Are abusive tendencies inherited?

Trying to imagine the traits of one person programmed into another sounds more like science fiction than reality, but can it be possible that abusive tendencies are built into us before we are even born? A 2013 study at the Emory University School of Medicine determined that “memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. “ The research showed that “the environment can affect an individual's genetics, which can in turn be passed on to future generations."

The study analyzed the data of young mice and that of their parents, displaying that both the mother, and its young, had a sensitivity to the same specific things even if they had never come into contact with them previously. Researchers said, “The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.” This does not mean that you necessarily have the same phobias as your parents or grandparents, but only that you might. This study implies that strong chemical reactions in the brain lead to genetic transformation that may affect the choices of their offspring. We have also learned that the likelihood of developing depression as an adult was one and a half times more likely when the person’s mother experienced depression while pregnant with them. Apparently, the chemicals that occur in the body during depression can be passed onto the fetus via the placenta and affect the way their brain develops.

It would be fair to conclude that some characteristics a person experiences can be inherited or transmitted from parent to child. Abusive behavior may very well be one of these characteristics. Having been accustomed to certain patterns of thinking for a person’s entire lifetime, it can be difficult for them to see that their behavior or thinking could be wrong. Of course, it would be easy to think “well, I’ve always been this way” and brush off certain behavior as normal even when it isn’t.

If someone has expressed concern about your behavior, rather than trying to defend yourself, first try as hard as you can to see the situation from their viewpoint and imagine how you would feel if someone treated you in the same manner. Sometimes abuse can be stopped before it starts simply by being aware of yourself and what sort of environment you are creating for others. Even with a genetic pre-disposition towards abuse, we are not without hope as a bit of awareness and will to change can alter your path for the better. It may not be easy, but the sooner you start the easier it will be to break those thought patterns and behaviors.

If you are concerned that you may have a pre-disposition towards abusive behavior, pay attention to your family history, do your family members exhibit any of the red flags we have seen in or do they communicate in an unhealthy way? This may help to make you aware of what is or is not normal and start you on the path of remedying the issue at hand. It can be a long process to re-program something that has been there for as long as you can remember, but do not give up. Take small steps towards improvement and make sure to check in with those that express concern or close friends who you feel truly know you, they can help to pinpoint things that may be difficult for you to see yourself. Do not react in defense; simply take what they have said under consideration. Talking to a therapist may help to resolve whatever behaviors or thought patterns you find yourself unable to remedy, but the most important thing you can do is TRY.

Whether caused by yourself or another person, when in the midst of an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.

Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!

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