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  • Writer's pictureDerek Bacharach

It's The Chicken, Not The Egg

Have you ever noticed that you may act the way one of your parents do (or did) when under stress? You may race to an appointment the way a parent did when you were younger and now you are doing this too. This is an example of Intergenerational Transmission Of Stress (IST), when a parent (or grandparent) passes on their stress to the next generation.

You know you are the recipient of IST when you do not know why you are triggered by something that stressed your parent or guardian. (And sometimes they may not know why they are stressed about the same something either.) When you are triggered by their stress, it is the result of a response you learned unconsciously from this older family member. Parents model how we relate to other people and make sense of the world around us. It is natural to absorb this, natural to press the record button on in you and adapt the same response.

As a child it's hard to determine what to absorb and what not to absorb from a parent or guardian. Our brains at this age are not developed enough to do this. So instead we absorb everything like a sponge, including a parent's benign fear of spiders or arriving late to a movie or their malignant fear of not being taken seriously, gaining weight or appearing vulnerable.

Realizing this is happening is a great starting point to understand why am I the way I am? But somewhere between this thought and seeking a professional therapist, the road to self-understanding can be challenging. American culture is good at setting up road-blocks to this kind of introspection through questions such as Is it nature or nurture? Is it the chicken or the egg? Or phrases -- don't worry about it or you're overthinking. These potholes make it hard to stay curious.

But it's a worthy challenge to figure out why you are the way you are, how you are affected by your parent's stress and eventually, by flicking the switch from auto-pilot to manual, begin the process of unlearning what you learned. By doing this unlearning, you can break the cycle that will impact your children and generations to come.

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