Foreseeable Suffering: Unconscious Wounds and Generational Sins

When we leave emotional traumas unresolved, the future will bring forth not-so-delicate reminders of our unsettled inner conflicts. Let’s take the common wound of rejection for example.

In this scenario, you have a four-year-old boy who has ambitious parents and because of their busy work schedules, he feels a lack of love. In his young mind, the most important people in the world do not accept him. Every day the parents go to work, he relives this inner pain. The rejection is so painful that he unconsciously puts up an emotional “wall” to protect himself. He presents himself as a flawless human being so as to maximize the chances of being accepted.

He grows up to see the world with rose-tinted glasses but at the cost of expressing any authentic emotion. As a teen, he becomes addicted to receiving adulation via superficial interactions on social media. The boy grows up to be a man who is a people pleaser. He becomes a marketing executive, and in a couple of years, his pollyannish attitude starts to be tiresome for the company. His quarterly forecasts are overly optimistic, and the target market rejects his overly politically correct messaging.

Around this time, he gets his girlfriend pregnant, and she notices there is a facade about him that cannot stand up to life’s real challenges. His psychological wall begins to crack as he feels the world reject him; his career is spiraling downward; and his romantic relationship lacks any deep connection. A mood or depressive disorder is inevitable at this point. The couple becomes emotionally absent when raising their baby girl, who will unfortunately feel the sting of emotional trauma. For her, the psychological wound will be experienced as abandonment. Her father’s flaw was guarding against feelings of rejection. Unconsciously begging for emotional fulfillment will be the daughter’s character flaw.

These unhappy circumstances should remind you of the adage—what you repress, you express. In his psychoanalytic work collected in Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Carl Jung writes, “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.” One can never truly conceal emotional wounds that need to be healed.

Jung correctly observed that the outer world will inevitably act out our inner conflicts. They will find expression in your family life and relationships, work life, or may even manifest as physical symptoms. Continuing to be oblivious to one’s psychological scars leads to needless suffering and has spillover effects on the community at large. On the societal scale, the inner wounds of the masses beget social unrest. The nihilistic outlook of many of today’s youth, their disdain for traditional family values, the cult-like indoctrination in schools, and the glorification of anarchy in emerging political movements are clear examples of unconscious contradictions being played out on the national stage.

Unconscious wounds moving into consciousness is one level of suffering. Astute therapists can certainly help clients mitigate any collapsed or shattered emotions, and they can encourage them to piece together a broken life. But there is a level of hurt that cannot be treated by secular methodologies—this would be the problem of sin. Painful emotions are terrible, but alienation from God is far worse. The scriptural narrative of the people of Israel after the reign of David is a cautionary account.

In 1st and 2nd Kings, we read about Israel’s multigenerational descent into evil pagan practices and unfaithfulness to God’s commandments. As a consequence, the kingdom became divided, they were conquered by pagans, the temple was destroyed, and the people were exiled. They brought upon themselves the Old Testament curses such as defeat, oppression, humiliation, failure, and God’s disfavor during that period of their history.

Unrepented cultural sins are similar to unresolved trauma in that they all come home to roost. Sins, especially against the first commandment, cause judgment to arise against nations. We should feel a sense of alarm dismissing the hippie generation’s and the current generation’s embrace of Eastern mysticism, neo-paganism, and witchcraft as “harmless spiritual exploration.” We should be disturbed that the dedication of pro-choice advocates is similar to the devotion of ancient child sacrifice cults. As in the time of Israel’s divided kingdom and tumble towards exile, our modern culture has turned from the proper worship of God towards steadily embracing what is abominable to our Creator’s sight. “No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Many involved with the occult and paganism do not realize that their actions will not only adversely affect themselves but their lineage as well. In the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, we are warned that the iniquity of the parents will be visited upon their children and down to the fourth generation. We are also cautioned that generational sins impact our relationships with our offspring: “You shall have sons and daughters, but they shall not remain yours, for they shall go into captivity” (Deuteronomy 28:41). And what happened after the hippie generation? Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z had to deal with broken homes, and they became more disaffiliated with traditional religion.

Now it appears these generations are in a type of spiritual exile from their Judeo-Christian roots. If the occult didn’t catch the fancy of some of our forefathers, secularism and its vices would capture the hearts of many of them. This unavoidably leads to self-worship or worship of a cult of personality. Like pagan idolatry, secular idolatry breeds many miseries. “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5).

There is a reason why loving God above all and loving your neighbor are the essential rules of Christian life. Adhering to them is the opposite of idolatry and traumatizing other people. We will find soundness in mind, harmony in family life, and peace in community when the collective psyche abides by the Lord’s counsel. During this time of mental, generational, and cultural ills, we have to recognize the vital significance of repentance and forgiveness. We have to be repentant when we have done wrong to God and neighbor, and we have to be forgiving when people have harmed us. Unacknowledged sins and unresolved emotional wounds have never resulted in good for any soul, or the world for that matter.

Author’s Note: The writer does not endorse a particular school of psychoanalytic thought. Ultimately, our “heart of stone” will be transformed by divine authority. Furthermore, a Catholic will find conflict with a secular Jungian analyst’s perspective on Christ. In Jungian psychology, Christ is an archetypal figure in the unconscious rather than a real person who has a relationship with us children of men. Like the nominal Christian who sees Communion bread and wine as mere symbols, the materialist analyst will overlook the phenomena of His corporeality.

Photo by James X on Unsplash

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Oliver Oliveros is a revert to Catholicism. He fell away from the Church when he went to university. Twenty-seven years later, the grace of God brought this prodigal son back to the faith. He is an editor in the Los Angeles area and volunteers at his parish’s teen ministry.

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