Having worked through my grandmother's story, looking at the links to my mother's behaviour and belief patterns and in turn my own patters is bringing an incredible sense of clarity into my perception. It is as if I've been sitting in front of lots of puzzle pieces and suddenly I am starting to see how they fit together. I can see where certain patterns or false beliefs originated. I can see how they may have served as a form of protection, but were actually also incredibly limiting.
My grandmother - due to her own experience of having to fend for herself for years - always drummed it into me, that we should never ever rely on a man or husband for our basic needs. She always said, learn, study and make sure you earn your own money, so you can provide for yourself. From today's perspective that may be very normal anyway, most women work and contribute to the household finances. In East Germany men and women both worked. Growing up there were no housewives, it was a concept that didn't really exist in my socialist world. Everyone was supposedly equal. That may not have actually been true, as most women worked and still got lumbered with the household, but the general ideology I grew up with was one of equality.
When I became a mother, I insisted on going back to work even part time the minute my statutory maternity allowance stopped. I began tutoring languages, which allowed me to be a mum and earn some money. I put myself under constant pressure to "not rely on my husband's income", which in all truth I did. I just had to convince myself that I also fulfilled my grandmother's requirement of being able to provide for myself and my child should the need arise. As a general rule, this may not be a bad thing, but when such a belief causes you stress, it's not helpful. And I totally stressed over money when there was absolutely no need. I was in the lucky position that what I earned or didn't earn made no difference whatsoever to the way I lived. Whatever I earned was my own pocket money and wasn't really needed to pay household bills. But in my mind, I always felt I wasn't working hard enough, I wasn't good enough, I could do better, push myself harder. It was stress I created myself totally unnecessarily and I can suddenly see this so clearly.
My life coach recommends a book called "The lost generation". It's a German book about the generation of post war refugee children, born to parents that had been traumatised by the second world war. Parents who were often emotionally shut off. In a way, I can understand how they had to be in order to survive everything they had lived through. They were parents, whose main goal would be to ensure there was enough food on the table and the kids had a roof over their head. Parents, who had no concept of their children's emotional needs beyond those of pure survival. We had alcoholism in the wider family and I could suddenly clearly see the link.
Children need to feel love, safety and belonging. In those refugee families that had lost their roots, there was no sense of belonging, their parents never truly felt safe because their experience had taught them that at any minute they would be able to lose everything. They loved their children, but because they had disconnected to a degree from their own emotions, they were not always able to show that love in the way the children would have needed.
According to the book there was a whole generation of post war refugee children who felt lost. Many becoming alcoholics or suffering from depression, feeling like they were a drifting ship without an anchor, because their parents were unable to be that anchor. Most people who had lived through the war never talked about it. As a self-preservation mechanism, they buried the whole trauma deep within themselves and desperately tried to create a better life for their children. A life of security. Emotions were not part of the deal. In fact, they were best kept hidden, as allowing them might open up wounds that would be too overwhelming.
My grandmother's story was a story of millions. 14 million people were misplaced, many of them refugees who would never return to the villages and town where their families had often lived for hundreds of years. Millions of women were raped by soldiers who themselves had been away from their families and wives for years, who had their own traumas to deal with.
One thing struck me as remarkable. As a child I did not know my grandmother's story. In that child understanding of the world, your grandmother is and always has been an old woman with grey hair. You never think about the fact that your grandmother was once a child like you or a young woman with dreams and desires. When I was little in Soviet occupied East Germany, we would often have Soviet Army convoys pass through our villages. My grandmother would always say "Those poor guys. They are so far from home." We used to cycle out to meet them with baskets of sandwiches, throwing them to the soldiers, who would happily and gratefully receive them.
Was this my grandmother's way of practicing forgiveness? She could have reacted with hatred towards Russians or soldiers, but instead she had empathy for them and their own plight. I suppose working as a chef in the army canteen she had the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a soldier. Nothing ever justifies the horrors of the war, but I think understanding other perspectives makes it a little easier to make your peace with the trauma.
I feel all this work is making me incredibly emotional. While this is a healthy release, it also at times feels overwhelming. I learn to put a protective barrier between my own experience an those of my grandmother. I imagine putting a protective bubble around me. I decide at all times what makes it through the outer layer of that bubble/ what I let in and what I keep at a distance/ outside of that bubble. It's like a magic cloak and it helps me to learn to differentiate between my own energies and those energies that aren't mine.
This distinction is another vital step in the right direction. I am freeing myself from all that trauma that doesn't actually belong to me. I can observe it, without drowning in it.