Breaking The Cycle of Childhood Trauma
Updated: Jun 28
Recently The New York Times published an article about teaching mindfulness at school, as one method for dealing with mental health issues in children. The article got me thinking about children and mental health, and more specifically, my own mental health as a child. I can’t help but wonder how having access to mindfulness teachings might have changed the course of my life.
Mindfulness at school is one thing, but what excites me more for the future of children’s mental health is the idea of a parent dealing with her own mental health issues, and appropriately discussing her experience with her children. Breaking the cycle, in other words. If a parent is also willing to explore his spirituality – whatever that might look like – and share that experience with his children, we’ve now identified the most impactful formula there is for leaving our children a world that is better than the one we were born into. Mental health plus spirituality is a powerful force for healing.
Now, I’m not a parent, but I am a child of parents with mental health issues, and I know from my own experience how devastating my mother’s narcissism and my father’s personality were on my own emotional development and mental health. Before I began my own journey of healing, I spent a lifetime – 40+ years – in a state of suffering related to the subconscious choices I made, and beliefs I adopted, while I was in the care of a narcissistic mother. A combination of psychology and spirituality has been my personal path to liberation from this trauma. Today I’m deeply interested in the alleviation of suffering, and that’s why the mental health of children, and their parents, is of interest to me.
One time, in the context of a healing circle, I had the privilege of witnessing the mother of a newborn baby girl expose some of her fears about parenting. A lot was happening with the baby that the mother didn’t understand. She believed she needed to have all the answers, and then felt inadequate when she didn’t. A discussion followed: What if the baby didn’t really need a mother who had all the answers? What if the baby would benefit more from having a mother who was willing to sit beside her own fear, rather than run from it? What kind of woman would this little girl grow up to be if she was exposed to an adult who was skilled at coping with uncertainty?
If you would like to use your own experience as a parent to grow spiritually and improve your mental health, consider investigating the triggers that show up in everyday life with your children. A trigger is anything – an event, a conversation, a thought – that causes you to feel upset. Below is a 5-step approach for investigating triggers.
1 – Write down what happened. This is where you describe the event as a series of facts. Keep it neutral and skip the story.
2 – Write down how you feel about what happened. Use feeling words and describe your emotions. This is about feelings and not thoughts. This is about how you feel, not how your child feels.
3 – Write down the judgments you have about what happened. Consider all of your judgments, including judgments about yourself, your child, anyone else involved, the circumstances generally, etc.
4 – Reflect on your own life when you were the age of your child. What was going on in your life? What was going on with your parents? How were you parents treating you at that time? How did you feel about how your parents were treating you?
5 – Consider the possibility that you aren’t upset for the reason you think you are. Using the answers to the above questions, consider how the trigger is bumping up against your own life experiences that have not yet been healed.
Parents who heal their childhood wounds can stop living life from those wounds, which helps reduce the likelihood of their children suffering from the same wounds, and then those children subjecting their future children all over again. It’s a way to break the cycle. I believe the work of healing is the most important work we have to do.
This article was featured in "The Space Between," a blog for writers, parents and writer/parents: http://thespacebtwn.net
Click this link for more information about the adult children of narcissists.
About the Author
Diana Calvo is a psychotherapist and coach who helps people get unstuck and transform their day-to-day experience of work and life. After 20 years successfully climbing the corporate ladder, Diana experienced her own journey of healing and awakening. She discovered her true calling to guide others on their journey out of suffering and into a life of purpose and joy. Diana left the corporate world to start her own coaching business. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her dog Joey and a beautiful view of the mountains. She works with clients across the globe.