When I was a teenager, I stood in my grandmother’s sunlit kitchen watching this tiny spry woman skimming cream from the top of a quart glass milk bottle. The bottle was as weathered as she was, no longer crystal clear glass, but almost opaque from the innumerable times it had been filled at a dairy, topped with a cardboard stopper, packed in a crate, delivered in a truck, placed in a metal silver box on the front door step, retrieved before the sun rose, its contents separated — cream for coffee and milk for oatmeal. My grandmother was about to turn 68 — for the 5th time according to my calculations. She preferred to stay lodged at 68 rather than admit to entering her 7th decade.
This confounded me. I marveled at the fact that someone could live to their mid-70’s or beyond. (Remember I was only a young teen and even 40 seemed old to me at that time,) Yet what transfixed me even more was all the changes that my grandmother had seen in her lifetime. I was so eager to hear her stories, to find it incredulous that her electric refrigerator had once been an icebox! Imagine having ice delivered to your doorstep just as the familiar milk was now delivered. She drove a big black Buick now, but what was her first car or mode of transportation? And that black and white TV that was the focal point of her tiny living room — what was it like to experience a TV for the very first time?
My grandmother rarely stopped her never-ending forward momentum to pause and reflect on these wonders. She’d wave her wrinkled hand at me as though swatting at a fly, smile and tell me to set the table for breakfast. I do believe my grandmother possessed a lot of wisdom from all that she had witnessed and experienced in her seven decades, but she was reluctant to reflect. What’s done is done was her motto.
Now I am the grandmother in her seventh decade. My six year old grandson held my gaze as he marveled “Gigi, it’s amazing that you lived in the olden days and you are living in the here days now.” Unlike my grandmother, I am equally in awe and I melt at my grandson’s observation. I will be an open book for any questions that my grandchildren have about all that I have witnessed and experienced in my life.
The truth is that I am so grateful to not only witness, but to be actively engaged in the profound changes unfolding in my lifetime that will be transformational for generations to come.
My own personal growth journey, started about 8 years ago, had me unpacking nearly 6 decades of emotional baggage, rummaging through long-forgotten but pivotal events that occurred not only in my life, but in the lives and experiences of my family’s prior generations.
As I was steeped in this personal development work, I began to notice correlations and coalescence of the sciences, psychology, modern medicine and mental health along with Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability, Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion, and Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset and neuroplasticity. Suddenly things were beginning to feel very inter-connected and the common denominator was emotions.
Did you know that we never really studied emotions until the late 1980’s? This startling revelation blew my mind.
For all the discoveries, advancements, inventions and societal changes we have witnessed for centuries, the most transformational evolutionary breakthroughs are happening in this very moment – and it has everything to do with integrating our emotions into our human operating system. Nothing could be more impactful for all of mankind.
My grandmother’s generation, like those that came before her, knew next to nothing about the integral value of our emotions. “Psychological science was firmly entrenched in a “cognitive revolution” reveals Dacher Keltner in his latest book, Awe.
“Within this framework (of cognitive science), every human experience, from moral condemnation to prejudice against people of color, originates in how our minds, like computer programs, process units of information in passionless ways. What was missing from this understanding of human nature was emotion. Passion, Gut Feeling. What Scottish philosopher David Hume famously called “the master of reason” and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman termed “System 1” thinking. — excerpted from Chapter 1 of Awe by Dasher Kellner (renowned expert in the science of human emotion)
That old saying that “hindsight is 20/20” really rings true as I reflect back on how emotions were banished from one generation to the next. Old parenting models reinforced that “cognitive revolution” so we just kept stuffing our skeletons in the closet, and filling our human basements and attics with old baggage and unhealed emotional wounds.
We compounded the problem when we banished emotions from our human operating system. All those unprocessed emotions and related traumas got passed along from one generation to the next into our genes. So not only did we grow up witnessing and then modeling dysfunctional behavioral patterns, we actually carried generational emotional baggage in our genes. We were predisposed to perpetuate dysfunctional patterns. Here are salient pivot points that we are learning about our genes and their generational impact:
Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.
Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence. But they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.
Consider this: The first human disease to be linked to epigenetics was cancer, in 1983.
We are witnessing the big reveal right now — as our emotional health has hit the charts in revelatory ways. In just a little over three decades, we have advanced the ball on human evolution by recognizing that we got emotions all wrong.
Human beings are hard-wired for connection. The critical component of our motherboard that facilitates and integrates that lifelong need for connection is emotions.
Without this integral component, we have faulty, dysfunctional operating systems. Our immune systems malfunction and we get physically and cognitive sick. We have poor emotional regulation because we never got an owner’s manual. We struggle to make and keep relationships healthy and strong. We cannot teach our kids because we don’t know what we don’t know. They mirror us and we get mad, frustrated, discouraged and weary.
It should not be surprising at all that our teens are struggling with loneliness and depression. Imagine how many generations of unresolved emotions and trauma they are carrying in their genes. Technology and social media has exacerbated the problem as we become more socially disconnected while staring at our addictive screens instead of each other.
The bottom line is that we can all participate in this emotion revolution by embracing the need for integration of our emotions into our human operating system. We don’t think twice about upgrading our phones or devices. And when we get our children their first phone, we are not giving them a wall mounted rotary dial model. Why then would we have them operating on a partially installed top shelf brain/body/nervous system?
In prior blog posts, I have shared how inspirational it is to have prominent, respected younger men and women taking the lead by being so real and vulnerable in their podcasts, books, Ted Talks and social media platforms about their own emotional health journeys. There is a lot of generational baggage being unpacked these days to make room for a much healthier and more connected way of living.
Yes, it is incredibly sad to hear about the traumas and dysfunctional emotional underpinnings that people have endured. It is also not surprising to discover that these stories are not as uncommon as we think and have been the root cause of addictions, broken relationships, chronic and life threatening health issues and poor quality of life.
What I do know is that this is exactly how the healing begins and the evolution takes root. Unpacking unprocessed emotions is like having a splinter. We know it’s there. We can ignore it, but we will feel the pain every time we bump up against it…and over time it just might get infected. When we pull that splinter, we may still feel a little residual pain, but the reality is that the healing has already begun.
When my grandson tells me that it is amazing that I lived in the old days and I am here now, living in these present days, I can look at him and see him growing up in a world where he is a fully integrated human being, experiencing life with emotional meta vision and a self awareness that simply was not possible before. Oh yes, I have seen and experienced a lot in my lifetime, but just you wait — the best is yet to come.