Avoiding the Generational Trauma: A Royal Faux Pas
Tomorrow, 06 May (or it may already be 06 May wherever you are), Prince Charles, formerly The Prince of Wales, will be officially crowned as King Charles III of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth & Territories. I'm unsure if we are ready for this change in royalty, mainly since we've grown accustomed to her late Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, ruling over the United Kingdom and Commonwealth & Territories for over 70 years. Elizabeth led her people and the world through some of the most traumatic and challenging experiences in her life, including coming out of WWII, ascending the throne after her father's death at 25 years old, unrest and tribulation during the 1960s, the divorces of her children and their spouses, 11 September, Brexit, and the COVID-19 global pandemic. And yet, through it all, she remained calm, steadfast, hardworking, compassionate, and gracious to her people and her family, even as the decades passed. Many fashions, ideas, and technology came and changed everything we knew. I think the phrase "keep calm and carry on" comes into play for her leadership and life in the royal family. That seemingly respectable and polished life as United Kingdom's royal life enchanted us somehow, and the idea of a monarchy (even though it's a constitutional monarchy) in the 21st century is appealing to many of us since many of the other monarchies across Europe and Asia have since dissolved. I mean, look at everyone! Isn't this the idea of absolute perfection for the British royal family?
But underneath the royal family's perfection, smiles, and unity, there may be something that's not always easy to identify on the outside. Stress. Frustration. Exhaustion. Anger. Indignation. Fear. Sadness. Loneliness. Division. Trauma. Generational trauma. In the past few decades, much change has come about that's led to some of these hidden feelings boiling over. One dealt with Elizabeth's grandson, Prince Harry, and his decision to step away from royal duties alongside his wife, Meghan Markle. Along with the accusations that the family he's been a part of hasn't been the family he needed when Harry wanted the love, support, encouragement, and strength the most. Another dealt with the divorce of Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and how Diana felt like she wasn't appreciated or welcomed by the royal family because of her outspoken ideas and commitment to service and helping others. Another dealt with the disgraced Prince Andrew resigning from the royal family amid his ties with the Jeffrey Epstein scandal (long story short: sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was accused and close to being convicted of sexually abusing underage girls. Before his trial, he was found dead in his prison cell.) And then there are the usual royal tabloids exposing the royals doing drugs, partying, drinking excessively, and more. But what happens when these things happen and involve you as an essential public figure in the eyes of the people? Well, you'd do what most people do in these cases: You deal with the issues privately, without many prying eyes or ears spilling out all the details. And then, after everything's resolved to a positive conclusion (or it seems that way), you carry on and go about your duties as you usually would and get the public back in your good graces. I've noticed a pattern with the royal family in recent years that's as plain as the nose on my face, and I wish I could've seen it sooner. Whenever a problem or crisis challenges the nation, the royal family addresses it as gently and calmly as possible, even going as far as downplaying the accusations and emotional stress involved, and continues to push ahead with their duties because that's expected of them. The people are counting on them to keep going. It's almost as if they're avoiding all of the dysfunction and problems that are going on within the family so that they can keep the perfection and - dare I say it? - stiff upper lip mentality to please the public. Because showing emotion is so un-British, and so un-royal-like! Even if it's a tell-all memoir that's brought up much conversation and debate in the past few months:
"Everything's fine." "No need to worry." "It's all good." But when is it NOT all good? And when the trauma and stress become too much to handle, to the point where everything falls apart? Especially when you're in the public eye? Especially when the expectation of being perfect is what's expected of you? Here's a little secret you may not know about: it's not just the royal family, the First Family, or even your state representative that deals with this and brushes it off to the side as if it's a fly. We all have experienced generational trauma, and it's become blatantly apparent that some patterns, methodologies, and ideas no longer work if it continually harms the next generation. It's no longer "normal" to hide the pain and stress underneath the smiles and keep it all together. Because it's liable to cause more pain and damage to your life and your loved ones' relationships. The cycle has to stop, and it needs to stop sooner rather than later. How? I've got a few ideas, and it involves two royal families: First, the British royal family... And next, the latest Disney royal family, the Family Madrigal.
