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11 Ways to Break the Cycle of Generational Trauma
Find your path to healing and self-empowerment
My children are hitting the ages that I can remember; I don’t recall how I thought at their age, but I remember some of the things I did and looking at it from the lens of what I was doing at 13 (my son’s age now) and me at 13 - I can tell that some big differences exist.
At 13, I was sent to the “Scared Straight” program (no, I wasn’t on TV)
At 13, I was suspended from middle school for drinking Rum and Coke during school lunch.
At 13, I was into marijuana, alcohol, girls, and fighting; I’d also started the descent of not giving a fuck about school.
I’m looking at my son, and at 13 years old, he’s focused on his grades, is doing well in his sports, talks to my wife and I about how he isn’t into drugs or alcohol and doesn’t want to be around people who are. He also talks to us about the economy, our decision to be sober, finances, business, what he wants for the future + how he thinks we can be better people, and what type of business, degrees, and life he wants to live when he is older.
At 13, I’d already stopped caring about the future.
At 13, my son is telling me how he’s going to craft and seize every opportunity presented - it’s not just that he’s “built different”; it’s also that he’s been raised differently because I refused to allow who I was to be passed on to who my children could become.
I’ve created this list of 11 ways you can take the same approach and keep your past from destroying or diluting the quality of your future. There’s no rhyme or reason to the list's order; you take what you need, disregard the rest, and put it into play however necessary to get yourself out of the cycle your parents passed onto you.
1. Identify the trauma's roots - Understanding the trauma's source can help start the healing process.
For many, it’s easy - CHILDHOOD.
For others, there may have been some manipulation from a mother, absence of a father, poverty, betrayal, abuse, neglect, or that “you’re not as good as your sibling/never good enough/not as good as I was” message which, repeated daily, leaves wicked trust issues in yourself and ultimately, trust issues with others.
Or, as has been the case with many, you repeat the behaviors because finally, you’re the one who can be in control and hurt others as opposed to being the one on the receiving end and, as messed up as it may sound, hurting another may be an anesthetic for the pain you’ve felt for so long.
You need to figure out the source of your pain; then, you must deal with it head-on.
2. Seek out professionals - Speak with people (there are professionals and organizations) helping people cope with generational trauma.
I’ll be straight up with you here; there’s no way I’d ever speak to a therapist or any organization about what I’ve been through, but I know that my way is not the way, and if this would benefit you, then you should do it.
I’ve had my wife to work with, the man in the mirror, and mentors along the way with whom I’ve shared my innermost struggles. If I had to pick who those people are now, it would be Anthony Migliorino, Phil Foster, and several men within the Fraternity of Excellence.
The point is, you need to air this shit out and get it off your chest and out of your mind. You’ll find that others have been through and struggled with the same, which removes the feeling of being alone.
3. Learn and practice self-care - Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is important in managing and overcoming trauma.
One of the hardest things to overcome was telling myself I was stupid, not good enough, and undeserving of praise and recognition for the effort and work I’ve put out to the world.
But I did it, and you should too.
The day I started treating myself like someone I liked is when I started to become my best self. I stopped the self-sabotaging pattern when things got good and started supporting my efforts and encouraging myself to continue to progress toward living a “good life”.
4. Create healthy relationships - Having strong and supportive relationships can help the healing process.
I can lead my children to be better people because I started to become a better person. When you become a better person, you connect on a much deeper level with others. They trust you to enter their walls because you’ve shown that you don’t harbor any secret animosity toward yourself or others. That trust allows connection, bonding, and becoming a person integrated into a relationship and community, creating a self-supporting cycle of continued growth.
Healing my relationship with myself allowed me to have a better relationship with my wife, which sets a better example for my kids. It also allows me to have a better relationship with my children directly as they see the real me, and I’m able to be authentic and connect with the real them.
5. Talk to other people - Talking to people who have experienced similar trauma can be helpful in understanding and overcoming the effects of generational trauma.
This one is simple enough:
Find people who’ve made it clear they’re trustworthy.
Open up and share your story with them.
Use your story to connect with others who are currently struggling.
This is why I do what I do and approach content creation the way I do. I want to connect with others who’ve used their past as fuel for a better future and be there for those currently in the thick of it.
Do the same; you’ll find it to be cathartic.
6. Practice mindfulness - Mindfulness is a great tool for managing difficult emotions and can help to stay present.
Presence > presents - it’s not just for kids.
If you want to overcome your past trauma, you must stop living there. At some point, you have to take your mind off what happened to you and push it to focus on what you’re causing to happen in the here and now.
Who you were does not have to be in control of who you can become.
Get active in working to be your best self today, and let yourself have permission to stop hanging onto what happened to you in the past. Your mind needs to evolve and grow; that only happens when you overcome the fear of what happens when you no longer have the comfortable rock to hang onto.
Between that rock in the sea and the shore of “life satisfaction and peace” is a swim you’ll have to make. It may be choppy at times, and there may be some sharks swimming around, but if you let go of the rock and swim your hardest, you’ll make it, and you’ll never have to go back to clinging to that rock ever again.
7. Reach out for help - It’s important to find a supportive environment when dealing with trauma and seek help when needed.
This goes to the above point on connecting with professionals but is more direct in the call to action.
You have to admit you need help; there’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help overcoming the obstacles in your mind.
Failure to do so will highlight your stunted development when you cannot meet your children where they need you. Get out of your way before you are the thing keeping you from connecting with your child.
8. Participate in healing activities - Activities such as yoga, meditation, and art can help process trauma-associated emotions.
There’s a reason I wrote this piece:
You need to do things that are good for you. I’m a writer and photographer, both are solo activities, and both I do to keep my headspace clear.
It’s also an activity that I’ll share with others as the skills developed in these arts can be used to connect with my wife and kids; it’s something that allows me to heal and connect.
9. Focus on your strengths - It’s important to recognize and focus on the strengths you developed through surviving the trauma.
I look back to how I was as a kid and am embarrassed; I don’t share this content here out of pride but rather out of honesty.
If I were to look at my life and if I were to be asked if I’d do anything differently, I wouldn’t; I love the life I’ve built, and I don’t know if I’d be where I am if I’d not developed the strengths I have as a result of my childhood.
Learning to read people, develop empathy, have a “can do” attitude, have irrational confidence, and appreciate the little things while not taking them for granted…
That’s what has made me such a strong leader, husband, and father;
I understand the importance of relationships, connection, and peace within the home. You need to look at your trials as opportunities to become the person you are today, and if you lose that past, you lose the skills and strengths you possess today.
10. Take time for yourself - Relaxing and doing things you enjoy can help manage the effects of trauma.
I was a very extreme “There is no rest!” type of dude for a long time.
I was wrong.
There’s time to rest, and you don’t need to be afraid that if you take your foot off the gas, your demons will catch you.
The incessant need to be in motion is driven by the fear of attachment and getting hurt; those who can chill aren’t afraid.
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11. Find ways to give back - Participating in activities that help others can be beneficial in healing from trauma.
I frequently speak to SERVICE with Veterans, but it’s not a “Vets Only” issue. There’s a reason I created a blog about FAMILY, a Podcast on FATHERHOOD, and a book on AUTHENTIC LIVING.
Speaking and discussing these things helps me as much as it does those who read or listen to the message and improve from it. If we’re going to go META here, this piece is another way for me to look at myself for better understanding while helping others simultaneously.
Want to heal from your trauma?
Help others heal from theirs.
- Zachary Small
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