Every family has some level of dysfunction. It’s what happens when you have a group of sinners living under one roof. Spoiler alert: we aren’t living in the Garden of Eden. We live in a fallen world that has been greatly impacted by sin. Most families have generational sin that is handed down from generation to generation–Generational Sin is an Old Testament concept, but stick around, I’m going somewhere with this. As Catholics, we pray for the dead–past generations who have gone before us. Exodus 34:6-7 says:
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Exodus 34:6-7 is the verse many people refer to when discussing generational sin. God punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. Think about it for a minute. You are a sinner, I am a sinner, all of our parents are sinners. No family is without sin and this sin, in essence, impacts the ENTIRE family for generation after generation. This impact is as unending as is our own sin! Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He didn’t deserve the punishment, but He died for us so that we no longer will die, but will have Eternal Life!
I believe that we are each deeply affected by some sin that is handed down from generation to generation. For instance: alcoholism, divorce, physical abuse, drug addiction, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse that we often see running in families. I also believe that these “generational curses”, as some people call them, can be broken when we come to know Jesus Christ and become the people God has called us to be. I want to add that therapy with a devout Christian counselor can help break these generation curses and heal individuals and the family.
Some families, like mine growing up, are so blatantly dysfunctional that it is obvious to anyone looking in that there is something seriously wrong with the family. Sometimes, it is easy to see through family lines how a previous generation’s sin affected future generations. My father’s birth mother left he, his sister and their father. My father’s first wife committed suicide when she was jailed on suspected child abuse charges. Their youngest son committed suicide. Their oldest son, while still living, is a heroin addict who has been in and out of the state pen three times. No doubt, my father’s abandonment by his mother as a child greatly impacted his life and his parenting abilities. I have no idea what sort of upbringing his mother and father had, because we were never close, a distance I believe was created by my own father’s upbringing and understanding of family. I believe my half-brother committed suicide partly due to the fact that his own mother committed suicide. Was it a genetic predisposition to depression that she passed on? Did her suicide plant the seed in his mind that suicide was an answer to life’s problems? I will never know the answer to those questions.
My mother’s father was an alcoholic, abusive man. Growing up, I was told of some abuse my mother, her sister and their mother endured at his hands. They would often run to hide at neighbor’s homes on nights that he had too much to drink. My maternal grandmother died before I was born, and my mother attributes her deadly brain aneurysm to the abuse her mother suffered. My mother’s first husband was a drug addict and I am told her oldest son from that marriage was allowed to use drugs when visiting his father. This son died of a drug overdose when he was 33 years old. His own sons are now addicted to drugs and have been in and out of prison, even though he died when they were young children. These are the things to which a refer when I speak of handing sin down from generation to generation. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that I grew up in an alcoholic, abusive home.
As a homeschooling mom whose children never attended a day of traditional school in their lives until college, I remind people that my children have many of my own faults—and I cannot blame anyone other than myself…… and their father. That said, they also inherited many good character traits from us, as well. I honestly worked very hard as a mother to ensure that my boys didn’t turn out like my own brothers! Sometimes, I may have been too tough on my boys, I readily admit that. I was so afraid that they, like my brothers and my brother’s sons, would end up addicted to drugs and in and out of jail. The fear was real for me. My parents were abusive alcoholics, like my mother’s father had been. I wanted to break that pattern, too. I only drank occasionally while my children were growing up and as they entered high school, began enjoying cocktails and wine a little more frequently, but not to excess–because I was cognizant of my own parents and my grandfather’s sin.
In other families, like the family of my ex, it doesn’t seem quite as obvious upon first inspection. When I first met him and subsequently his family, I thought, “WOW! So this is a normal family!” Twenty-eight years later, it is very obvious to me that they are far from a normal family. Not that “normal” exists or can be defined as far as families are concerned, but I thought they were more normal than the family from which I came. For years, I believed my husband when he told me that I was delusional, crazy, psycho and clueless. I believed him when he told me, “I am not the problem, YOU are the problem”, “I am normal, you are abnormal” “I don’t need therapy, I don’t have a problem” or “If you would just do what I tell you, you’ll be happy. Don’t you want to be happy?” Now, I know better.
