Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE
Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

November 15, 2023

Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood

E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

What You'll Learn

  • The Science Behind Cycles of Generational Trauma
  • The Mind/Body Connection of Generational Trauma
  • The Value of Breaking Generational Cycles of Trauma
  • How to Start Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles
  • Reminders On Our Path to Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles

Many of my clients come to me worried about breaking generational trauma cycles. We often don’t even realize these cycles of trauma are waiting underneath the surface until we become moms. 

When we think about motherhood, we expect our lives to change. We expect our priorities to change. We expect new challenges and responsibilities. 

But what we often don’t expect is for our past to rise up. Motherhood has a way of bringing our old wounds, unmet needs, and childhood trauma to the surface.

We might find ourselves struggling to regulate our emotions, to stay calm in triggering moments, or to be the moms we envisioned being. And when this happens, we blame ourselves, carrying guilt and shame for not being able to “do better.” 

But what if we’re carrying emotional baggage that’s been present, not just in our lives since childhood, but for generations? 

The truth is that healing is important, not just for ourselves and our own inner peace, but for the way we show up for our children. Breaking generational cycles of trauma isn’t easy—but it is worth it. 

Today, I’m joined by psychologist and author Dr. Mariel Buqué to discuss how moms can break generational cycles, free ourselves from our past, and show up as the moms we want to be. 

The Science Behind Cycles of Generational Trauma

Dr. Mariel became drawn to the concept of breaking cycles of generational trauma during her work as a therapist at Columbia University. While other clinicians focused on depression or the struggles at hand, Dr. Mariel wondered if there was more underneath those struggles. She saw patterns of families going through multiple generations of abuse, with women falling into similar relationship patterns their mothers and grandmothers had. 

Trauma often gets overlooked, even in clinical settings like the one Dr. Mariel was working in, largely because it’s abstract. But we often feel the weight of trauma even if we can’t pinpoint or identify it. 

It shows up when we’re triggered, when we have trouble regulating our emotions, and when we can’t seem to change patterns we’ve fallen into. 

Dr. Mariel pointed out that the full context of intergenerational trauma is both biological and behavioral. 

On the biological side, we can begin carrying effects of trauma before we are even born, absorbing cortisol when we’re in the womb. If a mom is experiencing trauma or stress while pregnant, the baby might have a predisposition to being more tender to stress and trauma.  

But the behavioral aspect has a large impact as well. If a baby is in an unsafe situation, full of conflict, yelling, or domestic struggle, they absorb that, and their nervous system almost begins to default to a state of hyper threat. As life continues, and they end up encounter other stressful situations, they might develop their own trauma symptoms that compound that nervous system response. 

Both of these situations intersect to carry out intergenerational trauma. But the good news is that even even if we were impacted by cycles of generational trauma, both biologically and behaviorally, we can make changes to disrupt the pattern. 

The Mind/Body Connection of Generational Trauma

Understanding the way trauma shows up in our body is important when we want to break those generational cycles. 

Dr. Mariel said that we often look at a person who gets easily overwhelmed or irritated and assume “that’s just how that person is.” But in reality what might be happening is that their nervous system is overactive due to trauma. When we don’t realize that’s what’s happening,  that reacted nervous system can perpetuate generational cycles.

When our nervous system is in a state of hyper threat, we go into “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” mode:

Fight: Lashing out or yelling

Flight: Avoiding conflict or withdrawing

Freeze: Dissociating or refusing to engage

Fawn: Appeasing or people-pleasing in order to neutralize a threat

When our nervous system stays in a perpetual overactive state due to ongoing trauma, we might find ourselves falling into those responses even when there isn’t an active threat present. Our body is perceiving high levels of threat. 

Dr. Mariel said that our nervous systems are actually designed to move through stress or work through difficulties. But trauma keeps our bodies from learning how to do that.

So we might react in these ways at the slightest tone change from our partner, when we make a mistake at work, or in triggering situations with our children, without even realizing our body is carrying out a trauma response. 

If your body is already struggling to move through stress, it’s easy to get pushed over the edge.

This can happen for moms when they are constantly dealing with stress, coping with the mental load, thinking about the to-do list, juggling all the mental pieces, and essentially never resting. If your body is already struggling to move through stress, it’s easy to get pushed over the edge into hyperthreat mode. 

Ongoing states of stress can even make us predisposed to physical chronic illnesses, like heart disease or digestive struggles. 

Dr. Mariel said that’s why it’s important to look at trauma holistically—treating not just the body and physical stress responses but also the mind and the trauma at the root. 

The Value of Breaking Generational Cycles of Trauma

Once we understand the way trauma is showing up in our body, we might feel disheartened. If we’re predisposed to trauma and stress, it can feel as if there is no way forward. And for moms, whose biggest fear is often traumatizing their children through their own mistakes, that can seem scary. 

But Dr. Mariel pointed out that our fear of messing up our children actually keeps us preoccupied in a state of anxiety, rather than allowing us to show up as the most present, centered, safe version of ourselves that we want to be for our children. 

