Healing Generational Trauma: Breaking the Cycle of Divorce – A Child of Divorce’s Story

I am an adult child of divorce. In many ways, I am still recovering from the generational traumas that led to my parent’s divorce when I was 17 years old. I have spent my life healing from those traumas.

If you relate to being an adult child of divorce (meaning your parents got divorced when you were older), this is a chance to validate your feelings and discuss how to break generational trauma. If you are a divorced woman and have adult children, this is an opportunity for you to get inside your kids’ heads. If neither of those things applies to you, but you are realizing that you have some traumas to heal from, this is a beautiful place to be.

What is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma is the harmful effects of emotional and physical mistreatment, abuse, or neglect (this can also include larger societal experiences such as war, poverty, racism, and disease).

If left untreated and ignored, the symptoms of these traumas are passed down from generation to generation.

This type of trauma leads to physical and mental health problems for subsequent generations, as well as issues with forming secure relationships and being emotionally connected with others.

Trauma can be experienced directly or witnessed by individuals throughout childhood and into adulthood.

My parents’ (unresolved traumas) marriage and subsequent divorce have definitely been the larger trauma for me to recover from than my divorce ever was. If you have heard any of the divorce statistics, you know that if your parents got divorced, there’s a much higher probability of becoming divorced yourself.

If you don’t interrupt the cycle, you’re more likely to be remarried and divorced a second time and your child will likely get divorced as well.

So all paths point to the need to heal.

I am 42, and I feel as though my generation has been called to interrupt and heal generational trauma. It’s a responsibility we women were born into. This means that we can change the future and create powerful legacies. But it is also a lot of responsibility.

Being an adult child of divorce was incredibly painful for me. However, I had begged my parents to get divorced for years, and the end of their relationship felt like an end to the violence, cold silences, codependency, and fear that I had lived in for many years.

broken red plastic heart with band aide on it, healing generational traum

Is Generational Trauma Real?

Although there was a sense of relief when the divorce happened, it left me with a pile of pain and no immediate knowledge about how to process it. One thing that influenced me to become a therapist was my parents attending marriage counseling for a short time. Let me say this: If you were sent to counseling and you didn’t love it, or you’ve sent your kids to counseling, and they don’t love it, good job anyway because you put in the effort. I became a therapist because I didn’t want children to experience what I went through.

Within 18 months of the divorce, both of my parents were re-partnered. I remember feeling very territorial about my dad when I was around my stepmom. That possessiveness spoke to how under-supported I felt in life. I did not have the resources to cope with anything that I was experiencing or what I was grasping for. And frankly, neither of my parents had the mental or emotional resources to help me through my pain. I didn’t have a therapist, a coach, or a counselor.

I was my mom’s maid of honor when she remarried, and I cried as I was walking down the aisle during the ceremony. I knew I was disappointing her, but I couldn’t stop. She was angry with me for years because she wanted me to be happy for her. She felt she could not move on and feel fulfilled by her new life.

In reality, this wasn’t about her; it was a clearly unmet need on my part. I had not processed my grief. I was wildly under-supported throughout my childhood, during their divorce, and throughout my early years as a young adult. And I was in pain.

Today, I can see the amount of responsibility that was placed on me to heal all of this generational trauma.

The emotional codependency, violence, abandonment, sexual dysfunction, and infidelity that existed in my parent’s marriage didn’t just show up in their generation. It’s an accumulation of generations of not healing and not taking responsibility for their personal dysfunction. This then manifests into dysfunctional relationships and parenting styles.

The Importance to Speak Your Truth

I am very careful not to say anything hurtful about my childhood, my parents, or my ex-husband on my podcasts and within these articles. However, I always strive to speak the truth. Might it trigger pain in them if they read this? Maybe.

Telling my story and speaking my truth is saying, “I am no longer bearing your burdens. I am no longer carrying your responsibilities.”

Through this lens, I see that their relationship and parenting dysfunctions led to a lot of my personal dysfunction. I was chronically anxious and struggled with panic, and I didn’t know it. I had bouts of depression in childhood and young adulthood, and I had no clue how to heal.

woman applies pressure to finger on left hand. healing generational trauma

Trauma and Attachment Style

I was undiagnosed and untreated for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. I had a very strong, mixed attachment style. I was both anxious and avoidant, but primarily anxious.

I could not tolerate being single, and I would soothe moments of quiet or stillness in my life by working. I confused financial security with healthy attachment.

Trauma and Chronic Illness

The trauma impacted my body.

I had a chronic illness in the form of cluster headaches, GI dysfunction, adult acne, and infertility. There was so much mental, emotional, and physical dysfunction that came from having parents who refused to own their shit and to heal it.