Disney's Encanto tells the story of the Family Madrigal, living in the mountains in a rural community in Colombia. For fifty years, the children and grandchildren used their magical gifts to help their community members through elaborate floral arrangements, delicious food to help the most serious ailments, or prodigious strength to carry the heaviest loads. Everyone has a magical gift except Mirabel. She received no gift and is often seen as useless and klutzy by some of her family members, especially her grandmother (or Abuela). Mirabel understandably feels like she's not good enough for her family because she lacks a gift. Still, when her beloved casita starts crumbling, and the magic slowly disappears, Mirabel realizes she may be the only one who can save everyone. It seems like your typical Disney film, right? Plenty of magic, great music to sing and dance to, unforgettable characters, and a story that deserves to be called a classic for the years to come. But here's where they trick you: Even with all the magic and music, this isn't your run-of-the-mill Disney film. These past few films aren't like the ones we're accustomed to, which is a new adaptation of a classic fairy tale. You could say that Encanto is a new fairy tale and hits incredibly close to home for the younger generation, millennials included. What have you noticed about Encnato, Turning Red, Moana, Strange World, and Coco? For starters, there's no romance (and for a hopeless romantic like me, that's what always draws me into a great story!), but all these characters are teenagers. They are facing something that's been passed on from generation to generation. And it's not just traditions. It's generational trauma. What exactly is generational trauma? Well, Wikipedia defines it best this way: Transgenerational trauma is the psychological and physiological effects that the trauma experienced by people has on subsequent generations in that group. The primary modes of transmission are the uterine environment during pregnancy causing epigenetic changes in the developing embryo, and the shared family environment of the infant causing psychological, behavioral and social changes in the individual. The term intergenerational transmission refers to instances whereby the traumatic effects are passed down from the directly traumatized generation [F0] to their offspring [F1], and transgenerational transmission is when the offspring [F1] then pass the effects down to descendants who have not been exposed to the initial traumatic event - at least the grandchildren [F2] of the original sufferer for males, and their great-grandchildren [F3] for females. Collective trauma is when psychological trauma experienced by communities and identity groups is carried on as part of the group's collective memory and shared sense of identity. For example, collective trauma was experienced by Jewish Holocaust survivors and other members of the Jewish community at the time, by the Indigenous Peoples of Canada during the Canadian Indian residential school system and by Black Americans during Slavery. When this collective trauma affects subsequent generations, it is called transgenerational trauma. For example, if Jewish people experience extreme stress or practice survivalism out of fear of another Holocaust, despite being born after the Holocaust, then they are experiencing transgenerational trauma.
Transgenerational trauma can be a collective experience that affects groups of people who share a cultural identity (e.g., ethnicity, nationality, or religious identity). It can also be applied to single families or individual parent-child dyads. For example, survivors of individual child abuse and both direct survivors of the collective trauma and members of subsequent generations individually may develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder. It gets passed down from one generation to another, especially by ethnicity, nationality, or religious identity. In other words, no one is excluded from the generational trauma. And in other words, it's an issue that needs to be addressed, and the cycle needs to be broken now. I know what you're thinking: "What does Encanto have to do with the royal family?" You'll be surprised to know that both are connected by generational trauma.
There's a specific piece of dialogue in the film that sums this up perfectly: Mirabel: [sadly] I will never... be good enough for you... will I? No matter how hard I try...
[looks at her sisters... and begins to realize the truth]
Mirabel: No matter how hard any of us tries. Luisa will never be strong enough. Isabela won't be perfect enough. Bruno left our family because you only saw the worst in him.
Abuela Alma: Bruno didn't care about this family!
Mirabel: He loves this family! I love this family! We all love this family! You're the one that doesn't care. All those years of striving for perfection, carrying loads of tradition, and keeping the family together without acknowledging the pain and inner conflict do tend to reach a breaking point after a while, especially decades or even centuries later. But here's something else that's at play here: Abuela isn't taking responsibility or even apologizing for her actions, and her strictness caused so much stress, emotional and mental damage, and heartbreak within the family. It reminds me of a Facebook post I saw recently that permanently changed a relationship. A grown daughter recounted all the times her mother verbally and emotionally abused her by constantly criticizing her for being too emotional. Not once did her mother say, "I love you." Her mother had a response that may spur outrage from all of you: "Well, I certainly don't love you right now, do I?" Do you want to know what's sad about this? These being criticized, misunderstood, and disrespected behaviors are considered "normal" in the family dynamics, even when saying, "This happens all the time. It's okay." And it's been happening for decades, even centuries. And it's been happening in ALL families, no matter how rich or poor, black or white, royalty or commoner. And the very idea of taking responsibility or attempting to change the behaviors and break the cycle is downright impossible. Laughable, even. "The only thing that matters is keeping a perfect appearance." "The only thing that matters is that we keep going. We can't let others down." "The only thing that matters is we keep calm and carry on." And it gets passed down to the next generation. And the next. And the next. When is it going to stop? An acquaintance of mine shared a post on Facebook about picking up Spare by Prince Harry, and that's led to a deluge of comments either praising or hating the prince for writing a tell-all memoir about his life as a royal. Even to the point of saying that the title of "spare" suits him. I have no intention of reading the book, but it's not because of my hatred for Prince Harry. On the contrary, I'm sorry for him having to endure so much pain and trauma all these years and that the family did nothing to break the cycle, even in private, all because of the mantra "keep calm and carry on." I decided to add my two cents to the conversation, and this is what I had to say: From my standpoint, it takes a lot of courage to share all of the problems and dysfunction from within. It's not easy to do, and as someone who grew up in an abusive household and is using my platform to be vulnerable and talk about what happened, I applaud Harry for doing this.
