Subscription Subscription
Home > News > Opinion News > Article > Of disinheritance and transformation

Of disinheritance and transformation

Updated on: 23 February,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Choosing to abandon problematic personality traits and parenting techniques we imbibe from our forebears can help break the cycle of intergenerationally dispersed trauma and even reduce anxiety

Of disinheritance and transformation

One of the most challenging things I have had to do as an adult has been to sift through the extent to which I have internalised other people’s perceptions of my appearance. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D’MelloRecently, after chancing upon an intriguing way in which the word ‘disinheritance’ was used in a sentence construction, I’ve been reconsidering its connotations. I suppose the prefix ‘dis’ imbues it with a negative vibe, conjuring images of being disowned or cut off from generational wealth, being forced to un-belong from a tribe or a clan or a family unit. In this instance, an expert on a podcast I was listening to talked about disinheriting a personality trait that she had realised she had imbibed through her mother.

It was the psychotherapist Philippa Perry, I remember now. The podcast is called The Shift—I mentioned it last week. I know of Perry because of her book, which is as life-altering as the title promises—The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad You Did). A therapist friend had gifted it to us when we became parents. I gulped it down and still feel quite transformed by its tone and its instruction. Even though it seems targeted at parents, you don’t need to be one to benefit from its content. It spoke to me because it delved so deeply into how shaming impacts our being, imparting us with a sense of self-loathing. I began to wonder what it could mean to relinquish that baggage. The book really offers a sense of how trauma is intergenerationally dispersed, how we bear the insecurities of our foremothers and forefathers because of the default parenting techniques that were used on us, most of which are rooted in patriarchal impulses. In the podcast, Perry talked about her tendency to nag out of anxiety, and how her husband labelled that behaviour as her acting like her mother. It became a light-hearted joke between them. When she manifested the behaviour, her husband would point it out and instead of getting defensive, she acknowledged its source and took the cue as a sign to desist and let go.

Since then, I have been thinking about disinheritance as a decolonising strategy. One of the most challenging things I have had to do as an adult has been to sift through the extent to which I have internalised other people’s perceptions of my appearance. I have always felt haunted by how other people have gazed at me because of the darkness of my skin tone. The persistent comments since I was a little child made me feel like there was something wrong with me and I felt like I had to compensate for my ugliness. I was a ‘nice person’ not because I felt inherently like being nice but because I felt safer when I was liked. It is only in the last two or three years that I was able to fully acknowledge, without shame, how so many aspects of my personality came from people-pleasing tendencies. This is perhaps why Sara Ahmed’s concept of the ‘killjoy’ has been so central to my current trajectory, because being a feminist killjoy involves embracing the fact that your vocalising of injustices and inequities will upset the status quo and make people uncomfortable. To relinquish people-pleasing behaviours is to already move towards feminist terrain. This form of relinquishing is a disinheritance, because you are consciously evoking a break in the intergenerational transmission of subservience, especially if you have been ‘girled’ into submission from an early age.

Ever since I had my last therapy appointment in 2020, I have been trying to continue the work I had learned to do through my sessions. It is still hard for me to ‘feel my feelings’, especially grief, because to allow myself to fully feel these difficult emotions requires solitude that toddler parenting rarely affords. I have found churches to be super safe spaces to cry. When I have time, I go there and let it all out. I’m trying hard not to bottle up my emotions, not to let them either ferment or fester. It’s helping me to be less anxious. It was only two years ago that I was able to recognise the extent to which anxiety had become a part of my life. I had internalised the feeling of anxiety as a safe, familiar space. Last Christmas, at the morning mass, I had this sudden epiphany that the void I had been feeling every year during Christmas since I moved to Tramin was in fact the absence of anxiety. Living so far away from home, I was suddenly under no obligation to make sweets or decorate our apartment or do anything frenetic. I felt like I was missing out on something or couldn’t shake off the feeling of suddenly having nothing to do except take it easy.

As a parent, I’m discovering how much agency I have in determining the course of events. If my child spills a cup of milk, I don’t need to get hyper and shame him. We say ‘uh oh’ together and begin to clean up. Instead of focusing on what my child shouldn’t do, I tell him what he can do. I’m not sure these strategies make me a better parent. But I’m convinced I’m a less anxious one. Every now and then I pick a new personality trait I want to disinherit while also focusing my energies on the traits I feel privileged to have inherited—like my expertise in the kitchen (from my father) or my caretaking abilities (from my mother). In doing so I find so much delight in who I am becoming.  

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
Send your feedback to
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Register for FREE
to continue reading !

This is not a paywall.
However, your registration helps us understand your preferences better and enables us to provide insightful and credible journalism for all our readers.

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK