they perceive that they have a voice and are heard (that is not to say they must always get their way:>).

    Finally, yes, there are so many other influences out there that can impact children. Again, if the emotional connection is strong between parents and children, parents will be in tune with their children’s emotions and have an opportunity to intervene when/if outside influences impact children in a negative way. I completely empathize with the challenges parents face given that social media is the primary venue used by children/adolescents to communicate with each other and the level of potentially dangerous content available via the internet.

    Please feel free to respond and/or challenge me. I welcome your feedback!


    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

  • Donal K.

    October 4th, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    There was a stdy carried out by University College Dublin, Ireland School of Psychology(Dr. Barbara Dooley and Amanda Fitzgerald) and an organisation called Headstrong, which is The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, titled My World Survey, National Study of Youth Mental Health that supports the statement that having one positive, consistent adult in a young person’s life is critical to their well-being.’One Good Adult’ is important in the mental well-being of young people. 6085 adolescents completyed the survey in the MWS-SL. Age range was 12 to 19years and 51% were female.

    Donal Kiernan works as a contract student addiction counsellor in the Student Health Department of UCD. He is a board member of Addiction Counsellors of Ireland. He is (an accidental) child and young person meditator at second and third level education.

  • Sandra

    November 4th, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    In our society, shaming is considered an accepted parenting tool for controlling a child’s. Yet, body language, facial expressions, the tone and volume of your voice, withholding affection, dismissive or rejecting behavior, using demeaning words and/or physical punishment literally impacts your child’s brain development.

    I agree that it is essential to not point a finger of blame, but rather to offer hope that there is a better way, and that it’s not too late to make your home into a happier place …

    Here are three wonderful videos that I often share with parents of teens:

    Conscious Discipline

    2. How Shame affects your child

    3. Respectful Parenting

  • Pamela M.

    November 23rd, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    I can totally relate to this article. My childhood was oppressive and bullying, my father being the bully and my mother being depressed. I didn’t not have the ‘good enough mother’ to attach to and vowed I would not bring my children up the same way, unfortunately, I overcompensated, being inconsistent and not allowing my children the independence they needed to have to understand their own environment, I sought the love and attention I should have received from my parents, from my children. It is difficult trying to forgive myself for how they now are, immature for their age and difficulty finding their way in the world. But I realise, I could not help them ad I had not been helped as a child myself. It is harder too see tho when you are not very self-aware, as I wasn’t, having not been allowed to have an opinion or personality of my own as a child. However, this article is extremely poignant and until the cycle is firstly realised and then broken, it is inevitable that we will continue to learn defenses handed down from past generations. Many thanks for the article.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.