May is a significant month as we continue to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month and also honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI Month). Over the past two weeks, we have explored the importance of self-love and improving our surroundings. This week, we wanted to talk through a topic within mental health that affects many Asian American families, among others.
The recent Oscar sweep of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" was an emotional moment for many Asian Americans, not just because of the historical wins for Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan but also because of the personal and cultural topics the movie touched upon. It explored themes around mother-daughter relationships, expectations and transgenerational trauma. For many Asian Americans, including our founder Jonathan and many members of our team, it was a cathartic experience and ultimately, a story about healing.
Understanding transgenerational trauma
Transgenerational trauma encompasses the transference of emotional and psychological wounds from one generation to the next. It acknowledges that the historical traumas endured by our ancestors continue to influence our mental health and well-being today. Transgenerational trauma is by no means unique to any one culture, and it can have a lasting effect on many communities. Within the context of the AAPI experience, it is crucial to recognize how the weight of our collective struggles, triumphs, and narratives shape our present realities.
Transgenerational trauma affects families and communities across, leaving lasting marks on individuals and their cultural connections. Historical events and experiences, such as immigration challenges, wartime trauma, forced assimilation and systemic discrimination, have contributed to the transgenerational transmission of trauma within these communities. For example, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II had profound psychological and emotional effects that continue to be felt within the community today. Similarly, the experiences of Southeast Asian refugees fleeing war and genocide have shaped the lives of subsequent generations, influencing their mental well-being and sense of identity and belonging. In the case of "Everything Everywhere All at Once", it can involve the struggles of a new immigrant and the challenges of adjusting to raising a family in a new culture.
Breaking the cycle
We have only recently started understanding the impact of trauma over generations. While our parents may have tried their best with limited awareness and tools, not addressing trauma can have a real, negative impact on their loved ones, such as trouble regulating emotions like anger, stress, sadness and shame. Breaking the cycle of transgenerational trauma requires acknowledging and addressing the trauma and taking actionable steps that promote healing and resilience for ourselves and our children and children’s children. If you feel like there is unresolved transgenerational trauma in your life, here are a few ways you can help break the cycle:
Acknowledge and validate your experiences
Take time to reflect on your personal experiences and emotions, and acknowledge the impact of transgenerational trauma on your life. This might involve journaling, talking with a trusted friend or family member, or joining a support group where you can share and validate your experiences with others who have similar backgrounds.
Connect with supportive communities
Seek connections with others from your cultural background to build a sense of community and support. This can involve joining cultural or community organizations, attending cultural events or gatherings, or participating in activities that promote cultural exchange and understanding. Engaging with your community can provide a space for shared experiences, collective healing, and can foster a sense of belonging, understanding, and support.
Embrace your cultural identity
Celebrate and honor your cultural heritage as a way to connect with your roots and foster a sense of belonging. Engage in activities that allow you to explore and deepen your understanding of your cultural traditions, such as learning the language, cooking traditional meals, participating in cultural events or festivals, or engaging with cultural organizations or community groups. Embracing your cultural identity can provide a source of strength and resilience, helping you navigate the effects of transgenerational trauma while reclaiming and preserving your heritage.
Break harmful patterns
Reflect on the generational patterns and behaviors that contribute to the cycle of transgenerational trauma. Identify areas where you can make conscious changes and create healthier dynamics within your relationships and family. For instance, if you have noticed a pattern of avoiding discussions about mental health in your family, you can make a conscious effort to create a safe and supportive space for open dialogue. Encourage family members to share their experiences, thoughts, and feelings without judgment. By fostering an environment of empathy and understanding, you can break the cycle of silence and promote healing.
Therapy can help
We acknowledge that healing from transgenerational trauma takes time and can't be solved in one article. Therapy offers a nurturing space where you can explore this topic more and continue your journey of healing. A skilled therapist who specializes in trauma-informed care and embraces cultural sensitivity will be able to guide you in developing effective coping strategies, processing emotions, and fostering healthy relationships. Orientations like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) or Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) have been shown to be particularly effective.
At reflect, we prioritize culturally responsive care and trauma-informed approaches. Our community is dedicated to understanding your unique experiences and providing personalized support. 40% of reflect therapists are POC. By working with reflect, you can embark on a transformative journey of healing, breaking free from the burdens of transgenerational trauma. Our therapists create a warm and inclusive therapeutic environment, where you'll feel seen, validated, and empowered to overcome these challenges. With reflect by your side, you'll receive the individualized care and guidance needed to heal and break harmful cycles of transgenerational trauma.
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