How to End the Cycle of Generational Trauma in Latinx Families

Generational trauma has been a hot topic in mental health

Generational trauma strategies

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Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.

Generational trauma has been a hot topic in mental health. It is a term that describes a secondary type of trauma that is inherited between generations, aka parent to child. This process of trauma persisting through generations is commonly referred to as generational cycles. Often, people are unaware that they are experiencing a generational cycle because that is the only reality they have known.

A common way that these cycles manifest is via our relationships. We mainly learn how to exist in relationships based on what we observe in our immediate environment.  In my experience as a therapist working with Latinx clients, there is often a conversation on expected gender roles and how that impacts their approach to relationships.

I was raised with the cultural values of machismo and marianismo, a common set of beliefs throughout Latin America. Machismo is the expectation that cisgender males are to protect and provide. In comparison, marianismo is the expectation that cisgender females be selfless and subservient to others. As the eldest daughter of immigrants, I often received the message that my needs were not as important as my cis-male counterparts. For example, as a child, if I was playing with a toy, but my primo wanted to play with it, my grandmother would tell me that I should let him have it whenever he wanted. I felt confused, but I also wanted to follow the rules that were expected of me. Therefore, I did as I was told, and I would give my primo my toys if he wanted to play with them. This was one example of numerous instances when I was told my needs were not as important as a cis-male counterpart.

These experiences impact our relationship dynamics. For some individuals, this may lead to being more conflict-avoidant and engaging in more people-pleasing behaviors. Furthermore, it can lead to challenges with boundary setting and guilt whenever the individual sets a boundary. This applies to both platonic and romantic relationships.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming this cycle is recognizing the importance of prioritizing individual needs. The expectations of selflessness or the expectation to protect and provide can become a core part of one’s identity. As such, it can be challenging to understand the value of prioritizing yourself. When individuals begin to understand the value of prioritizing their needs as much as others, they start breaking that generational cycle. When an individual heals, they are better able to identify unhealthy or even toxic relationship dynamics that they had engaged in. They may begin to understand how individual healing can lead to community healing.

Generational cycles are also manifested in our communication patterns. For example, the cycle of silence involves keeping secrets or not sharing certain information with individuals who are not immediate family members. The messaging of calladita te ves más bonita further perpetuates the value of keeping to yourself. The cycle of silence can make individuals feel ashamed, isolated, or even helpless when experiencing a difficult situation. Furthermore, it adds to the stigma regarding seeking mental health support and creates an additional barrier to receiving care. This is because, eso no se habla fuera de la casa and sometimes it is something that is not spoken at all.

In my family, my mother took the first step toward breaking the cycle of silence. When I was a child, my mother always encouraged me to speak up and reassured me that I would not be blamed for sharing anything with her. It was important for her that I knew that because she recalled feeling fear as a child. She feared that she would be blamed and disciplined for anything she shared with her mother. My mother’s encouragement led to me being more vocal in any moment of discomfort. I have a memory of using my voice in a moment of discomfort when I was about 4-5 years old. I had been playing with my friends downstairs, outside of our apartment. I was trying to head back upstairs but there was a young boy blocking my path. I do not remember the specifics but I remember he said something that made me uncomfortable. My next memory is of me just yelling for my mom resulting in the boy moving and leaving me alone.

I took the next step toward continuing to break the cycle of silence by being the first to go to therapy in my family. When an individual is the first in their family to seek therapy, they break the generational cycle of silence. They can start to heal from the secrets they were expected to keep. It is a step toward finding their voice that felt silenced all these years. It is a challenging process that takes time. Some individuals may take months or years to share certain secrets, even with a therapist.

The process of breaking generational cycles is often a lifelong journey. Read on to learn strategies that can help people heal from and break generational cycles.

Strengthening of Coping Skills Toolbox

This work can be emotionally draining and triggering. Therefore, it is essential to have a toolbox full of resources and coping strategies accessible to you. This toolbox may include meditations, mindfulness exercises, grounding strategies, and perhaps a list of trusted loved ones you can reach out to in a moment of distress.


Breaking generational cycles is challenging. Approaching these challenges with self-compassion helps reduce your pressure. When recognizing a pattern, you may feel guilty for perpetuating it. Self-compassion is necessary to remind you that you were doing your best with the information you had at the time.

Gaining insight and understanding of your generational cycles

Once you have strengthened your coping skills toolbox and can embrace self-compassion, the next step is to identify the cycles you would like to work on. For example, let’s say you are ready to break the cycle of engaging in people-pleasing behaviors. In this work, you may reflect or journal about what led you to engage in people-pleasing behaviors. Perhaps, it stems from your value of respecting your elders. Then, you can choose how to approach the situation differently when you have awareness and understanding. For example, you might start setting boundaries and learn how to prioritize your needs.

Begin to develop newer and healthier patterns of thinking and behaviors

Once you start challenging the cycles, you may notice you feel guilty. It is normal. Especially when you are challenging a cycle like people-pleasing, it is new for you to say no. However, after some time, you will stop feeling guilty and begin to feel empowered by your newfound voice.

These strategies and information are not substitutes for therapy, nor do they constitute a therapeutic relationship. Furthermore, the above tips are not linear. Sometimes, you find that your coping skills are insufficient, and you must shift your energy into building them up again. Be patient. Pasito a pasito. You got this!

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