I have a confession to make.
I LOVE a good Disney flick. Not all of them, mind you (I’m not your “handsome-prince-saves-damsel-in-distress” kind of girl), but there are a few Disney plots that take me on a much deeper journey than the bright colors and unrealistically drawn characters I see on my screen.
If you read last week’s blog you’ll remember I’m one of those people who likes to find the profound in the seemingly ordinary. In part, I think it’s because there are messages all around us, we just need to be paying attention in order to receive them. But sometimes I find those messages amidst a project I’m working on, and I can’t help but see them as gifts from the Divine. A God wink, if you will.
Last night, I caught one of those winks, in what is arguably my all-time favorite Disney franchise: Frozen.
After a bumpy day of starts and stops on my latest project, I set myself down to relax and take in the newest installment from Elsa and Ana: Frozen II.
The adventure took me on a brief trek back to when Elsa and Ana were small, then to the present where we find the sisters somewhat refreshed from their journeys of personal discovery and realization of the dangers of ignoring feelings. Ana has embraced her inner heroine and Elsa has realized her powers are a gift and not a curse.
After our blast into the past, we find Elsa fulfilling her role as queen and Ana fulfilling hers as a wonderful sister and ally. But from almost the beginning, we can sense the tension; a restlessness remains within Elsa.
If you haven’t seen Frozen II but intend to, just know the next few paragraphs are an absolute spoiler alert. So, if you continue reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Elsa’s restlessness is revealed to be the result of a voice calling out to her, one she wasn’t ready to hear until she experienced a little healing. But once the voice began to call, the stronger and healthier Elsa became, the harder it was to ignore the voice.
Initially, she calls back to the voice (In song of course. What would a Disney flick be without an emotionally emboldened lyrical response?). She sings “There’s a thousand reasons I should go about my day and ignore your whispers that I wish would go away.” She finishes her strain by bellowing her conflict into the night. “I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown… I know deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be.”
Elsa had come far, but not all the way.
Sharing her experience of hearing the call from a higher power with her sister, Elsa tells Ana she must go and learn what the voice wants. In true Ana form, she insists on going with her while stating their mission clearly: “Follow the voice. Learn the truth. Find our way home.” Like I said, the profound in the seemingly ordinary.
With the full cast in tow, they set off into the unknown.
As with any good movie animated or otherwise, the plot takes our protagonist and her tribe through many twists and turns. There are ups and downs and even some dark moments, maybe too dark for Disney. But along the way, Elsa learns the truth about family and their patterns. Patterns of behaviors that ultimately cut her off from knowing who she was really meant to be.
Consequently, it cut Ana off from realizing her full potential too.
Armed with this new knowledge, Ana and Elsa usher in a literal flood of truth- destroying the barrier from the past and setting everyone, on both sides of the family (the maternal and paternal) free. By coming to terms with the truth and then doing something to set things right, they not only find a new level of freedom for themselves, but all their people in the present, and for generations to come.
And so, it is with us…
It’s important to recognize how we too have been impacted by the generations before us.
Science calls it Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance. The Bible calls it a generational curse. Both point to the impact of generational experiencing lasting three to four generations, without some kind of intervention. (Interesting, our Disney movie does too, as it was Elsa and Ana’s grandfather that set the Domino effect in motion.)
From the science perspective, in relation to studying the effects of inheritance, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Isabelle Mansuay, professor of Neuroepigenetics at the University Zürich. Dr. Mansuay shared, “When examining the offspring from mice who had experienced trauma, the pups (who did not experience trauma first-hand) showed symptoms as they grew up which also mimicked the symptoms seen in children who have experienced early trauma. Our model is quite unique, it’s to mimic dislocated families, or the abuse, neglect and emotional damage that you sometimes see in people.” In other words, what one generation experienced impacts the future generations without them having their own, firsthand experience. (See https://www.livescience.com/41717-mice-inherit-fear-scents-genes.html and other articles on the subject of inherited trauma.)
The implication? While trauma can impact us at a cellular level, so can healing.
Dr. Mansuay went on to say that without intervention, these symptoms are routinely exhibited in the pups to the third and even fourth generation before symptoms begin to naturally dissipate. “This seems to be consistent with what we see in humans as well.”
In the Bible, we see countless examples of generational impact set off by the choices and behaviors of previous generations. From disconnection with God, to war, to deception and abuse, to the dangers of playing favorites amongst their children, there is no shortage of stories where we can clearly see the fall out experienced by one generation as the result of the generation(s) that went before them. (We don’t have room to look at details here, but you can read many of these stories in the Old Testament: 1stand 2nd Kings and/or Genesis might be good places to start.)
Whether we’re talking about science or the Bible (or Disney?), the consensus is clear: knowing what has impacted us is critical for effecting change. When we don’t know what we don’t know, it can make it difficult to recognize that what is necessary if we hope to experience the freedom we were created for. Sometimes, the very thing that looks like freedom is the very thing that’s holding you back.
You may not know your whole story; the one that began before you. But if you’re stuck in patterns you don’t understand that don’t seem connected to your own life experiences, if there’s a nagging voice within you, calling you to more freedom than what you’re presently experiencing, and if shame seems to follow you around like a shadow, you might be experiencing the consequences of what occurred before you were ever born.
While you didn’t cause any of it, you will need to be the one to stop it from further impacting you and the generations to come.
And let me be clear, it isn’t necessary to know every detail. There are some roots of wounds you may not be able to uncover. That doesn’t mean healing isn’t possible.
But don’t underestimate the power of the clear vision that can come from learning about generational patterns and experiences in your family. Not only can it help you see where some of your beliefs and behaviors stem from, it can also help you build grace for yourself and for those who went before you. Not for the purpose of excusing what may have harmed you or what may have harmed them, but for the purpose of learning from it, healing from it and letting it go.
You can begin to build freedom for yourself, for your children and your children’s children today. Regardless of if they’ve already been born or not. You were made for it. They were too. And freedom is a beautiful thing to pass along for generations to come.
For help in exploring your own family patterns I suggest creating a genogram making sure to include relational dynamics, not just biological/adoptive genealogy. There are many resources available online. If you uncover significant patterns and cycles of trauma and/or dysfunction, I want to encourage you to take your information to a qualified mental health professional who can help equip you to break cycles and repair damage. Some interesting books to consider are It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn; Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa and The Inheritors: Moving forward from generational trauma by Gita Arian Baak, PhD. Subscribe at www.itsmyoutloudvoice.com and stay tuned for more on generational patterns and trauma and how to break free from them.