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Breaking Generational Trauma: Healing Is Not Linear

Are you interested in learning about breaking generational trauma that may have been passed down in your family and manifested for you? Keep reading!

breaking generational trauma

Breaking Generational Trauma: Healing Is Not Linear

Generational trauma, also known as Transgenerational Trauma or Intergenerational Trauma, has lately been the new buzzword. This idea of trauma being passed down has captured everyone's attention worldwide. It is still a relatively recent concept, but research shows how unresolved trauma can interfere with our ability to respond to our environment.

Luckily, there is hope in the idea that if trauma can be passed down, so can healing. As a daughter of immigrant parents and a South Asian woman, I find myself trying to understand the impact of inherited trauma & if you are like me, I am sure you are too.

Please keep reading to learn more about transgenerational trauma, epigenetics, and healing techniques that can help you breaking generational trauma. 

What is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma transmits traumatic experiences from one generation to another without conscious awareness of past trauma's impact on future generations. While trauma can be passed down from parent to child, it can also be passed down from other family members, such as siblings or grandparents.

When left unaddressed, this continues to affect our lives over many decades & eventually gets passed down.

Why Is Breaking The Cycle Important?

We are the sum of our experiences and our ancestor's experiences. This is true whether we discuss overcoming traumatic experiences or trauma passed down through generations. The trauma can be passed down by family members directly impacted by the traumatic events or even by those who weren't directly involved but were taught to think, feel and behave differently because of it.

Generational trauma creates a cycle that can continue for generations through behavioral patterns and learned helplessness. By acknowledging generational trauma, you can address it effectively and not repeat the same mistakes that were made before you.

For example, if you grew up with a parent with an alcohol use problem, you may have grown up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment. You never knew what to expect from one day to the next. Some day you may have gotten a caregiver who was present and available. The next day, you may have been a victim of their abuse. Some caretakers are functioning alcohol dependents allowing them to attend to family, social, and work obligations, but you may have never received healthy role models or guidance.

The unpredictability may be why children-now adults- have difficulty controlling and regulating their actions and emotions (The effect varies: self-judgment, trust issues, approval-seeking behaviors, communication issues, etc.) As you age and start your own family, you may unknowingly pass the same experience on to your children.

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma allows you to provide yourself and your family with a better life; more importantly, we can stop passing the pain down and break free from this cycle.

The Effects Of Generational Trauma

examples of generational trauma

Generational Trauma and Epigenetics

Epigenetics gives us the language to unpack this idea that even though you share the same DNA as your parents, environmental factors play a huge role in the expression of this DNA. Therefore, the faulty genes do not have to be your fate, and you don't have to be in a biological prison due to those genes.

We all inherit DNA from our parents. The genes within our DNA control how our body works. This is Genetics. Our genes play an essential role in our health and whether we develop a disease, as do our environment and choices (behaviors). The role of the environment affecting our DNA is called epigenetics.

Think of your genes as a set of cards. Even though you don't get to decide what set of cards you are given, you can choose which cards you will use. In other words, while your DNA is fixed, epigenetics is flexible. Research has shown that while we cannot change our genes, we can change how our body uses these genes through healthy choices. 

Think about your current habits. For example, what types of food are you eating? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you spending enough time in nature? Epigenetics research has shown how a healthy lifestyle significantly alters disease susceptibility regardless of your genetics. What is fascinating is that these epigenetic tags on your DNA are also passed down to the next generation.

Research shows we can reverse some of these negative changes to healthier alternatives. For example, your child will inherit your DNA, the effects of your lifestyle choices, and exposures. They will also be exposed to different environmental exposures, which leads to changes in these epigenetic tags. This is the reason our epigenetics change as we age.

How we live our lives influences our tags and improves our overall health. Epigenetics' is studying how life factors affect the expression of those genes but do not do anything to your DNA.

Intergenerational Trauma and Dysfunctional Families

For many people who grew up in dysfunctional families, feeling unsafe and not validated for their experiences, difficulty moving past the family dynamics may have been a common occurrence. You may have realized you come from a family with a dysfunctional history and may not know what you need to do next. 

