Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

by Mariel Buqué
Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma

by Mariel Buqué


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***The Instant National Bestseller***

A Next Big Idea Club must-read title for January 2024

The definitive, paradigm-shifting guide to healing intergenerational trauma—weaving together scientific research with practical exercises and stories from the therapy room—from Dr. Mariel Buqué, PhD, a Columbia University–trained trauma-informed psychologist and practitioner of holistic healing

From Dr. Mariel Buqué, a leading trauma psychologist, comes this groundbreaking guide to transforming intergenerational pain into intergenerational abundance. With Break the Cycle, she delivers the definitive guide to healing inherited trauma. Weaving together scientific research with practical exercises and stories from the therapy room, Dr. Buqué teaches readers how trauma is transmitted from one generation to the next and how they can break the cycle through tangible therapeutic practices, learning to pass down strength instead of pain to future generations.

When a physical wound is left unhealed, it continues to cause pain and can infect the whole body. When emotions are left unhealed, they similarly cause harm that spreads to other parts of our lives, hurting our family, friends, community members, and others. Eventually, this hurt can injure an entire lineage, metastasizing across years and generations. This is intergenerational trauma.

This trauma is why some of us become estranged from our families, why some of us are people pleasers, why some of us find ourselves in codependent relationships. This trauma can be rooted in the experiences of ancestors, who may have suffered due to unhealthy family dynamics, and it can be collective, the result of a shared experience like systemic oppression, or harmful ingrained behaviors in a culture like the acceptance of physical discipline of children, or even a natural disaster like a pandemic. These wounds are complex, impacting our minds, bodies, and spirits. Healing requires a holistic approach that has so far been absent from the field of psychology. Until now.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593472491
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/02/2024
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 24,816
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Dr. Mariel Buqué is an Afro-Latina psychologist and CEO of Break the Cycle of Trauma, where her mission is to help reduce the recurrence of Intergenerational ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). She earned her doctoral degree in psychology at Columbia University, where she also trained as a holistic mental health fellow within Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). In this role, she helped to build and implement an integrated system of care in specialty clinics across Columbia Medical, with a focus on helping Black and Latine community members overcome trauma and build better overall health. She continues to carry this mission into her consultation with health organizations and Fortune 500 companies. She is originally from the Dominican Republic and currently lives in New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

You Are a Cycle Breaker

It's up to us to break generational curses. When they say, "It runs in the family," you tell them, "This is where it runs out."


If you're reading this book, chances are you are a cycle breaker. You are the person who has decided to create a different legacy for your family and community than the one you inherited, by shifting the ways in which you show up in the world. Your healing quest is not just about you. It has collective motivation. You send ripples of healing backward and forward by becoming a cycle breaker. It's a heavy task and one that, when chosen, or when it chooses you, has the power to liberate your lineage.

Cycle breaking comes with a great reward. It takes some time to get to the reward, but when you do get there, you feel the lightness of inner peace. You deserve to feel that lightness, to feel emotional freedom and no longer carry intergenerational burdens. Cycle breaking is how we put down that baggage of the past and step into a better future. Cycle breakers choose to be cycle breakers. It is an active, long-term decision. For you, that choice may have come after seeing the hurt that your family and communities have had to endure and no longer accepting that it must be passed down to the next generation. Or it could stem from your wish to create a different legacy for you and your lineage. One thing is for sure-cycle breakers across the world have one definitive goal in mind: to make sure that repeated generational patterns end with them. By reading this book, you are taking a huge step toward that goal.

Being a cycle breaker is a multitier, multitask, multigenerational quest toward peace. It's peace for you, those who came before you, those who will come after you, your community, and the global culture. Shifting into someone who embodies this mindset is shifting into someone who possesses the inner knowing that this peace is worth fighting for.

Many cycle breakers don't know to identify themselves as such. They just know in their spirit that things must be different. They decide to shift the narrative and welcome opportunity for ease, happiness, and health into their lives. They think of their children's lives and wish a different experience for them than what they had themselves. They think of how much suffering their family has gone through and feel a duty to change that and heal the trauma that plagues their lineage. They see ways in which their communities are unwell and feel motivated to make a change at the community level. They see the global impact of traumatic experiences and want to shift the way things are to create a better global community for us all. They see no other way forward but the way of healing. So they walk through life in active resistance to the status quo. They enter daily battles to fight against what they were taught or how they were treated. To do so, they go off intuition, faith, and courage in order to create a cycle-breaking process that, in hindsight, they're able to see was a powerful course correction for them and everyone around them. Cycle breakers do all these things, which means that you may already be doing these things as well, even if you have never claimed the title of cycle breaker before this moment. You may be at the very beginning of your cycle-breaking journey, and that is just as powerful.

