In recent years there has been a lot of discussion around mental health and counselling, particularly when it is relevant to seek help and when it is not. A somewhat old fashioned idea is that because it was something that wasn’t spoken about or sought after in the past, therapy was not something that was necessary either then or now. However just because people don’t talk about their mental health, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well. In lieu of speaking about emotions, many have historically used unhelpful coping mechanisms to deal with the feelings they are having, such as aggressive outbursts, misuse of drugs and alcohol, self harm and disordered eating. Often these coping mechanisms can run in families and traits such as being hot tempered or being incredibly withdrawn can pass through several generations unnoticed before someone decides to look at these symptoms critically. It is at this point, where patterns that have started to become problematic, that trauma being passed through the generations need to be looked at carefully.

There is a claim that mental illness can sometimes run in families and that can be quite blatant when looking at some family lines. That’s not to say however that this is necessarily due to irregularities in the brain or genetic make up, and perhaps more instead to do with how trauma and coping mechanisms get passed through the generations. Particularly in British culture there is a real sense that we need to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and just ‘keep calm and carry on’ instead of admitting that we have a problem that maybe we can’t deal with on our own. It is important to remember when looking at the dynamics in families that a lot of issues are often normalised or overlooked and so are often not thought about with a clear perspective. It is often only when you speak to someone outside of a family structure or to a mental health professional that even saying a scenario out-loud can highlight how unusual or unhealthy that thing might be.

These patterns can go back centuries, from so-called ‘shell-shocked’ war veterans returning home traumatised from war and inadvertently inflicting this trauma onto their immediate family, to children growing up in poverty or in abusive households who then adapt to survive and pass these adaptations down to their own kids later on. Being able to use the therapeutic process to pick apart what behaviours you have learnt or situations you have had to adapt to deal with within the family structure can be a really cathartic process. Sometimes we can find that particular character traits are things we have learnt from those who came before us and are not useful to us anymore. Being able to separate what is and is not ‘your stuff’ can be really important in finding out who you are as a stand alone person.

If you feel as though you are struggling with your mental health and are in need of a trained therapist to help guide you through the patterns in your family that you may be continuing and finding are not serving you well, why not get in touch with The Henry Centre in Southend. With a number of mental health professionals in house we have the right tools to work alongside you and make your journey to better mental health as effective as possible.