No matter what your views are on Harry and Meghan and the royal family, it's important to know that certain behaviors are not healthy or should be treated as normal or should be swept under the rug. I hope that there's a real effort from both sides to acknowledge that past behaviors and beliefs are wrong, take the time to talk about it, get some form of help dealing with the emotional and mental damage, and heal.
If, how, or when that happens remains to be seen. Bashing one person for being brave enough to reveal how past behaviors affected him in a negative way when he's trying to heal and make a concrete effort to have change happen isn't exactly the best way to go about it.
Take it from someone who knows. It's not easy to be brave and call out family members on harmful behaviors that hurt them mentally and emotionally. Harry has a lot of grit to share the details of his life, even the parts that the rest of the royal family doesn't want to admit. Even if you're in the public eye and carry the weight of an entire nation on your shoulders, certain behaviors and traditions can cause the most mental and emotional harm, even if it's what's expected to be done. I may not know what goes on behind closed doors at Buckingham Palace or Kensington Palace, but I do know this: Brushing aside mental and emotional turmoil and its impact on the individuals of the family to have a model of perfection and service for the country is doing that much more of a disservice to yourselves and your nation than you realize. I may not know how to act like a British person appropriately, but I do know this: Ignoring mental health and generational trauma is a big mistake, and the cycle needs to end here and now, even if a stiff upper lip is the game's name. I may not need to know all of the details of what goes on in lives privately, but I do know this: Suppose you're not making the slightest effort to work on the past behaviors, trauma, and traditions that are harmful to the next generation, or even the current generation, and holding yourself responsible for those actions and making an attempt to change. What's the point of saying, "I'm working on these issues privately"? Not acknowledging what's wrong, taking responsibility for past actions, and trying to change for the future is an incredibly royal faux pas. How can you enter a new era of the British monarchy if you're unwilling to break the cycle of generational trauma from countless centuries for the next generations? Including acknowledging the painful treatment of the BIPOC communities in the commonwealth and territories and allowing them to be their nations. Including taking responsibility for the mistreatment of female royals. Including accepting and understanding that racism and misogyny have no place in the British monarchy. Including seeing that past behaviors and family traditions are harming your relationships and not looking the other way, as done for centuries. Sometimes, being a good leader and representing your country means acknowledging and accepting that things aren't perfect but putting in the effort to change for the better and future generations, including behind closed doors, is all the more reason to show your humanity and compassion. Mental health DOES and MUST have a place in the conversation, especially if you're in the public eye as a celebrity, elected official, or monarch. It's time to cut ties with generational trauma once and for all. (I realize many die-hard royal family fans are out there reading this who may have plenty to say about what I wrote this week, but these are my observations and suppositions. You are welcome to disagree with me, even over tea. But I will not tolerate disrespectful or offensive language towards me or anyone else. It's time we start being kinder to each other, and that starts with acknowledging that there may be a person behind the comments and the posts. I will block you if you refuse to see that.)
There have been calls about the royal family being "out of touch" or "too aloof" in what's going on in 21st-century England and the global atmosphere, especially in the past few decades. But even as we complain about them, that doesn't mean we don't have a soft place for them in our hearts. They're still a family and have lots of love, grace, kindness, and hope to share with everyone they meet. And like many families, they have problems and issues they must work on, especially in the case of generational trauma. I'm not an expert on the matters of the British monarchy, nor am I a genius on mental and emotional health. But I believe that it's time for the royal family to come together and work through the generational trauma that's been ingrained in their lineage for centuries, and for both sides to make an effort to take responsibility for their actions, acknowledge their wrong, and make an effort to break the cycle. Stiff upper lip be damned. There's no shame in asking for help to work through this, even if you are British. I meant it when I said I want both sides to sit down, work out their problems, and break the cycle of generational trauma. It's not easy being in therapy and going through all the bits and pieces that haunted you for many years, but sometimes you must go through hell to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you want the next generation of the British monarchy to grow and thrive, maybe it's time to take responsibility and work on the issues that damaged relationships. And maybe, start breaking the chains holding back so much progress and healing. Change doesn't happen overnight, but neither does generational trauma. Don't you think it's best to do something about it, if not for yourselves, for Elizabeth? Here's my wish for all of you reading this post: Make a concentrated effort to break the generational trauma cycle, which means both sides hold themselves accountable for the past behaviors and actions that plagued the family for many decades. Sometimes it may mean cutting ties with those too stubborn and resistant to change because it's part of their identity, but you must start doing what's suitable for you and the next generation. No more putting on a happy front. No more stiff upper lip. No more "keep calm and carry on." Take it from someone who's been through this, and know that you're not alone and it will be okay. I hope you know that you matter in this world, and you deserve all of the love, strength, healing, compassion, kindness, grace given to you, and more. No matter what happens, I'll be rooting for you 100%. I am sending virtual hugs and positive vibes your way, even across the pond. If you'll excuse me, there's a decaffeinated Earl Grey with milk and sugar calling my name...