Cycle breakers are not all the same. The combination of these characteristics will vary from person to person, so you may want to grab your journal to write down any that resonate with you. Being a cycle breaker means you:

See the generational wisdom and resilience that flows through you

Choose to disrupt trauma responses in your lineage

Acknowledge your part in keeping cycles going

Are willing to do the inner work to cut the cord of pain

Are willing to assume the consequences of disrupting those patterns

Employ daily mind-based practices to stay conscious of your emotional experiences

Maintain a lifestyle that influences your body, and particularly your epigenome (the chemical changes in your DNA that can be transmittable intergenerationally), in a positive way

Ground yourself in spirit-based practices to regenerate your soul

Acknowledge that your DNA is not your destiny

Are no longer willing to live in a mindset that upholds the idea that you embody a genetic deficit but are willing to instead shift into a mindset that focuses on further shifting into genetic abundance

Are willing to make adjustments to exist in a body that can help you absorb stress better

See the souls in your community as an extension of your own and treat them accordingly

Disrupt systemic inequities that promote collective traumas that keep feeding cycles

Are willing to spread healing knowledge to others so we can all more fully heal in this generation

See yourself as a living ancestor who has influence over future generations

Have determined that the cycle of inherited trauma ends with you

One, some, or all of these characteristics may resonate with you as a cycle breaker. Your brand of cycle breaking will be unique to you. Take a moment to reflect on that and ask yourself, "What are my cycle-breaking qualities?" Once you do, keep reading, because throughout this book, you will learn what you, a cycle breaker, have the power to achieve.

My mission is to help you honor the work you already feel compelled to do. To give you tools to help you navigate the heavy emotions and hard conversations you'll want to have with yourself and with your family or community members. I hope to supplement and guide you, and be a voice of understanding for you, as you carry on with the courageous work of cycle breaking that you were born to do.

But How Do You Know You're Ready?

Every cycle breaker is different. However, one thing is the same for us all: no cycle breaker will ever feel fully ready to break the cycle. That's because there is no perfect time, feeling, or clue that will let you know when to act.

One of my clients once had a dream that his ancestor came to him as a blue aura light. My client didn't hear his ancestor speak to him during the dream but rather felt his ancestor convey, "You must go and fight the battle." His interpretation of this dream is what shifted his readiness. It wasn't anything he planned. It was a subconscious understanding that ancestors were with him and that he was ready for the fight ahead.

The mind and body are vehicles to the soul's higher consciousness, so it's important that we listen carefully to our subconscious. My call to action also came in a dream. It was a message from a living ancestor, my father, who told me, "My child, it is time." This came during a time in my life when I felt like I couldn't mobilize anything. I didn't feel ready. My impostor syndrome-an intergenerational lie I had absorbed for many decades-was crippling my self-confidence. Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you are a fraud or don't belong in certain spaces, which is driven by the act of being cast out of these spaces for generations. But my interpretation of this dream helped me shift my mindset. I was open to receiving my father's message, which signaled for me the start of the cycle-breaking journey I am on now.

Maybe you have already received a sign or a signal that is preparing you for your own quest to stand in your intergenerational higher self. Maybe it isn't someone else's voice or aura, but your own internal voice speaking to you. If you are here, trust that your soul is ready.

Healing Through Holistic Practices

Remember, one expression of my family's intergenerational trauma was to preserve all possessions because we were in a prolonged survival mode. I realized I was breaking the cycle when I was able to let go of a precious item, my grandmother's mug. It was a beautiful white mug, painted red on the inside, with a little spoon to match and a hole on the handle to hold the spoon. She had sent it to me, with love, in a family member's luggage from the Dominican Republic. Knowing how little my grandmother had, I was so moved and it meant so much to me that she would gather whatever resources she could to reach my home and heart with this gift. I drank from this mug every single day for years. I oftentimes meditated on my grandmother's words and voice while holding my mug with my favorite tea filling it. It was such a central piece in my home. But one day, the mug broke into too many pieces to repair. What hurt even more was that this happened only a few months after my grandmother had passed. The one item I had that created a bridge of connection between us was broken. I was devastated and I felt deep guilt. I felt guilty for not preserving the mug that she had worked so hard to give me. And of course, since fear of loss was also a part of my wounded experience, I was afraid that without this physical item to connect us, I could lose my sacred spiritual connection to her as well, something that was so deeply grounding to me.

