Trauma Travels: Ending the Cycle
By Adiasha Richards
Trauma travels. It is passed down from generation to generation, to the offspring of the survivors and re-emerges as a range of complex trauma disorders in our current generation. I am still unclear of my grandmother’s and mother’s stories, but one thing I know is that the emotional unavailability I was victim to did not start with them. Rather, it is a result of some traumatic event that occurred way before I was even a thought and was passed down until it became an inherent part of my family’s learned coping and defense mechanism.
From a really young age, I was different. I internally questioned things around me (because Lord knows talking back was not a viable option in my Trini-home ). I was an overthinker and always in my head. I tuned out playing with toys and making friends. I got lost in my mind probably analyzing the world around me. As I grew older, I rejected the dynamics of my family more and more. It just did not feel right to me. As I embarked on my early journey to understanding my own story and the impact it was having on me, I dared to end the cycles, patterns, and unhealthy beliefs that were projected onto me as a way of life from those that came before me. This resulted in me often feeling like the black sheep—I felt odd. I was different from my family, and I truly believe they did not know how to respond to me at times. The black sheep has its negative implications, and I was angry because I didn’t understand how I could be odd for wanting to do better. It just didn’t make sense. Needless to say, I never let this deter me. The fire inside of me to be better and do better was stronger than any backlash I would face from those around me, and boy am I glad I stuck to it. I still remember being a teenager and thinking I won’t be stuck because I refuse to let the traumas that happened to me hold me back from the life I want. I look back now and think, “Why the hell were you so emotionally intelligent as a kid?”, but hey, I say that was God!
Through my work, I have met many of my fellow black sheep; the ones healing from the past and in the process of challenging their family’s unhealthy ways. I know it is not easy; I see the struggles they face, the hard decisions they have to make as they set boundaries to not attend the family events as much, the conflicts that arise with family members, the stress and pressure of having to teach people twice their age how to communicate effectively, how to be vulnerable, or probably one of the most difficult aspects: accepting them as they are and coming to terms with the fact that they will never change.
They say we don’t get to pick our family (man, it would be easier if we could), so we are forced to deal. When we are healing, we outgrow many people, things, and beliefs in that process. With family, it’s not always so easy. We don’t want to leave them behind and sometimes we can’t, so what do you do? Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that you may find helpful.
Accept your family where they’re at and see their limitations for what they are:
The reality is your mother may never love you the way you want because it’s just not in her capacity to do so whether that is based on her own story or a trauma passed on, there is a limitation.
Take your space and time to heal:
Healing is for you, not for them! Be willing to face those truths and be brave enough to challenge them.
This is a huge one, you want to take them with you, but it’s ok to admit that who you are isn’t aligned with who they are and you cannot engage with them the way you did in the past. Understand your tolerance level. Instead of calling every day, send a text to check in. Instead of family dinner every week, make it 2x a month. When people won’t change, you have to!
Continue to implement and practice the things you are learning, and do not be afraid to practice with even your most stubborn family member:
All humans have the ability to change if they want to so plant those seeds you even if you may not see them grow today. What I’ve personally learned is that, beneath a lot of pain and bad behavior, is longing. Your mother, father, brother, or sister wants to connect with you and will at some point acknowledge your boundaries because having you in their life is better than not having you.
Growth is messy and healing happens in layers. It is so complex and involves a lot of work and practice. Be gentle with yourself. I am proud of everyone trying to be better. For the generations that have come before us, sympathize with them. They didn’t live in a world where they were encouraged to feel and understand themselves. It does not excuse their behavior and its impact on you, but our pain connects us far more than it separates us.
Adiasha Richards, LMHC is a proud West Indian American, owner of Growth and Transitions Counseling located out of two offices in Queens NY (Ridgewood and Howard Beach). She has a team of licensed therapists which serve a wide demographic of people in the areas focused on Mental Health Services. Her practice offers Individual Counseling, Couples and Martial Counseling, Pre Martial Counseling, Family Counseling, and Children and Teens. There is certainly something for almost everybody. Adiasha states " Everyone is talking about do your work, find inner peace, posting positive quotes, but What the Hell is that, how do you do the work?" She works individually with women to help them work through their trauma, heal from the past, and grow the skills needed to move out of surviving and into a life of full living.