Break the cycle: how to avoid perpetuating trauma through generations

I believe that the conditions in which you were born, the way your parents treated you or any childhood trauma are not a life sentence. I can explain why. Come along with me and, as we go on this hopeful journey, I will remind you that you are not what happened to you and you don't have to be. You have to believe this hard enough, though, and put in the work.

Let's begin.

I have a very close friend who recently got married. It was a wonderful wedding, the church was beautifully put together and the party was crazy, just the way she always wanted it. Except I knew the underlying truth: the man she married is an abusive alcoholic. Unfortunately, she acknowledges this fondly, remembering how her late father used to be a drinker too, and marveling at the fact that she asked God for a man just like her father. Now, her husband is exactly like that in his drinking habits.

Acknowledging the fact that we continue the behavioural pattern of the previous generation is the first step to breaking the cycle, a necessary condition to making a change. My friend, however, is an example of when this preexisting condition, as I will call it, goes unchecked. Admitting to the fact that we duplicate the destroying patterns of our parents, while remaining within them may be, in a long run, as soul destroying as denial. We have a choice, every single day, to move on from the pain that has been brought upon us. Each day, each hour, each minute is an opportunity to alter the course of our lives.

I want you to know that it's very easy to perpetuate trauma through generations. Personally, I come from a broken family. My mom and dad have become roommates that barely talk to each other due to my father's abusive behaviour towards me. Sadly, I used to replicate this in my relationships, looking at cold, older and authoritative men as desirable, while dismissing those who were my own age and seemed sweet and kind. I saw those traits as weaknesses, which was the result of my poor state of mind at the time. This led to countless heartbreaks, emotional and physical aggressions from the men I deemed attractive, because that had been exactly what my father would do to me through my childhood and teenage years.

I kept trying to replace this fatherly figure and find him elsewhere, and this tendency increased as I moved out of the family house and my dad stopped talking to me for years. Ironically, I removed myself from the toxic environment only to look for it again in my romantic relationships. Thankfully, the great news for you and for me is that we have a total control over our patterns of behaviour. We can even change the way we think and how we choose to see the world.

For the longest time, in my early 20s, I let men walk all over me, not realising that it was my mother's submissive behaviour towards my father's abusive character that I was replicating. I saw their relationship first-hand for the first 20 years of my life, crying at how unhealthy it was, vowed to never be the same. Then, unconsciously, I started replicating their behaviour in my own life, submitting to whomever resembled my father.

Many interventions from my friends, a lot of books and videos on the matter later, I decided to reach out to a therapist, realising that I was at a point where I couldn’t save myself on my own. I acknowledged I needed the help. The process was not exactly easy, but it is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in my entire life. My therapist dropped the hard-cold truth on me, challenged me, she used different techniques that took me back to my childhood. The flashbacks from the past chased me even outside of her office, often at the most inconvenient moments.

I can now say that, after almost a year, I have been able to break the cycle of abuse and feel proud I will not be cascading that to future generations. It’s imperative that we understand that, by saving ourselves, we’re not only getting another chance at life but we are also helping those around us and the generations to come. Trauma doesn’t have to be a death sentence; we cannot let it rule our existence. We only get one life and we owe it to ourselves to do the best we can in the conditions we are given.

We cannot allow ourselves to become the victims of the circumstances. Instead, let’s use them as motivators to get better, as catalysts for improvement. We need to make the drastic decision to be the one that changes, the one that decides to stop and alters things for good. You are not what happened to you! 

Please know that, with the right support, you can begin taking these steps today!

-Esme G