I knew intuitively what I needed to do. A part of me even felt that it was my grandmother who helped me know how to heal through this moment. Because trauma manifests in the soul, I had to take steps to heal my whole self if I wanted to move forward.

In my mind, I had to challenge my fear of losing my connection to her and remind myself of all the ways in which I will forever remain tied to her. In my body, I had to take deep breaths, with a focus on my heart, in order to heal the brokenheartedness that was manifesting through bodily aches. For my spirit, I decided to start writing ancestral letters to my grandmother. It elevated my connection to her and continues to do so until this very day.

This experience also informed my approach to my work with clients. Writing letters to ancestors became a tool that I would utilize with my clients who hoped to stay connected to their loved one's ancestral love and wisdom. We did the work of healing the challenging thoughts and feelings that their predecessors couldn't bear to deal with (healing the mind), we worked on shedding the ways their body was remembering these traumas (healing the body), and we worked to help them feel grounded and reconnected (healing the spirit). It was layered, holistic, and deep-rooted work. Breaking the cycle meant healing from the experiences that had become planted in the souls of their families, and now in their own. It was, and continues to be, the only way to sort through the layers of pain that are left behind in the wake of intergenerational trauma. And it's the way I hope we can work together through the pages in this book. Attending to the mind, but leaving the body and spirit still wounded, will leave you in the same place of emotional pain that you and your ancestors have been in for ages. I don't want this for you. I want you to experience the fullness of healing and true emotional liberation. Through the practice of mental holism, which in the medical world means "treating the whole person," we are working to heal the whole you. We will take a holistic healing approach to honor the multiple ways in which you have experienced hurt.

Getting Ready to Do the Work

With intergenerational trauma, there can be so much more than meets the eye. Most people who I have had the deep honor to work with throughout the years have had layers of trauma that needed to be peeled back. They oftentimes begin sessions to resolve one issue in their lives but eventually come to understand that there are layers to their pain, some layers that don't even belong to them but rather to people in their family and lineage. You yourself may have started off thinking your struggles were caused by one thing, and only later come to the realization that what you've been struggling with is inherited trauma. When trauma is passed down, it can look like other symptoms, such as chronic depression, crippling anxiety, and lack of focus, so it can at first be difficult to spot.

The good thing here is that you've recognized that there's an inherited nature to your pain, and so now you can do something about it. That realization is critical for the work ahead, but it's also a lot to come to terms with, so it's natural if your heart feels heavy as you enter this healing quest. As you work, your heart will sometimes soften and at other times get even heavier. It's important to bear in mind that your healing won't be linear. There will be waves of emotions. There will be high-highs and low-lows. Setting your expectations for the journey ahead can be useful in helping you flow through the experience. It will be critical in helping you prepare for the hard moments ahead.

Anytime you engage in depth work, there is always the chance that you'll experience an elevation in your stress levels. Opening these doors psychologically can be triggering. Therefore, it is imperative for you to have a coping plan in place for the entirety of your work here. It's also essential because as the body is triggered, it kicks the nervous system into a sympathetic response. Essentially, your emotions might force your body into survival mode. When your body is in survival mode, all nonessential functions, including the complex thinking that you'll need to relieve your stress, will be compromised.

Emotional outbursts, or the experience of emotions becoming overwhelming and pouring out, require that a person always have a road map for how to cope with difficult emotions. This road map allows a person to have preplanned coping skills in place for when their emotional journey feels like too much. It will prepare you for any experience that produces distress, increase your chances of being able to help yourself through your emotional response, and help you lift yourself out of survival mode more quickly. To initiate a cope-ahead plan, please consider the following steps:

Choose a quiet, comfortable spot where you aren't likely to be interrupted.

Decide on one grounding method that can help you come back to your body. One I find to be helpful is grounding with the five senses. To do this, you list things you notice around you while seated in place. You start by looking around and listing five things you can see. Then you scan the room again and list four things you can touch. After you're done with the sense of touch, you move into listing three things you can hear. After you've finished that list, you look around again for two things you can smell. Finally, you list one thing that you can taste.

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