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7 Tips On How to Break The Generational Trauma Cycle

| How To Break The Trauma Cycle | How To Heal from Childhood Trauma |

What is a Trauma Cycle

A trauma cycle is the transmission of the effects of childhood trauma from generation to generation within families. Traumas are caused by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and can be passed down in several ways, including genetic inheritance, parenting styles, cultural practices, and family dynamics​1​.

Individuals with adverse childhood trauma are at risk of mental health problems, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties.

Even when they become parents, the weight of these struggles, combined with the stresses of parenting, makes it difficult for them to provide a supportive, nurturing family environment. Moreover, they tend to provide a similar childhood experience for their children because that’s the only way they know how.

Children then become at risk of engaging in substance use and other negative coping mechanisms when they grow up, creating a cycle of trauma​2​.

family blows bubbles together

How To Break The Trauma Cycle

The Key Step

YOU are step one in this healing journey.

The generational trauma cycle can be broken starting with you. 

You have the power to end the cycle of trauma.

But for it to work, you must commit to doing so.

Ending the cycle of childhood trauma is not easy, as it is often deeply ingrained in the body, family patterns, and cultural norms. 

So, it cannot be done without your commitment.

Even though it is hard, you can achieve it if you are determined.

Acknowledge your abuse history

Individuals who are able to acknowledge and process their own experiences of parental abuse are more likely to break the cycle and avoid abusing their own children. 

These parents tend to have specific and clear memories, and they express their angry reactions to trauma openly.

In contrast, parents who deny or try to ignore the abuse they inflict, or have an idealized image of their own abusive parents, are less successful in breaking the abusive pattern​3​.

Set Your Goal

Those who succeed in breaking cycles of trauma often want their children to live better lives than they did. 

Their goals and motivation were centered on giving their children a safer, happier, and more successful life than their own​4​.

Having a clear goal can help you stay motivated when it doesn’t seem to work at the beginning.

Be patient. Your journey to this point took decades, so expecting to undo everything and see changes overnight is unrealistic.

It can take years and a lot of hard work for some wounds to heal.

But with determination and persistence, the cycle of family trauma will end with you.

Parent Differently

Parenting is hard and stressful.

In addition, if you’ve never experienced a healthy parent-child relationship, you may not know what it looks like or how to build it with your own child.

When stressed, we tend to parent the way we were raised.

To break the trauma cycle, we must parent differently.

Check out How To Parent Differently Than Your Parents

Resolve Childhood Trauma

Chronic exposure to ACEs, such as abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction, is linked to poor health in adults​5​.

Your trauma history and poor health outcomes may be passed down to your children through unresolved mental health problems.

The surest way to stop this cycle is overcoming your own adverse childhood trauma (more on this later.)

During this process, you will discover what caused your unresolved trauma, how it has influenced your life, and what to avoid doing to your children 

Unfavorable but necessary Advice

It’s likely you won’t like this next piece of advice. 

You may search the internet because you want to find ways to fix problems yourself, but here I am telling you that it is best to seek help from mental health professionals when it comes to healing childhood trauma.

Many people cannot afford, access, or even want therapy, but it would be amiss of me not to say this. When someone is sick, it is unethical to suggest they can treat themselves without mentioning it is best to seek medical attention.

Childhood trauma can cause serious conditions and disorders that may not be possible to self-treat. For example, if you have mental health issues or drug abuse issues, reading a blog will unlikely help you stop.

However, there are still things you can do to make this healing process easier. Keep on reading.

How To Heal from Childhood Trauma

Carefully build a network of support

Most childhood traumas have an interpersonal component, meaning that they stem from the actions or inactions of others, and as a result, cause invisible wounds.

Positive relationships are best able to heal relational wounds​6​.

Having a strong emotional support network you can rely on is crucial​7​.

This is the part where you must be careful – not every friend or family, despite their best intention, can provide you with the kind of emotional support you need to heal. 

Dealing with childhood trauma can be an isolating and lonely experience. When others cannot relate to what you’re going through, they may say things that hurt you rather than help.