Through therapy, I have come to understand how I became entangled with this man and his family. My abusive childhood was a completely different, in your face, type of abuse. Alcoholism, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse are all things people can agree are harmful and should never be part of normal family life. Narcissism is very hard to see, especially by someone who comes from an abusive home. I thought all of his quirks and strange doings were normal because it was a different type of abuse than what I had suffered as a child. I knew my childhood was abnormal and abusive, but I didn’t know what he was doing was abusive! My husband didn’t yell often, so I believed that his manipulation and passive-aggressive abuse were normal and that it really was a misunderstanding on my part–just like he continually said it was. I mean, if one has never seen normal in any shape or fashion, one won’t know what normal is, right? The ex was able to blame me so readily because my parents had blamed me and that is all I knew. I would think, “Well, it has always been my fault, so it makes sense that it is my fault now” or “Of course it is my fault, it is always my fault, I am a horrible person.” I honestly thought his family was a version of normal and that my family was coo-coo crazy, so I clung to this idea of him being normal for over twenty years! In the last several years of our marriage, it became abundantly clear that he was a narcissist and that his treatment of me was abusive.
Where did his narcissism come from or develop? That’s a question psychologists have been asking for years! I do know that members of his family in previous generations battled alcoholism, but to my knowledge there wasn’t physical abuse, molestation or obvious visible mental disorders. One of the biggest generational sins of his family, in my opinion, is divorce. This is a fact that my husband and I discussed as divorce ripped through his family over and over again-siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, ravaged by divorce. His family makes marriage seem as if it is disposable rather than an institution created by God to last until death. Ex is the oldest of five siblings and the fourth to obtain a divorce. He’s the third of his siblings to leave their spouse. His father also comes from a family with five siblings, though only three of his siblings is divorced, multiple times each. When I petitioned for a decree of Nullity, this fact really stood out to me as I filled out the forms regarding marriage histories in each of our families. Seeing this on paper really made me understand why a man who had repeatedly told me that he was a practicing Catholic would file for divorce! It literally runs in his family!
I don’t believe that the sin of divorce breeds narcissistic family members, but it does create a family that doesn’t truly believe in the sanctity of marriage. I pray daily that my boys never go through divorce, I pray that they never initiate divorce, I pray that they remain faithful to God’s definition of marriage and that they remain faithful Catholics. I pray for my married son, his spouse and their marriage. I pray for my youngest two boys and for their future spouses. My husband and I were not able to overcome this generational curse, but I pray my boys do!
While divorce doesn’t breed narcissism, I do believe that narcissists and their partners have a higher rate of divorce than most average couples. I am not an expert on divorce or narcissism, though I do have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and find this to be a very interesting topic. At the time his first sibling divorced, I completely agreed that the spouse who left had to be crazy. I sided with his family. I sided with his family two more times before my husband left and divorced me. In looking back, I have a different perspective on all four divorces in his immediate family now. I believe he and his siblings are all narcissists and that this narcissism is the root cause of all four divorces. Reflecting upon events that unfolded before me over the course of twenty-four years with this newfound knowledge, I am truly convinced of this fact. I have also come to realize that I have many similarities with their ex-spouses. It has made me wonder about these siblings raised in the same household by the same two parents. Common denominator!
All of my pondering and wondering aside, I have read quite a few books on narcissism and done my research. Of course, this wasn’t an idea or conclusion that I came to on my own. Some eight or nine months before my husband left, I defied him and started going to therapy. Throughout my over three years of therapy, I have discovered my many flaws, weaknesses and unhealthy behaviors and discovered that I was, indeed, dealing with narcissistic abuse. It really wasn’t until a year ago that I finally accepted that my ex is truly a narcissist. I resisted believing this, explaining that my therapist had only heard my side. As I moved from denial to acceptance, I was angry with myself for getting into a relationship with him and then for not getting out!
My response to the abuse was not healthy and escalated over the course of our twenty-four year marriage. I am finally free of the abuse and am healing. I am healing from childhood abuse as well as learning how to deal with stressors in my life in a more healthy way. Being able to attend therapy sessions regularly has been life-changing for me. For the first time in my life, I can see the pattern of abuse in my life, understand why these people did some of the things they did and I can move forward in peace. I now know why my ex and my parents ALL refused to go to therapy with me and why my ex bullied me into not going myself.
The first step in healing from abuse is being able to acknowledge that the abuse occurred. This doesn’t mean that I am not culpable for any wrongdoings in my marriage, however. I am a sinner. I did and said many awful things during our marriage. I believe therapy has made me a healthier person and I know I will avoid getting into a relationship with a narcissist in the future!