This manifested in me as I was dating and picking a partner. I was doing it from a place of untreated trauma, which means I was dissociative and I didn’t have an integrated psyche.

Unresolved Trauma Showing Up in Your Marriage

There were parts of me that were running the show at various times: the inner critic, the angry teenager, the insecure child. In many ways – even though I was so angry with my parents – I still tried to please them. When I met my first husband, I didn’t believe I could ‘pick’ a partner, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be chosen.

My ex-husband is a wonderful human, but really he’s the person my mom would pick to marry. He is not the person who an authentic, integrated me would have chosen as a life partner.

My relationship with my mom improved when I got married because I was living in a way that pleased her.

It doubly soothed my feelings of insecure attachment because 1: I had a husband who was now legally obligated to be my partner, and 2: my mom was proud of me. These things created a greater sense of security, but the whole marriage was a setup of generational trauma.

When my ex-husband and I had a very amicable separation, I know that as much as he hurt me deeply, I also hurt him deeply. This is why I feel so powerfully about doing my work with women who are divorced, as this was a turning point in my life.

Women begin to see that what has arisen in the marriage is an echo of unresolved trauma from childhood.

woman with long curly brown hair sitting on the beach, looking out to the ocean, in lotus position

Is Generational Healing and True Love Possible?

I had the motivation to know myself better and to heal the things that I could see were screwed up. I’m inviting you to see this as a magical opportunity for you to change everything about your legacy.

This path of trauma healing has simultaneously been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I used to be chronically anxious, deal with depression, and have an insecure attachment style. Now and then, I get anxious, and I’m still working through it. However, I’m clear that it’s on its way out of my body. I know I have a strong, healthy, amazing marriage, a wonderful child, a good life, and a sense of well-being.

Generational Healing as a Child of Divorce Works Differently for Everybody

We all have different stories, paths, and pain points.

Our lives have similar themes, but we have varying levels of resources. The nuances of your story matter because the nuances of your story are part of your specific magic.

When you’re going through a divorce, it’s much harder to navigate if your parents are divorced, and they don’t get along. Your support system is cut in half. However, my divorce and motherhood taught me that boundaries are my best friend. In many ways, my daughter’s very existence has given me everything I have needed to tackle the rest of this story.

When she was born, I had somebody I was willing to fight for more than I was willing to fight for myself.

woman hand pointing with finger to clicker button

Setting Healthy Boundaries

When I started to say “No more” to my parents, the methods that I would use to protect her became the ways that I would protect myself.

Healthy boundaries have allowed me to embrace my worth and deserve better behavior from people in my life.

This is the programming shift that happens when you heal.

The Masculine in Relationship

If you struggle to feel worth it or lovable or feel that you have no control or choices, these are all signs that you’ve internalized somebody else’s baggage. I have recently read a game-changing book for healing some remnants of being an adult child of divorce. It is called “The Masculine in Relationship”by GS Youngblood.

In his book, “The Masculine in Relationship,” GS Youngblood teaches men and women what true masculine leadership is.

When a man comes from a place of true masculine leadership, a woman feels a sense of security and well-being.

She can trust herself and trust her partner. As a result, the woman in this scenario can also parent her children from a place of feminine intuition.

We, women, need to understand that if a man is not functioning from a place of true masculine leadership, it is not a great idea to partner with them.

Until we set those boundaries, hold them, and do not settle, it will be hard for us to be in a relationship and embody our true feminine selves. We will always lose ourselves when we are with a man who is not grounded in his masculine leadership, as we end up taking responsibility for his roles in a relationship.

Now, this doesn’t mean that men and women can’t exchange masculine and feminine roles. Of course, we can. My husband does most of the cooking and dishwashing, and I do a lot of the strategizing. We have very different work schedules, and I log a lot more work hours than he does. We play with polarity in our relationship.

GS Youngblood highlights structures that helped me feel more secure in my existence as a woman and in understanding my worth. Through his work, I discovered the toxic culture that surrounds men and women which leads to women not feeling worthwhile. This is not me blaming men. This is not me hating men. It’s an understanding that men need to step into a truer form of leadership. So, this is me holding men accountable to that and believing in them.

Reading this book has not only changed my sense of security in the world, but it has helped my marriage improve that much more. How many of us had great examples of great marriages? If you’ve never had a good role model, how do you know?

toddler holding a parent hand

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Trauma

We, women, are doing this work to change our lifestyle so that we are living healthier and with joy in our day-to-day lives. We are breaking generational trauma. I believe in you so much, and I know that we have the guidance and the tools that we need to move forward and thrive.

Thank you for reading my story, for knowing me, and for understanding me. And thank you for the opportunity to do the same for you.

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