Well-trained, experienced therapists are very good at identifying and giving meaningful emotional support, and that is one of the reasons why professional help is so important.

Among friends and family, you will receive better support from those who are empathic and good listeners.

It doesn’t mean you should cut ties with friends who cannot support you in this specific area. You can still connect and have a relationship with them sharing other common experiences.

Reflect on your patterns of behavior

Be mindful of who you are connecting with or seeking support from, especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma before. 

Research shows that, unfortunately, people who have experienced past trauma tend to gravitate toward relationships that are unhealthy or even harmful​8​.

It’s crucial to connect with people who are healthy, positive, and supportive.

While it’s reassuring to feel understood and validated, be aware of the potential for the cycle of violence to repeat itself. 

It’s important to have a network of people you can trust and turn to, not exclusively rely on one person for emotional needs.

If you’re currently in an abusive relationship, seek help immediately.

You don’t have to go through this alone, and help is available.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline and speak with someone today.
Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Text “START” to 88788
Live chat at

Read About Complex Trauma

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

Repeated or ongoing trauma over a prolonged period during the early years is complex trauma. It can lead to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

CPTSD is different from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). PTSD tends to be caused by single traumatic events like car accidents or natural disasters.

For those who have experienced complex childhood trauma, the book Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman can be extremely helpful. It provides a comprehensive overview of the physical, psychological, and emotional impacts of complex trauma and describes the long-term effects on an individual’s development and well-being.

Judith Herman is an American psychiatrist and trauma specialist who pioneered the research and treatment of complex trauma. She provided a framework to understand and recognize the symptoms and signs of C-PTSD​9​.

Most importantly, Herman offered hope for survivors of complex trauma.

Deal with life issues

It is crucial to get help for life issues such as alcohol or drug addiction if you are struggling with them. 

For parents, such struggles can compound parenting challenges and perpetuate the intergenerational trauma cycle​10​.

Here are some resources to help you combat these problems.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline
Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps Program at Alcoholics Anonymous

If you are dealing with your parents’ addiction as an adult, you can find a local meeting or support group here:

Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization


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    Bridgett DJ, Burt NM, Edwards ES, Deater-Deckard K. Intergenerational transmission of self-regulation: A multidisciplinary review and integrative conceptual framework. Psychological Bulletin. Published online May 2015:602-654. doi:10.1037/a0038662
  3. 3.
    Langeland W, Dijkstra S. Breaking the intergenerational transmission of child abuse: Beyond the mother-child relationship. Child Abuse Rev. Published online March 1995:4-13. doi:10.1002/car.2380040104
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    Woods-Jaeger BA, Cho B, Sexton CC, Slagel L, Goggin K. Promoting Resilience: Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Health Educ Behav. Published online February 12, 2018:772-780. doi:10.1177/1090198117752785
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    Danese A, McEwen BS. Adverse childhood experiences, allostasis, allostatic load, and age-related disease. Physiology & Behavior. Published online April 2012:29-39. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.08.019
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    Banks A. Relational Therapy for Trauma. Journal of Trauma Practice. Published online October 11, 2006:25-47. doi:10.1300/j189v05n01_03
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    Dixon L, Browne K, Hamilton-Giachritsis C. Patterns of Risk and Protective Factors in the Intergenerational Cycle of Maltreatment. J Fam Viol. Published online November 24, 2008:111-122. doi:10.1007/s10896-008-9215-2
  8. 8.
    Trippany RL, Helm HM, Simpson L. Trauma Reenactment: Rethinking Borderline Personality Disorder When Diagnosing Sexual Abuse Survivors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. Published online March 30, 2006:95-110. doi:10.17744/mehc.28.2.ef384lm8ykfujum5
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    Susan Rubin Suleiman. Judith Herman and Contemporary Trauma Theory. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly. Published online 2008:276-281. doi:10.1353/wsq.0.0016
  10. 10.
    Neger EN, Prinz RJ. Interventions to address parenting and parental substance abuse: Conceptual and methodological considerations. Clinical Psychology Review. Published online July 2015:71-82. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2015.04.004

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *