The trap of inherited suffering

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A lot of people’s upbringing really damages them, as parents and teachers tell them The Way Things Are And Must Be, and they bury their full self and potential and even morality to fit in or survive.

Then what happens as adults when they encounter a challenge to that version of The Way Things Are? They defend it.

Because if they admit things don’t need to be that way, they would have to admit that (a) their life didn’t have to be as painful as it has been, and (b) people they loved did this to them. (Of course the people who ‘did this to them’ were themselves victims of patterns from earlier generations.)

That’s a huge issue, down in the lower reaches of our personality. The Way Things Are is the bulkhead that shelters us from the water pressure of those old experiences and emotions. Behind it, we might feel the threat of a flood we don’t want to face.

So instead people preach The Way Things Are and inflict it on the next generation, rather than admit anything could be wrong. And if challenged they’ll hold to it even harder. Because if the cycle breaks, so do they. And it’s easier to stay in a familiar structure laid out for you than to step into the unknown.

And that also means they fight the future. Making things better looks like a threat, if it challenges the story that things could not be better for you.

It’s a great gesture of love to the future to let that pain go and forgive the past for its ignorance. But it involves revisiting and acknowledging how the world has failed you, and questioning the personal identity you have built around it. It needs support. And a view of a place to go that doesn’t look like the destruction of everything.

Some people — a steady trickle over years — save themselves from outdated patterns. It’s a critical mass building, helped by the ever starker contrasts the world has shown us — who do you want to be? is this what you want? — and by generational shift. Cultural norms are moving. We can keep showing more people that it’s OK to be who are they are, or to go looking for themselves, or to ask questions of meaning and compassion.

Even small shifts matter. Coaching someone with a corporate career to get back into the art they loved as a child can be a radical act. The more seeds of openness and connection we can plant and spread, the better.

We can break the chain of those inherited ideas of how to live. We can build other stories of The Way Things Can Be — of a world that our kinder and more hopeful ancestors would want us to reach.


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