For children to grow up emotionally healthy and happy, they need their basic needs met, positive parent-child communication, warmth and support, parental involvement in their child's life, healthy role models, and family traditions. Remember, early experiences have lifelong impacts. Unfortunately, many of you may not have grown up with that. Instead, you may be more familiar with denial, tolerating abusive behaviors, not asking for help, keeping quiet, taking care of everyone else before yourself, appearing happy to keep the peace, and not having family traditions or positive role models to look up to.

Looking back at the whole picture, you see how these traits have led you to unhealthy survival mechanisms. You must address the root cause of your problems (family history, behaviors, patterns, history, etc.) before true healing can occur.

Healing Generational Trauma

Firstly, have some self-compassion for yourself. You are figuring out a lot on your own, and that deserves a moment to pause and celebrate.

1. Find out as much as you can about your family history. 

Breaking generational trauma requires candid conversations (and observation) with your family about your family history, allowing you to reflect on any patterns you may be repeating. 

A therapist can also facilitate this process if it feels challenging to do it alone by identifying generational trauma patterns, and helping you develop new coping or communication methods. Having a therapist specializing in trauma work is helpful

2. Acknowledge the trauma

You can't change what you refuse to see. Accepting that I came from a dysfunctional family was one of the hardest parts of my journey. However, you can't breaking the cycle of trauma without that acknowledgment.

Generational trauma often hides behind ingrained patterns, behaviors, and beliefs, which impact how we should act in our relationships. Find a therapist specializing in trauma work to help you explore and identify unhealthy family patterns and accept and reframe dysfunctional ways of thinking that have affected your life.

I always recommend journaling if therapy is not an option right now. Track your patterns for one month, three months, and six months & you will start to notice a theme.

3. Reparent yourself

Part of breaking the cycle includes becoming a loving parent to yourself, i.e., the ability to reflect on what you didn't get from your parents in your childhood and fulfill your unmet needs.

Reparenting yourself can help with setting boundaries, effective emotion regulation, developing and maintaining healthy relationships, becoming a better parent, and rediscovering yourself in alignment with your values and interests.

Reparenting includes:

  • Identifying, accepting and processing your emotions
  • Seeking and embracing joy
  • Self-care
  • Being curious about your interests
  • Self-compassion and patience
  • Healthy routines and habits

4. If you are a parent...

Teach your children how to form healthy relationships with others, model ways to express all their emotions, and have open conversations (age appropriate) about your story.

You may need to reflect on the type of parent you would like to be by engaging in self-reflection. Think about how your parents/caregivers raised you and how that affected your life. If you find any unhealthy patterns repeating as a parent, extend some self-compassion to yourself and engage in gentle parenting.

Breaking generational cycles as a parent is hard and requires a lot of self compassion. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Books For Healing And Breaking Generational Cycles

The Transmission of Resilience

Many of you may have grown up promising yourself that you won't be anything like your family. You vow not to treat others as you were treated or deny that it won't happen to you. But somehow, you still end up in that position.

You may have successfully worked through not adopting some unhealthy behaviors like choosing not to drink if one of your family members lives with alcoholism, not being abusive, or maybe even leaving the house. While you can avoid some unwanted traits, you can still unknowingly pass on the internalized behaviors when you do not engage in inner child work. The body keeps the score.

During your healing journey, it is important to acknowledge that you internalized your parents' behaviors- the healthy and the unhealthy. Listening to your body, tracking your patterns, calming your inner child, therapy, etc., are all extremely important to heal.

Family Dysfunction is generational; breaking generational cycles requires reflecting truthfully on where we are now.

breaking generational trauma

Let's Recap.....

I hope you found this post helpful as you are embarking on the journey of breaking the chains of generational trauma. Remember that ealing is not linear. Healing generational trauma symptoms is not an end goal- it is a lifelong process. 

Breaking Generational Trauma Quotes: We all have a story, but for some of us, the story is not our own. For some of us, the story belongs to someone else. Often this someone else is a parent or grandparent.
You hear about their experiences, and are affected by them. We absorb their stories as if they were our own and carry those experiences into adulthood. We are the sum of our experiences and our ancestor's experiences.

Do you know any movies about breaking generational trauma or inspirational songs about breaking generational trauma? If not, share what you found most helpful on your journey to healing. 

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