Sometimes when we experienced childhood trauma or unmet needs, we might push ourselves to hard to do everything right so that we don’t harm our children. But we don’t realize that we’re still parenting from a place of trauma. Our threat response is still strong. 

When we focus on trying to “just do better” without considering our nervous system, we often fall back into old patterns. We might find ourselves stressed or reactive, snapping or yelling without even meaning to. 

Dr. Mariel said that instead of worrying so much or shaming ourselves, we can instead focus on settling our own nervous systems. Then, we can show up as the safe space for our children when they need us. This can allow them to move through their stress without staying in a heightened state. That’s how we begin breaking cycles of generational trauma. 

Healing our trauma and calming our nervous system can benefit the entire family.

Healing our trauma and calming our nervous system can benefit the entire family, allowing us to be more attuned to our children and help us with our own wellbeing. 

How to Start Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles

The first place to start is awareness, and putting language to trauma. Dr. Mariel pointed out that past generations didn’t even have the language to speak to family trauma or to understand that we can love each other and still be perpetuating it. 

Embracing the concept of trauma and the language around it allows us to unravel the past. 

It’s also helpful to remember that even if we’re the only ones trying to break the cycles of trauma in our families, the work we do has a ripple effect on those around us. Eventually, we can see tangible ways that our healing produces change in our lives and our family’s lives. 

Dr. Mariel recommends starting small and working on our nervous systems. She pointed out that body memory is strong—it takes approximately 300 repetitions of a practice in order to default to a calmer state of rest and relaxation. 

But one simple way to begin is by practicing five minutes of deep breathing every day. This helps our body default into rest instead of hypervigilance. We can even do this with our kids and establish it as a family exercise. 

One simple way to begin calming our body is by practicing five minutes of deep breathing every day.

If we did that for a year, we will have taken a big step toward releasing some of the trauma response and changing the way our bdy functions. 

Therapy and inner healing is also important. When we focus on both the body and the mind, we can start to counter the trauma we’ve been carrying and restore a state of peace. 

We can also ensure that we’re creating safe spaces around us. Engage with people who allow your body to be safe and heal. We can build safety, connection, and security with those around us.

Reminders On Our Path to Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles

Breaking generational cycles of trauma takes time and work. It’s important to be forgiving of ourselves in the process. We will make mistakes. We will repeat patterns we don’t want to sometimes. And we will sometimes end up dysregulated—no matter how much we heal. 

But those mistakes are also opportunities. We can repair, reconnect with our children, and show them how important healing and wellbeing are. 

Repairing after losing our cool shows our children that nobody is perfect, and that it’s okay to make mistakes. 

And when we focus on our own healing, we can actually model for our children how to cope with stress in a healthier way. When our children see us model practices, like mindfulness and meditation, they might start to carry out those practices and help their own bodies stay calm in stressful situations. 

Every day is an opportunity to break cycles of generational trauma. All you have to do is take it.

Dr. Mariel said that every day is an opportunity to break cycles of generational trauma. All you have to do is take it. 

If you’re struggling with breaking generational cycles of trauma or staying emotionally regulated, working with a mom therapist can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today. 

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Trauma, Breaking cycles, Nervous system

Stage:

Pregnancy, Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Dr. Mariel Buqué is an Afro-Dominican, Columbia University-trained Psychologist, intergenerational trauma expert, and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma. She has utilized her training in holistic care to integrate holistic practices, like sound bath meditation and breathwork, into therapy, which has helped to deepen trauma healing for her clients. She additionally provides healing workshops to Fortune 100 companies including Google, Twitter, Capital One, and Meta and lectures within the psychology department of Columbia University. Dr. Buqué is widely sought out for her clinical expertise and trauma approach and has been featured on major media outlets including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and ABC News.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
June 5, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
June 5, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
June 5, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
March 18, 2024
February 21, 2024
Understanding Postpartum Depression in Dads and Non-Birthing Partners
E:
213
with
Mark Williams
International Advocate for Perinatal Mental Health and Author
June 5, 2024
February 14, 2024
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby: Communication Is Key
E:
212
with
Vanessa & Xander Marin
bestselling authors & hosts of the podcast Pillow Talks
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
June 5, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 6, 2023
Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect
E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load
E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
November 1, 2023
Breaking Out of the Default Parent Role: How to Communicate with Your Partner and Change Patterns
E:
197
with
Erin & Stephen Mitchell
Founders of Couples Counseling for Parents
February 20, 2024
October 18, 2023
Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges
E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 27, 2023
Understanding Overfunctioning in Relationships: How to Change Dynamics After Baby
E:
192
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 26, 2023
Working Through Conflict About Growing Your Family: What to Do When Only One Partner Wants Another Baby
E:
170
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 18, 2023
Resolving Conflict in Your Relationship After Baby
E:
156
with
Sheina Schochet
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
January 4, 2023
Reestablishing Sex After Baby: Why Communication Matters and How to Create a New Normal
E:
154
with
Travis Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
September 14, 2022
Dividing Labour Fairly in the Home: Redistributing the Mental Load of Motherhood
E:
138
with
Dr. Darcy Lockman
Author and Psychologist
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.