All human beings have been -- and continue to be -- greatly influenced and impacted by our family of origin. Some of these influences have been great and some have been toxic. And all of these influences impact the legacy we pass on to our children. For those who don’t have children, these influences impact the personal legacy we leave in the world.
What is particularly hard on couples, individuals and families, though, are the toxic legacies. Toxic legacies leave a tsunami of damage in families and in our world. Most of the time, these toxic legacies are unconsciously lived out and sadly passed on from one unsuspecting generation to the next. Before you know it, a person can look back a hundred years and see the same insidious, painful patterns back then that are being played out in the present day. Why is that? It seems crazy that people can’t learn to not repeat the same mistakes their great-great-great grandparents, grandparents and more recently their own parents made. Is it in our DNA to repeat the same toxic behaviors as those who have come before us? Are our destinies pre-wired?
Let me start by defining “toxic legacy.” A toxic legacy is a pattern of hurtful, painful and/or damaging behaviors that have been handed down from one generation to another through role modeling. When parents repeatedly interact in a family system in an unhealthy way, they are imprinting this behavior on their children. The children (us, let’s say) then often grow up and repeat the behaviors we saw played out everyday of our childhood. As children, “we live what we know and we know what we lived.” As we grow up, we repeat what we learned in the first 18 years of our lives. And if we don’t repeat it ourselves, we often marry someone who does.