Dominican psychotherapist Jasmine Cepeda addresses the root of intergenerational trauma in Latinx communities and how to break the cycle for future generations. 
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Becoming a parent is life changing. And while many of us have the best intentions about the type of caretaker we want to be, the truth is that the transformation into parenthood can unearth complicated feelings that can lead to people displaying parenting behavior they swore they'd never exhibit. Particularly if there's some sort of trauma that has occurred in your past or even in your lineage. It's called intergenerational trauma—trauma that can be inherited and passed down to future generations. When a family member or ancestors who directly experienced a traumatic event such as colonialism, slavery, discrimination, abuse, poverty, or addiction, it becomes a part of your fabric and is called intergenerational trauma. But just because cycles can repeat themselves for centuries doesn't mean they have to continue. 

Deciding to try to tackle and heal your family's generational wounds is a powerful decision. But as a psychotherapist that specializes in Latinx family trauma, first generation stress, and the BIPOC experience, I can tell you that the dysfunctional family dynamics can end with your generation. Before you can create a new story for your familia, it's important to understand why it keeps happening. 

Understanding Where Intergenerational Trauma Comes From 

There are many reasons why intergenerational trauma is so prevalent in Latinx communities, but one of the most collective reasons is the stigma around getting treatment for mental health concerns. Up until recently Latinx folk have often shied away from therapy because they're ashamed to ask for help outside the family unit. This is particularly true for men who may have grown up in a machismo household and fear being seen as weak. This in itself is an example of a harmful intergenerational belief that can get transmitted from one generation to the next—and one that keeps the cycles going.

But that's not the only barrier. As a health professional I find that the time immediately after trauma is the most crucial time when we're talking about healing from it, but for many Latinx families there's often a lack of access to mental health services when they need it. Without resources available immediately, victims often lose the motivation to find support as time goes on. This is when trauma gets repressed. That deep denial and suppression can hinder the emotional growth of entire generations.

A Look at Wounded Behavior In The Family Household

Many immigrant parents accustomed to living in survival mode come to the U.S. carrying unprocessed or unacknowledged intergenerational and individual traumas. They may also feel too overwhelmed, stressed, or tired to delve deeply into their wounds. This unresolved trauma usually develops into narcissistic behavior and emotionally immature parenting tactics that can involve some sort of verbal or physical abuse. Hence, they may resettle the trauma and its effects on to the next generation. While this does not usually happen on a conscious level their unprocessed trauma often displays itself as gaslighting, manipulation and being over critical. 

While this may be difficult to navigate, you have the power to create a peaceful home, stop destructive cycles, and change the course for future generations. 

8 Identifiers of Transferred Intergenerational Trauma In Yourself

  • Trouble identifying your feelings or thoughts
  • Feeling uncomfortable with vulnerability, closeness, or opening up
  • Lack of boundaries with family members
  • A pattern of unhealthy communication and listening patterns
  • Not feeling emotionally connected to family members
  • Not feeling a sense of self
  • Low self-esteem or low self-worth
  • People-pleasing

5 Strategies To Help You  Heal From Intergenerational Trauma

Therapy: Therapy can be a safe and non-judgmental space to begin to explore your feelings and thoughts about your family dynamics, especially if you already have trouble identifying your own feelings or being vulnerable.

Reading: Digging into a validating self-help book is a great way to gain psychoeducation and possibly increase your self-awareness.

Journaling: While going to therapy and self-help books can be useful resources, you need to apply the knowledge to make meaningful change in your life. Journaling or self-reflection can help you explore what actions or behaviors you may want to take.

Empathizing: It can be difficult to do, but practicing compassion is an important way to connect with your parents and family members. Empathizing with others can also help you gain self-compassion.

Gratitude: Lastly, practicing gratitude for your ancestors' and parents' sacrifices is crucial in honoring their lives. With the privileges they helped you get, like time, stability, money, or education, you are better able to successfully break unhealthy intergenerational patterns.

Bottom Line

Although you may have to undertake a large amount of emotional labor and carry some emotional burden and pain, you will finally be releasing these emotions. In your attempt to heal the wounds that have been passed down to you, you will be creating more space for new feelings, like gratitude, love, joy, and forgiveness! You will be forming a new future for yourself, your children, and those that come after you. The work will be empowering, sacred, and life-changing.

Although you may have to undertake a large amount of emotional labor and carry some emotional burden and pain, you will also be releasing these emotions, finally. In your attempt to heal the wounds that have been passed down to you, you will be creating more space for new feelings, like gratitude, love, joy, and forgiveness! You will be forming a new future for yourself and your children.. The work will be empowering, sacred, and life-changing.