How dealing with unresolved family conflicts can lead to a brighter future

Radical or life-changing ones, such as migrating to a distant country, marrying someone from a different culture, or renouncing one’s culture or religion of origin, are not always based on a person’s current desires or considerations. Sometimes such personal decisions are unconsciously influenced by an unresolved family issue or trauma.
According to experts, families are an essential system that interacts, engages and influences its members across generations. Thus, a family’s past plays a fundamental role in the present of the members of that group. Therefore, ignoring or denying trauma from the past is likely to have a profound impact on an individual’s present.
Clinical psychologist Gabriela Salabert gives the example of people who have been adopted or who have not been recognized by one of their parents. If this situation is left unaddressed, the past remains hidden, and family members are excluded, Salabert says there is likely to be a negative impact on those involved, who can feel a great sense of loss.
“Our family systems have some kind of consciousness and everything is known or felt. The adopted child knows that it is adopted. The family conscience knows that a child is adopted. And sooner or later this information will emerge,” says the clinical psychologist.

“The same thing happens with illegitimate children. There are many women who know that men have had children outside of their marriage that they have not acknowledged. And no matter how hard they try to avoid it, get it out of their mind, or justify it, they have no peace. There is no peace in the system, there is no honesty, systems don’t flow that way.”

Unspoken family conflicts can be passed down from generation to generation, according to the specialist, and are sometimes pivotal in someone in the group making a radical or life-changing decision. It is therefore important to close cycles, heal trauma and resolve family conflicts.

Heal the past to enjoy the present

Ms. Salabert specializes in family therapy and finds that these systems have unique dynamics that can impact a group member’s development. A person is greatly shaped by their family interactions, the level of conflict in that group, and the environment in which they live, she explains.

Another example is domestic violence. Although people today can no longer fully rely on their family group for survival, women have more support to escape domestic violence situations, and there is greater social acceptance of family separation, Ms Salabert points out that this will continue to do so even after the Leaving the family is still very important in conflict situations that people who have fled this context also solve the problem on an emotional level.

[Leaving a situation of family violence] doesn’t mean the chapter is emotionally closed.
Ms. Salabert says that when people don’t resolve this issue internally, within themselves, or when children witness the conflict or witness domestic violence or suicide or abandonment at birth and don’t process the experience, then it can shape, affect or affect future generations be transmitted.
“The issues that families don’t usually talk about are actually the heavyweights that weigh on the new family systems.”
These unresolved emotional issues have a major impact on migration and migrant populations. This is particularly true in Australia, a country where almost half the population was either foreign-born or has at least one parent who was foreign.

According to Ms Salabert, there are many second-generation Australians who have various emotional symptoms that they cannot identify simply because they come from family histories that have not been talked about or addressed.

She believes that working through these emotional conflicts as children grow up can help them understand their parents’ attitudes and how they unconsciously carry some of their burdens. However, it is advisable to speak of a real willingness to understand the past of people who have migrated and to avoid “stigma, criticism or guilt”, she says.
“For example, my father came to Australia in the 1970s and never wanted to go back to his country. He’s always avoided meeting members of the community, he doesn’t want to talk about certain topics,” explains Salabert.
“Persons [with those attitudes] must have experienced a traumatic situation in their place of origin and today their adult children can approach the problems from a different angle.”
“Once you understand what’s happening, it can shed light on problems and heal many behaviors that run in the family,” she adds.

Domestic violence can be another trigger for migration to a distant location. And this, like displacement, wars, abandonment and other conflicts, needs to be addressed and discussed with family members staying united to understand many behaviors and move emotionally toward a new family system, says Ms. Salabert.

Rigid family systems could lead to exclusion or alienation

To address a family’s traumatic past, it is important to rely on family therapists, support groups, and psychologists.

According to Salabert, however, nothing works without a flexible family system that recognizes the need for help, allows third parties to participate and accepts the support of specialists in conflict resolution.

If a member in a flexible family system needs help, they can ask for it. Sometimes we can’t do things ourselves. We may need a doctor, a psychologist or a social worker. Flexible, fluid systems allow resources to come and go to help the family.

Ms Salabert points out that rigid systems generate the most suicides, migrations and violence.
According to the expert, in rigid family systems, members of the group tend to alienate or distance themselves if they do not meet the expectations placed on them. Sometimes these have to do with academic studies or with life circumstances or choices.
These people feel pressured by their family system, which requires them to be successful, or achieve certain goals, or act or live a certain way in order to continue to belong, she says.
This lack of flexibility causes this person to self-exclude or sometimes even leave the family system by moving far away and avoiding contact.
“This type of situation leads to the person trying to get out of the system in some way,” she adds.
“In family therapy we talk about these departures, which can happen in different ways: one is suicide, one is migration, and the other is marriage to someone of a different nationality,” explains Ms. Salabert.
On this last point, the clinical psychologist describes that sometimes a person tries to distance themselves from a rigid family system by marrying someone who is completely alien to their culture or social group.

Gradually they begin to give up their language, their customs and the identity of their family of origin. However, the underlying unresolved conflict will remain if not addressed.

How to find psychological help in Australia:

  • is an Australian-led mental health project focused on the mental health of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD), providing access to resources, services and information in a culturally accessible format.
  • More information about others in your language.
  • Contact or the Immediate help hotlines and other supportive resources.
click to listen to the full interview with clinical psychologist Gabriela Salabert in Spanish.

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