Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

An Overview of the Lethal
[Wounds + Unawareness] Cycle

Is it Stressing Your Family?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/fam/cycle.htm

Updated 03-29-2015

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      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of Lesson-5 articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance ("functional") families. The series exists because the wide range of current U.S. social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. That suggests the epidemic effects of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle outlined below.

      From 36 years' clinical research, I propose an unrecognized social process that is inexorably weakening families and most (all?) cultures. It seems to be a global problem. The process can be described as a self-amplifying three-part cycle unintentionally passed from one generation to the next.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

      This article provides...

  • a summary of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle, with links to more detail

  • why the public is unaware of the cycle and it's toxic effects

  • how I discovered the cycle

  • a summary of how the cycle works

  • some major implications of the cycle, and...

  • options for breaking this cycle in families, communities, regions, and our country.

  What Is This Cycle?

      Read this sobering article, then study this diagram. Then return here.

      Does this cycle make sense to you? Have you ever seen this concept proposed before? If not, why could that be?    

  Why is the Public Unaware of This Cycle?

      Are you aware of the recent global fear of a deadly bird-flu pandemic? Of the ominous predicted effects of global warming? Of the rise of global terrorist threats and activities? If so, how do you know of these? I suspect you'd say "TV, newspapers, magazines, and/or the Web" - yes?

      One reason the [wounds + unawareness] cycle is unknown to the public is that media editors and producers haven't featured it. Four possible reasons are...

  • no respected sources have proposed and documented the cycle, or...

  • they have, but people don't (want to) believe it (once true of global warming, and looming oil and water shortages); and/or...

  • the public doesn't want to learn about the cycle and its effects because the implications are too scary and depressing - so media creators avoid alienating subscribers, viewers, and advertisers by not publicizing it.

    The ultimate reason may be...

  • To stop this toxic cycle, couples need to be certified to marry and/or raise kids - meaning some sort of government regulation. This is so repugnant that any serious attempt to pass and enforce such legislation would probably cause anarchy.

 Discovering the Cycle

      I was trained as a mechanical engineer and have always been curious about how things work (or don't). I'm also a trained, veteran (36 years) family-systems therapist (MSW), specializing in understanding and improving dysfunctional families and relationships. That has led me to study effective communications and parenting, healthy and incomplete grief, and addiction dynamics and management.

      In 1986, I discovered "by accident" that my parents were functional alcoholics - so I was (am) an "ACA" - Adult Child of an Alcoholic family. This explained much about my own painful life, and I began "recovery" from the psychological wounds of being raised in an addicted (low-nurturance) family. My healing included shifting from 35 years' adult atheism to firm faith in - and experiencing - a benign, attentive Higher Power.

      Soon after "accidentally" learning my ACA identity, I attended a Chicago seminar on "personality parts" and "internal-family systems (IFS) therapy" by veteran psychologist Dr. Richard Schwartz. It changed my life and the way I did therapy, and it explained the roots of epidemic psychological wounding.

      I read voraciously about personal and family dynamics, multiple personalities, addictions, marriage, divorce, communications, spirituality, and various "mental illnesses." My learning was shaped by working clinically with over 1000 average Midwestern U.S. adults with wide range of presenting problems since 1981.

      Though my therapy clients' and students' stories were each unique, I began to see a pattern in their lives and ancestries (and mine). The theme that emerged was: many adults who were struggling with "mental illness," "mood and personality disorders," and "relationship problems" (i.e. psychological wounds + unawareness + low-nurturance environments) said that their parents had come from "painful childhoods" also. And many troubled young parents seemed to be inadvertently wounding their own children, against all "common sense."

      None of the authors I studied integrated their theories into a coherent trans-generational systemic concept. We researchers and students were all like the allegorical five blind men discovering an elephant: Feeling the trunk, one says "It is a snake." Feeling the belly, a second man says "No, It is a boulder." The third man felt a massive leg, and said "You're both wrong - it's a tree." The next man felt the tail, and snorted "How can you be so blind? It's a rope!" The last man guffawed and said "you're all wrong - it's a palm frond." He was exploring the elephant's ear.

      As I composed the articles in this Web site over many years and the six related guidebooks, the "elephant" (cycle) coalesced. Evidence of it continued to mount in my client contacts and family - and now I see its symptoms everywhere. Web-site visitors' feedback and poll-responses consistently confirm it. For example, ~80% of the site visitors responding to the poll question "Do you believe personality subselves are real?" say "Yes, without question."

      In May 2011, I began to publish YouTube videos describing key ideas in this educational Web site. Since then, I've received hundreds of viewer comments and affirmations from all over the world that indicate the cycle and it's effects are universal, not just Western.

How Does the Cycle Work?

      Here's a summary. At any given time (past or present)...

Widespread public ignorance, unawareness, and denial promote...

Public and religious values, traditions, and laws that allow couples to commit, cohabit, and conceive children before most are qualified to do so. This causes...

Epidemic unwise (a) marital and (b) child-conception choices
and ineffective family communication + grieving + parenting. So...

Most kids get inadequate nurturing and training on these topics at home and school, so most of them develop significant psychological wounds, Research suggests that childhood trauma can activate genes that promote psychological, cognitive, and physiological problems. and...

millions of kids must adapt to parental psychological or legal divorce, because their wounded, unaware caregivers aren't able to fill their marital needs.

