Trauma is complex – this is especially true when we consider that we can be affected by trauma that didn't even occur in our lifetime. This is the difficult subject that Columbia University-trained psychologist Dr Mariel Buqué set out to tackle in her new book Break the Cycle: intergenerational trauma. "This book came about because I had hit a bit of a block in my own therapy room, where in my discussions with a number of clients, I wasn't able to really pinpoint a specific term or therapeutic process that was appropriate for the layers of pain that they were bringing in."

Intergenerational trauma describes the possibility that trauma can be passed down from our parents. If our parents were in chronic stress or trauma, especially if long-standing, they can pass on genetic information to us that carries this trauma with it, meaning we might have a "predisposition to having an overactive nervous system". Beyond this, if our parents don't attend to their own emotional wounds, this is likely to show up in how they parent and raise their children. 

Buqué is a holistic practitioner, with a strong focus on body-oriented practices to healing trauma. The book offers many practical exercises to help readers work through their own painful material at a gentle pace. 

Working through intergenerational trauma is likely to bring up a whole host of emotional responses, says Buqué, with one that will be unavoidable – grief. The process of letting go of often long-held narratives about who we are and where we come from, and the people we, often, love the most dearly – it takes courage to face up to these things. Loyalty, to narratives and to family, can get in the way. "But understanding that the truest form of loyalty that we have to offer our families is that which ensures we can liberate our lineage from the pain that has been there – that, I think, is one of the most beautiful expressions of love."

Watch our interview with Dr Mariel Buqué here

Buy the book here

Find a trauma-informed therapist here

Further reading

Trauma responses: Understanding your window of tolerance

A psychologist explains the stress response and mind-body connection

Pilates as a trauma treatment: Mindful movement

Surviving childhood trauma: The impact of domestic violence

Numbness: What it means to feel numb, and how counselling can help