When I got married to my husband of 32 years now, I was a “package deal”: I brought into our marriage all that I witnessed as a child in my home, and all that I am as an affected, vulnerable human being. But you can’t keep patterns of coping with pain hidden for long. As I grew not only “in love” with my husband, but “in trust” with him as well, I learned to open up and let him into my past. We prayerfully did this so that we could deliberately instill healthy patterns of love in our future family, and not dysfunctional generational patterns we fell back into.
Generational patterns of behavior are unknowingly learned – usually in the childhood years – and are unwittingly repeated in our lives as we enter into relationships. The dysfunction gets multiplied and passed on to the next generation, not as a direct curse but more so as a pattern that was instinctively learned and often unknowingly repeated. We usually live out in our current family life what was modeled and lived out in our home as a child. But we don’t have to repeat our past. It’s time to walk in freedom and grace.
It’s important to understand that our current patterns of “doing life” are often tied to our knee-jerk reactions from having lived with any unhealthy issues or addictions. We learn coping mechanisms as we grow up, so if there was trauma, chaos or crisis in our childhood home, our coping styles will reflect that.
While we may not have these same stressors as independent adults, we still have the pattern of coping that we learned as a child. For example, if, as a child, you learned that lying was a way to avoid getting abused, then lying can become your fallback reaction when you now encounter any stressful situation where your sense of safety even remotely feels threatened.
Whether it was alcoholism, abuse, intense health crises or other serious stresses you had to deal with growing up, you nonetheless were a witness of pain, dysfunction and even of despair. You can’t ignore how these experiences affected you as a child. But God doesn’t expect us to deny the reality of our past.
Break Every Chain
In the Bible, we see this played out in Joseph’s life. Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family with brothers who strongly disliked him – and that’s putting it mildly. Joseph had these special dreams, but his brothers had vindictive desires for his destruction. They competed for their father’s affection, and found ways to demean Joseph at every juncture. It doesn’t appear that Joseph’s father did much to stem the tide of their mounting rage and jealousy. In fact, giving Joseph the coat of many colors only made things worse for him.
Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him, but relented and sold him as a slave. From there, he later wound up being imprisoned for years, until a miraculous release occurred. Later, he faced his brothers in an ironic turn of events where he was now a famous leader in the land.
Joseph had a perspective of God’s ultimate victory in his life, and was set free from the generational patterns of competition, strife and abuse that he grew up with. Instead of responding to his brothers with a vindictive spirit of revenge, he chose to speak kindly to them, assuring them that he would use his prominent place of authority to see to it that they and their families were well cared for. Joseph broke the generational pattern of competition and abuse.
Wisdom At Work
Over the years, I’ve had seasons where I’ve had to reexamine painful scenes from my childhood to find the root of a pattern of behavior that I was still dealing with. I’ve had to critically assess if I am responding well to a current situation, or if I’ve inadvertently gone back to a former unhealthy pattern of coping. I’ve learned to ask myself, “What pattern is at work here? Is this a pattern of behavior that is born out of coping with something that is no longer in my life?”
When we ask ourselves these questions, we free ourselves up to choose to respond lovingly and intentionally to our loved ones. Family interactions can start to be more authentic and healing. Our children can benefit from the honest work we’ve done to refuse to walk in patterns of defeat or dysfunction.
This is wisdom at work – and it is work to break free of dysfunctional patterns of behavior. But it’s a work that brings healing and hope to our lives and to the generations that follow.
You may also be interested in 3 Ways To Resolve Family Conflicts & Bring Peace To Your Home