Survivors of this cycle grow up and - without [ hitting bottom +
self-motivated  personal healing + effective help ] -
repeat and spread the cycle down the generations

The spreading wounds and ignorance in our societies promote (a) significant health problems and shorter lives, and (b) most major social problems.

Once citizens, parents, and legislators are aware of this social dynamic and its toxic impacts, they (we) can break the cycle through appropriate education, recovery programs, and new laws.

  What Does the Cycle Mean?

      A comprehensive answer to this question merits a whole book. Here are some of the main impacts of the cycle:

      One meaning is that most (all?) efforts to reduce the main social problems of our Era are ineffective, They waste scarce time, money, and energy because they ignore the underlying two primary problems: epidemic unawareness and psychological wounds.

      A vivid example is the growing American obesity epidemic, despite widespread dietary and nutritional programs and increasing public education. This trend suggests that most Americans aren't motivated by the very real threat of fat-related health risks like diabetes, strokes, and heart disease. This illustrates the prevalence of the psychological wounds of shame (self-devaluing and neglect) and reality distortion - (e.g. denials: "I'll never get sick because I'm overweight").

      Another sobering cycle-effect is the unremarked American divorce epidemic, which stresses millions of adults and kids every year and causes many secondary personal and social problems. For an example of the cycle's effect on a real stepfamily couple and their kids, read this after you finish this. 

      A third meaning of this cycle is the widespread social problem of drug dependence and addictions and their many personal, family, and social effects. The proliferation of various 12-step "Anonymous" programs in cities and villages across the world implies how widespread the desire to break compulsive self-medication against relentless inner pain caused by early-childhood neglect, abandonment, and abuse ("trauma").

      A fourth cycle-impact is the huge "mental health" industry, including prescription drugs to control and reduce a wide range of maladies. Psychiatric medication can reduce various symptoms like depression and "personality disorders"), but can NOT heal inherited psychological wounds and unawareness. 

       Perhaps the most powerful direct impact of this lethal cycle is that untold millions of vulnerable kids (like yours?) are growing up with preventable psychological wounds which will degrade their health and relationships, and shorten their lives. This will happen unless they hit personal bottom (usually in mid-life) and choose to admit and patiently reduce their wounds. By that time, their own kids have often begun to form their own wounds, as the cycle inexorably spreads down the generations.

      A final mega-meaning of this cycle is that humans are changing the Earth's ecological balances in ways that are already stressing global life. Scientists are increasingly vocal and unified in warning that civilization faces major threats because humans are squandering and polluting our fresh water, land, and air.

      The [wounds + unawareness] cycle promotes personal and social denial, self-gratification, overstimulation (distraction), and a self-defeating short-term focus These combine to promote widespread discounting of our imminent ecological threats.

# Reality Check - how many people do you know who are making significant lifestyle changes to reduce the coming severe effects of global warming and pending energy and water shortages? Are you? 

      These cycle-implications are illustrative, not comprehensive. The general and specific effects of the growing [wounds + unawareness] cycle in every sector of modern life are beyond summarizing here. Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. Do you know which of your diligent personality subselves are causing them?

      The good news is - once people (like you) understand and accept this cycle, they (we) can alert others, break it, and protect future generations from its lethal effects.

      Before looking at your options, take a...

# Reality Check - try answering these out loud. Reflect and see where you stand on the ideas above. T- true, F = false, and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on... (what?)"

I understand and accept the concepts of personality subselves, true Self, and false self  (T  F  ?) 

      If you're doubtful or unsure, read this letter and then try this safe, interesting exercise. For perspective, about 80% of site visitors responding to this poll say "Yes, personality subselves are real, without question."

I can name (a) each of the six common psychological wounds, and (b) at least three things they mean (T  F  ?)

I am motivated to assess myself honestly for significant psychological wounds now  (T  F  ?)

I accept that average kids raised by wounded, unaware parents are at significant risk of developing psychological wounds and being ruled by a false self.  (T  F  ?)

I can describe four things typical adults are unaware of, and at least four vital topics that they are often uninformed about.  (T  F  ?)

I can describe the main steps in the [wounds + unawareness] cycle clearly to an average high school senior now (T  F  ?)

I can explain at least six common effects of the cycle on families and society. (T  F  ?)

I can explain why most people are unaware of the cycle and its effects. (T  F  ?)

I am very motivated now to protect the young people in my life from the effects of this cycle. (T  F  ?)

My true Self is responding to this reality check or I know which other subself is. (T  F  ?)

Can We Break the Cycle?

      YES! This article proposes three practical steps you - or anyone - can tailor and apply to protect your family and descendents first; and then our society, by raising public awareness.

      There are four potential groups who can spread the word: recovering Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), concerned parents, and public health and media professionals. A critical factor that must accompany alerting the public is methodical research to validate the [wounds + unawareness] cycle proposed in this article. 


      This article is part of a series on under-standing, identifying, and reducing psychological wounds and unawareness (Lesson 1). It proposes an ancestral cycle of [wounds + unawareness] silently spreading down our generations, weakening our societies and damaging our Earth. The article describes...

  • the components of the cycle (can you name them?),

  • how the cycle operates

  • likely reasons why the public is unaware of the cycle so far

  • a summary of how I (the author) discovered the cycle,

  • key harmful effects of the cycle on persons, families, and civilization, and...

  • a link to an article on how to break the cycle in your family and in society.

  Learn something about yourself with this 1-question anonymous poll.

      Pause and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise true Self, or 'someone else'?

      To learn how this cycle may have affected your family, study this ad-free online course.

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