Breaking the Cycle of Generational Trauma: Embracing Attachment Parenting and Self-Healing for a Better Future

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Trauma: Embracing Attachment Parenting and Self-Healing for a Better Future

My first child. He was what I always wanted. I had learnt about attachment theory, baby wearing, co -sleeping and baby-led weaning - all new concepts for me. I was determined to give him the BEST possible start in life. There was one problem though. I had mistakenly thought that I could begin afresh with my baby, putting aside the relational trauma from my own childhood.
Cognitively I knew what to do and had researched well. But my body and emotions had a different story.
Right from his birth, my baby’s hysterical crying would trigger me to tears. No matter how much I held him, rocked him and carried him, panic and grief were rising up inside me. My unconscious was speaking to me with grief and pain for all the times I had not been held or soothed when distressed. I was reminded how I had not felt safe and secure around my mother.

Trauma and the rational mind

As he got older, I would largely be respectful and patient with his difficult moments, knowing that his behaviour was a form of communication. Yet there would be a point where I would snap and explode. My rational mind knew I shouldn’t, knew he was just doing what children do. But underneath there were parts of me that were incredulous he would behave this way when I had tried so hard to parent differently, with respect and kindness; I didn’t leave him alone at night to cry or insult him or call him names. And I didn’t laugh at him or hit him for being disobedient. Flashbacks of feeling alone and unloved filled me with rage. The difficult emotions from my childhood were still unprocessed and they prevented me from being present to my child.
I couldn’t access my executive function at his point, because the dissociated parts of myself were speaking LOUDLY.

This all increased my sense of shame that I couldn’t fully provide what I knew he needed. It finally propelled me into calling a counsellor, an act of self care I had put off my whole life. I had started parenthood determined to fulfil my child’s attachment needs. But my life had taken an unexpected turn into healing my own unmet attachment needs that were now screaming for attention. Complex Trauma is relational trauma. It exists on a spectrum, from extreme and cruel abuse to subtler forms of emotional abuse and neglect.

Seeking healing rather than approval

After years of healing work, I have come to know that the traumatised adults among us have an inner child. This inner child is still desperately seeking the connection and love we never received. And so it seeks these feelings through attachments in our external life. If the formation of our core self was interrupted, we may spend the rest of our lives feeling unworthy. It's common to seek approval, validation and acceptance and try to "become" whoever the person in front of us wants us to be. We might seek validation of our “goodness” in our child’s behaviour, as I had done, or wait for love and care from a partner who remains emotionally unavailable. We might reject the traits or parts of our children that our own parents rejected in us, and which we continue to reject in ourselves. The bottom line is, we don’t truly love and accept ourselves.

Attachment and unconditional love

When our primary caregivers, due to their own similar wounds, are unable to reflect back to us as infants our own innate worthiness, and their unconditional acceptance of us as human beings, we will grow up internalising the message we received. Our first emotional need as children is to feel securely attached to the big people that look after us. We need to know they are there for us. It's crucial we trust our tender hearts are safe every step of the way.
When our anger is rejected, our sadness dismissed or ignored, when we are only loveable when we are smiling, happy and cute, we put away the parts of us we mistake as wrong.

As we are emotionally neglected and abandoned in childhood, so we continue the pattern to emotionally neglect and abandon ourselves.

Rejecting ourselves and discovering triggers

Cut off from our own authenticity, we continue the system of rejecting ourselves. We then reach a point where we have no choice but to spiral downwards, or claw our way out of the abyss and start healing. For many of us that starts with having children of our own. As we learn to love and parent them with connection we have to learn to re-parent ourselves with love and care.
No more insulting ourselves, shaming ourselves, abandoning ourselves.
Children become the mirror to our internal world. We have wounds on our souls which we can't see without the reflection. Children are incredible teachers. They open up the shadows of our inner selves. The anger, the bitterness, despair, the grief - your dear child will trigger it all, loudly. Unlike other things in life that call attention to these patterns, you can't run away! Some patterns you might notice could be anger as your child consistently pushes your limits. You may start off calm but switch to boiling if it goes on long enough.
When the anger bubbles up it can be a message regarding all the times your boundaries were not respected as a child.

Perhaps you were hit in anger or shouted at for not obeying. Journal and dive deep into the emotions and memories that come up as your child triggers you. The unconscious beliefs you still hold may rise to the surface of your consciousness the longer you write your thoughts, uncensored.

Releasing the hurt safely

For me the anger still occasionally rises (I’m working on it) when my son is excessively clingy. My mother never accepted me being clingy, shy or anxious. Another example might also be consciously or unconsciously withdrawing our love as punishment for a child’s lack of compliance. Healing Trauma The important point, is we have to bravely confront our present mistakes, and past wounding. If we are too afraid to do this, we might continue to wound our own child in exactly the same ways we were. Some of us, aware of the pain of what we experienced as children will try to parent differently. To some degree we achieve this. But without fully examining and processing our past hurts, we may repeat the themes of abandonment and rejection but in a way that looks and feels different to the child.
When we do mess up at times, we must reparent ourselves with compassion and forgiveness for repeating what we experienced.
This can open the floodgates. Even the smallest of detail of our childhood is open for examination, where it holds meaning, or strong emotion. We process the grief, despair, the feelings of abandonment. We may need to accept that we might not be 100% successful at preventing the transfer of aspects of generational trauma.
With conscious awareness and active healing work, we can minimise the impact of the trauma we are holding.

We can repair the ruptured connections with our children faster and do less damage.

Seeking support as self-care

Look for support as an act of self care, actively seeking the care and nurturing you did not receive in childhood. It might be a Life Coach, or a qualified counsellor. Those trained in Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) have an excellent framework for working with complex trauma. Emotionally Focussed Therapy also looks at your attachment patterns in all your relationships and is especially useful for couples work. I suggest you journal as much as you can as strong feelings arise. Allow the little “you” to talk about all the things he or she has been through. There is relief the other side. And we can feel proud as we work to give our children the feelings of belonging and safety that we never had. We can give ourselves the peace we deserve as we move slowly and surely towards balance and emotional stability. Written by Hannah Tahiri