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Breaking the Chains of Intergenerational Trauma with Couples Therapy in Mind



loving couple in woods
Healed from Trauma and in love

Oftentimes couples enter their first therapy session with the hope of not being their parents. The fear is so great if you’ve experienced or witnessed a divorce, any neglect or abuse. There are many other stressors and traumatic experiences that could add to an individual’s desire to be sure that their relationship does not replicate that of their parents. Read on to discover how to begin breaking intergenerational trauma patterns and having a relationship that is healthy and a space of security. 


The question is how do you know that there are generational patterns to break. The reality is that initially we don’t know! Consider your relationships as an adolescent and young adult. We see these relationships typically as very immature and/or irrational in our thoughts, behaviors and actions. Part of that is just based on science, think nature vs nature; and your brain isn’t developed so of course everything about you is immature. The other part is what have you witnessed from your caretakers, what type of attachments have you formed or not formed with said caretakers? These relationships help to form our core understanding of what safety and security looks like within our most intimate partnerships, both romantic and platonic.


We typically begin to notice these patterns due to failed relationships or continued disconnect in a current relationship. That usually triggers a person to enter into therapy. This is the space where you and/or your partner can truly delve into your familial patterns. There are many unspoken rules, loyalties and ways of interacting that aren't in a person's awareness due to it just “being normal” to them. This all makes sense especially, if you feel as though things weren’t “that bad” and for the most part you’re a functional adult. (Whatever that means, lol) We struggle to be present to ways of interacting because it’s been with us for so long that it has become the norm. But there does come a point where those ways of interacting become disruptive to your life and having the courage to slow down and course correct will begin to break those generational patterns. 

Now that you have this knowledge now what?


Next steps are beginning to create safety and security with your relationships. This process may look and feel a little odd at first, but I promise with patience and grace, it will happen. Here are just a few skills to take on when creating safety and security with your relationships.


  1. Begin to recognize when patterns are occurring. 

  2. This happens through increased insight and awareness. As you're working with your therapist, they will highlight what you may not be able to see while living through the relationships.

  3. Begin to practice being vulnerable when distress in the relationship occurs.

  4. If in couples therapy, you will be learning how to listen with empathy and compassion. This teaches us to communicate to not just respond but to truly understand. 

  5. In individual therapy, you will learn how to identify safe people that will engage with you with compassion and empathy and learn how to seek those people.

  6. Engage in tough conversations with caregivers 

  7. You may have the opportunity to speak with a caregiver to create healing around past wounds and traumas. If that’s not an option, your therapist will support you to create that space with them.

  8. Be clear, concise and Confident in your needs

  9. Here’s the deal, only you can determine what you need and want and it’s important to let others know that in order to avoid re-traumatizing or decreasing the impact of a rupture in the relationship. Everything isn’t avoidable but if it occurs it will be manageable.

  10. Know when it isn’t working 

  11. Reality check: you can do all these things and something will cause those patterns to occur, but when you have insight and awareness you’ll also know when you need to exit stage left.


Conclusion 

Negative intergenerational trauma patterns have been impacting families and relationships for forever. But we have the opportunity to make changes as we notice them. When you gain the courage to look within, make changes, be accountable for your actions and the leader of yourself, you have the ability to feel safe, secure and truly connected within all of your most intimate relationships.


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