Combating the Mental Load of Being a Latina Breaking Trauma Cycles

Breaking trauma cycles is important but also exhausting work

Latina Mental Load

Photo:Unsplash/ Hernan Sanchez

Within each family, there are often a set of traditions and expectations that are passed down through each generation. These expectations can range from how to dress, to how to engage with others, how to celebrate the opposite sex, and how to show respect through silence. As time has passed, we have been able to see progression as those traditions and expectations have fluctuated and the need to do things differently has occurred. Now, Latinas are finding themselves in unique spaces where they are encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts, where they are encouraged to have an opinion, and most importantly, where they are encouraged to break cycles. 

As a first gen Latina, I found myself thinking about being a cycle breaker and what it truly meant. I will admit, the initial feeling was dread versus excitement because it meant more work, more lessons, and in some ways, more expectations.  I started questioning why women had to be cycle breakers in the first place and how challenging it often can be to be a woman because we always have to work towards something, and that something is not always well received. 

What’s interesting about this is that there is such a fine line between breaking cycles and being caring, while ensuring that you are not too aggressive in your approach. If you are speaking your mind, others might believe that you are bossy or challenging to work with. Yet, if a man were to relay the same message, it might come off as endearing or empowering. It would be taken seriously from the start. As I continue exploring this topic, I realize that even my perspective can come off as aggressive and I wonder if I need to write in a more compassionate way. Given the experiences that I’ve had as well as those whom I work with, I can imagine that many women, many Latina women, find themselves in the same situation. 

It’s so much to consider when you choose to go against the grain and speak your mind. It takes a level of vulnerability and confidence to speak up in spaces that are not traditionally spaces where Latina’s have a voice. It can cause stress and anxiety as you begin to wonder if you should have spoken up in the first place and that often leads us to question our entire existence. How stressful is that? 

Breaking cycles is difficult to consistently do because many people can interpret it in different ways. As you begin exploring what cycles you want to break, you might also begin to consider how this will affect your life and those around you, particularly family. When a family is accustomed to a certain expectation, it can be hard to adjust. They might feel as though you are abandoning them and/or abandoning yourself. It might require many conversations with yourself and others to really settle in with the idea that you want progress and you are ready to do things differently. However, guilt might still peak through from time to time. 

When thinking about the mental load that we carry, we are often referring to the various responsibilities and stressors that we tend to carry in our day to day life. These things can include decision making or emotional labor, to name a few.  Here are 4 ways that you can take care of yourself as you combat the mental load that comes with breaking cycles: 

  1. Coping with dread
    Latinas who are breaking cycles often experience the dread and emotional burnout that it can bring. They may experience criticism or backlash which can cause a huge burden. As Latinas think about this, they may experience dread in thinking if it’s really worth it. The emotional toll of navigating these feelings can be overwhelming. 

Give yourself some grace. Remember that it’s a process and its normal to have ups and downs along the way. Be patient with yourself as you navigate unknown territories. Lean into your support system, especially close loved ones who might be experiencing similar feelings. 

  1. Strength through vulnerability
    As we continue working towards breaking cycles while still taking care of ourselves, remember that we are consistently showing courage, strength, and resilience along the way. This might feel like the road less traveled but that is okay. You are confronting insecurities, traumas, and various challenges while also paving the way for others to choose to transform and heal. You are inspiring others through your actions and vulnerability. Continue doing that. 

Practice courageous communication.  This refers to expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in an open and honest way, even when you are feeling uncomfortable.  Be open to authentic connections and allow yourself to freely express yourself even when addressing conflict or difficult conversations. Approach them with courage, integrity, and empathy. This will truly allow vulnerability to be present. 

  1. Identifying stress and anxiety
    Breaking cycles means venturing into the unknown and creating a roadmap along the way, which can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. Latinas who find themselves doing this are often noticing a great amount of uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear that mistakes will happen and judgment will be present.  Navigating complex emotions can be difficult as the wonder of what to do and how to do it settles in. 

Identify the triggers. It can be helpful to pinpoint exactly what triggers you to experience stress and anxiety. When you are able to understand your triggers, you are more likely to prepare yourself with manageable coping tools that can help you alleviate any distress. This can come through the form of journaling, talking it out with a loved one, or seeking professional help with a mental health professional. 

  1. Noticing the guilt
    Breaking traditions and cycles for many Latinas can be a transformative yet cumbersome burden.  These patterns can include limiting beliefs, societal expectations, or even abuse that can increase the mental load. The feelings of guilt and a huge sense of responsibility can create an impact in how we view the world and how much we can truly challenge. Acknowledging the hard work is a good place to start as challenging deeply ingrained traditions is no easy task.     

Use self-care tools such as mindfulness to help. Engage in deep breathing, meditation, or grounding techniques to help you stay present despite the discomfort. Mindfulness helps manage overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Whatever thoughts and feelings are coming up for you, notice them, judgment free and remind yourself of your “why.”  Speaking up, having a voice, and breaking cycles is important and despite the discomfort, you can be okay. 

Being a cycle breaker in a society where traditionally Latina women are not challenging the norm can cause a huge mental load. While it can require a great amount of courage, resilience, and emotional labor, remember why this is important for you. You are challenging traditions that have been there for centuries while paving the way for others to follow. Latinas who are in this position are now creating a different narrative where every voice is important. While it can initially come with its struggles, the journey to breaking cycles and creating a new present and future can be such a transformative experience.  

Patricia Alvarado is a psychotherapist and owner and director of the group practice, Alvarado Therapy & co-founder of Latinx Healthy Minds providing mental health programs for Latinx professionals

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