Generational health has been on my mind of late. My heart hurts for people of my generation & older who did not get what they needed & now hurt or cause hurt b/c of it – especially as I know disconnection contributes to dis-ease in our bodies, psyche, & relationships.
I have a fear that older generations will stay stuck in old ways of being.
I hope that EACH generation will embrace the invitation to pivot & allow for improved health for all.
I’ve wanted this for my own family healing as well as for those I support in my work.
- Coming from a family with addiction & working with others, I learned how unmet childhood needs unfold over the lifespan in problematic ways. (For more on this topic, search “Adverse Childhood Events” or ACEs. See Reference link below.)
- As I approached motherhood, it became important to me to minimize harm & heal my family forward. Healing is an ongoing journey for us all.
- Now, in mid-life, along with my GenX cohorts, we are tasked with dual caregiving of our maturing children & aging Boomer parents. Note (see references below):
- Millennial & Gen Z children have the highest percentage of mental health concerns reported.
- Meanwhile, aging Boomer parents may be facing the consequences of acute or long-term mental & physical health challenges along with diminished capacity or skills to manage.
Relational Health & Development
We’ll look at generational differences in more detail but first let’s cover some “basics” on relational health & development. Generally, when something negative happens to someone, or conversely fails to positively happen for someone, (& especially a young child) the result is environmental failure. More specifically, environmental failures relate to:
- overwhelm or lack of support
- absence of attuned regulation
- the development of a hyper or hypo aroused nervous system.
And this happens to nearly everyone.
At best, “perfectly” conscious parenting doesn’t exist. At worst, unconscious parenting/caregiving creates disconnection & harm. Many people with dysregulated insides are trying to hold it together & act “normal” on the outside.
Disconnection is a coping behavior not a healing behavior.
Disconnection leads to suppression, adds to dis-ease over time & contributes to behaviors that produce relational ruptures. These behaviors are often an attempt & a protest to have personal, emotional, or relational needs met or wounds tended to. Sadly, behavior change & symptom reduction often become the target of focus & any symptom/behavior that falls outside of the “norm” is pathologized or shamed – adding further insult to injury. Inner & outer connection is truly the healing medicine.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look closer at some generational differences…
- Boomers grew up in an era when mental health issues where not discussed, much less acknowledged. Many conditions (anorexia, bulimia, ADHD, PTSD, autism, & learning disabilities) were unheard of. Depression & anxiety were viewed as signs of weakness.
- Boomers were, and are, accustomed to toughing things out & not asking for help when things get difficult. But their attitudes toward mental toughness do not make them immune to mental illnesses. Current statistics show that 25 percent of people over 55 experience some form of mental health issue, but many go undiagnosed or untreated (especially men).
- Generation X, is known as the lost generation, They were so overlooked that they didn’t have a name until 1991.
- They were taught to be self-reliant, this generation was raised on independence and tough love, which can often clash with mental health.
- They were not educated on mental health, lacked advanced technology during childhood & adolescence, and were raised by one of the toughest generations in terms of mental strength.
- Gen Xers’ mental & emotional needs were often deferred in childhood, then deprioritized in adulthood. Many were kids at a time when adults & parents were the top focus of families. Once Gen Xers became parents themselves, culture shifted to focus on children instead. THIS IS A SOURCE OF ANGST FOR MANY.
- For Gen X, discussions about mental health were often reserved for what used to be called big “T” traumas—extreme experiences most people already view as traumatic, like serving in a war or surviving an assault. Seeing a therapist for little “t” traumas like divorce, job transitions, or bullying may not have occurred to Gen Xers. Even if they wanted mental health treatment, stigma or lack of accessibility may have stopped them from seeking it.
- The tough love style of learning taught by Boomers and Generation X didn’t resonate well with the Millennial generation and they began taking steps away.
- Millennials were the first to really see technology rise & social media develop while still being young.
- Like Gen Z, they felt the impact of insecurity, comparison, & holding everything at the click of a button with this development.
- Known now as the anxious generation, they are far more likely to talk about mental health & seek help then their parents or grandparents.
- In addition to the anxiety related to social media that the Millennials know, Gen Z has had several tumultuous world events as the backdrop of their young years.
- Many have additional anxiety to find a way to “save the world” & deal with existential dread.
- Also, due to the cyclical nature of generational characteristics, “the New Silent Generation” may be the most descriptive name, because its members will likely mimic many of the traits of the Silent Generation (born 1923-1944).
- For several reasons, the New Silent Generation may value career stability, ecological responsibility, & social justice.
- The New Silents will blur the lines among races, ethnicities, and cultures, favoring inclusion in the workplace.
- Some marketing experts predict that this generation will embody many of the same values of their Silent Generation great-grandparents of thrift, saving, and economic frugality.
I’ve always cared about helping parents learn information & skills to improve their relationship with their children, at any age. Now in middle age, I see my sandwiched Gen X generation needing support as they approach a reversal in caregiving roles with their Boomer parents & while simultaneously facing the mental health crisis of their children.
Boomers & Dementia
Dementia is also on my heart. Both of my grandmothers had it. It’s a challenge for family members & especially those that do not have informed help. While dementia warrants its own narrative, I would like people to know that as rational abilities decline OR are not available, there is a greater reliance on more intuitive ways of experiencing the environment. When there is a disconnect between what a person senses & what they experience (i.e., what you say or do), you will see nervous system activation & “challenging” behaviors that correspond with hypo or hyper arousal.
The verbal filter is off. The mental brakes no longer work well. Expect reactivity.
Add unresolved family dynamics to this & you have a hot mess. Doing more of the same is not likely to help achieve a successful outcome.
Importance of Mind/Body Connection
So, whether you are caregiving a young one or an aging person, it will help you & them to be aware of the mind body connection. Specifically, it helps to know how to:
1) meet needs proactively & repair ruptures after the fact
2) recognize signs of distress
3) resource & regulate yourself
4) provide co-regulation from your own regulated nervous system to another
5) stop yourself from using “reason” with a triggered person no matter their age or capacity
6) know that your own reactivity can make others reactivity increase.
Our modern society has been way too dependent on cognitive, rational, & behavioral skills.
It is not sufficient for quality mental health or caregiving. We really need more integrated ways of living & loving for our health.
I share this information to invite you, wherever you are developmentally/generationally, to embrace your position in your lineage. It is best to transform or transmute rather than transmit. With support & resources you can break the cycle.
Holidays = Time to Notice
Keep this in mind as you engage with family over the holidays.
Notice what is & isn’t working, without judgment & with awareness, compassion & curiosity.
Meeting your needs, tending your own wounds, & growing in self-care is often the place to start to grow your capacity. This will aid you to help co-regulate the humans you care for & about the most.
I welcome you to reach out when you are ready to decrease your own reactivity & grow in your responsiveness to yourself & others.
Developing a wholehearted way of living & relating allows for more mental & physical health & improved connection & community. You & your loved ones are worth it. Let’s do this. Reach out to connect.
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