Most of us, at some point in the day or week, think there is “something wrong” in each of our families. There is always that moment which is annoying, frustrating, angering, or disappointing.
However, what about when there is suicide, sexual abuse, depression, and any number of ugly aspects that are more than just the “normal” maladaptation or disagreements? How do we untangle ourselves from the curse of the past?
It has been said that “the sins of the fathers are unto the seventh generation”. That thought is a chilling one. Can we ever be free from the past, from situations that happened before we were even a gleam in the eyes of our parents?
Mariel Hemingway has taken a powerful look at her famous family that includes one of the most noted writes of this country. Her conclusion is that yes, it is possible to get past the past and the seamy side of hopeless relationships. She is to be admired.
Her famous family was profiled in “Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success” (Jossey Bass 2009)to show how legacy and loyalty are a major part of what we now call “mental illness”.
Here is what is fascinating: There are five suicides in the Hemingway family. Various members suffered from depression, alcoholism, and drug dependency. Ernest Hemmingway killed himself with a shotgun to the head just as his father did before him. Violent and bloody.
Just going back a bit shows that fractured relationship are the core of what we call mental illness and looking back through the generations it is possible to find the root cause. We just have to look.
Here is a clue to the disarray that began way back with a baby boy was born and his mother was set on having twins. She would dress her son Ernest and his sister Marceline in similar clothes with similar hairstyles. In one surviving picture, we see nine month old Ernest wearing a pink dress and hat covered with flowers. The caption beneath the photograph reads “summer girl”.
Is there any wonder the man he became was always proving his masculinity? That his brother became a cross-dresser?
I believe that mental illness is a “disease of fractured relationships” where there is avoidance and denial of real truths that get buried until someone like a granddaughter or great granddaughter says “it will stop with me”.
It would be an important exercise of growth and development for each of us to look back and see where we came from and where the “knots” need to be untied.