How to Break the Trauma Cycle | Dr. Mariel Buqué

Mariel BuquéHave you ever felt like you just can’t escape certain patterns playing out in your life and relationships? Or noticed that no matter how hard you try, you seem prone to stress, anxiety, or illness? It’s almost like it’s become your default state, along with a feeling of being perpetually stuck in one particular moment or season of life that you just can’t get past. 

Some of this is about what you’ve been through and how it affected you. But, What if some of these tendencies were actually trauma responses that were passed down to you before you were even born? And, what if, strange as this may sound, that inherited trauma state was actually reversible? And, in flipping your own behavioral and epigenetic switches back to ease, you could then pass that down to generations to come?

My guest today, Dr. Mariel Buqué, is here to shed light on the phenomenon of inherited trauma and provide a roadmap to healing across generations. As an Afro-Dominican psychologist and intergenerational trauma expert, she’s devoted her career to understanding how trauma gets embedded in our biology and psychology and transmitted through families.

In her powerful new book, Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma, Dr. Buqué synthesizes insights from her research and clinical practice into a holistic approach to addressing trauma that’s passed down to us. She provides clinically proven techniques to regulate our nervous systems, restore secure attachment, process grief, and break free from harmful intergenerational patterns.

Her message ultimately transcends genetics – it is a call to become cycle breakers who chart a new course for our families. And, in a part of the conversation I didn’t see coming, I had my own cycle-breaking revelation during our conversation.

You can find Mariel at: Website | Instagram | Intergenerational Adverse Experiences Quiz | Episode Transcript

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photo credit: Ambar Jimenez


Episode Transcript:

Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:00:00] A part of the process of generational healing is one that requires intentional grief. Grief is something that we tend to look at as just kind of coming to us because we suffered a loss. But in reality, grief is also found in the generational healing journey, because we have to basically grieve the fact that there are aspects of our lives or people within our lives that aren’t likely to change. But there’s also an understanding in trauma healing, especially generational healing, that we can also do little things to actually try and create some sort of a shift.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:41] So have you ever felt like you just can’t escape certain patterns playing out in your life and your relationships and your work and pretty much everything? Or maybe notice that no matter how hard you try, you seem prone to stress or anxiety or illness. It’s almost like it’s become your default state, along with a feeling of being perpetually stuck in one particular moment or season of life that you just can’t get past. You keep reverting back to. Some of this is about what you’ve been through and how it has affected you, for sure. But what if some of these tendencies were also actually trauma responses that were passed down to you before you were even born? And what if, strange as this may sound, that inherited trauma state was actually reversible. And in flipping your own behavioral and epigenetic switches back to ease, you could then pass that state down to generations to come. So my guest today, Dr. Mariel Buqué, is here to shed light on the phenomenon of inherited trauma and provide a roadmap to healing across generations. As an Afro-Dominican psychologist and intergenerational trauma expert, she has devoted her career to really understanding how trauma gets embedded in our biology and psychology and then transmitted through families.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:55] In her powerful new book, Break the Cycle A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma. Dr. Buqué synthesizes insights from her research and clinical practice into a holistic approach to addressing trauma that’s passed down to us, and she provides clinically proven techniques to regulate our nervous system, restore secure attachment, process grief, and break free from harmful intergenerational patterns, and to become a cycle breaker yourself. Her message is ultimately transcend genetics. It’s a call to become that cycle breaker, to chart a new course for you, for those who come after you. And in part of the conversation that I actually didn’t see coming, I had my own cycle breaking revelation during it. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:47] So curious about the work that you do. And I know you focus a lot on different topics, but this newest book is really you’re doing a deep dive into the topic of inherited or intergenerational trauma. And I think a good starting point for us is really to understand what are we talking about when we talk about intergenerational trauma?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:03:09] Yeah, I agree. A wonderful starting point to get us all on the same page. Really. This, uh, type of trauma is the only type that is passed down a person’s family line. And the reason being is because it’s the only type of trauma that has a biological element that is inherited. And what that means is basically like intergenerational trauma is trauma that we inherit by way of our genetics, but also by way of our psychology. So the two elements have to be present basically for us to say, oh, okay, that’s what we’re dealing with here in our biology, really. You know, if we had like parents that underwent chronic trauma or chronic stress, it is highly likely that their genetic encoding would have actually been programmed around stress and trauma, meaning that their bodies would have said, okay, we basically this is the status quo. This is the norm for us. When they conceive us, we actually inherit not just, you know, like hair genes and eye color and things of that nature. We also inherit emotional vulnerabilities or predispositions to big emotions, to stress, to trauma. But that isn’t really kind of like the end of the story. We still need a lot of other things to be in the mix in order to say like, oh, okay, we’ve inherited trauma. The more I guess, like prominent and important one is, what was life like growing up? Did we receive enough of that emotional foundation that felt stable and loving? Uh, to help us sort through some of the initial moments of our lives? Did we feel, as babies, like, attuned to our parents? Were they present enough? Were they loving and caring, nurturing and tending to our needs? And then beyond that, you know, were we in safe environments like safe neighborhoods where we in schools where we were able to go through the process of school without bullying, did we, you know, engage in healthy relationships or were the relationships toxic or violent or abusive? And so all of these other factors are part of our psychology.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:05:26] So everything that happens after we’re born, we need to understand, okay, so what else happened? And if something happens that is traumatic enough when we already have these emotional vulnerabilities that we’re, in essence, kind of born with, then, um, it leaves room for there to be an opportunity for us to develop trauma symptoms or trauma responses. And that’s when we can say, okay, well, we have a parent who was themselves in a state of trauma, and now their child, who is either a child and adolescent or an adult, has now developed trauma symptoms themselves. What we’re looking at is intergenerational trauma.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:03] I mean, it’s so interesting, right? Because I think when somebody hears the phrase intergenerational or inherited trauma, often what comes to mind is, well, you have somebody who is in a tough circumstance or that in any sort of environmental circumstance that causes trauma and they become apparent, and then the child is brought up in a similar environment, a similar circumstance, and is effectively retraumatized in a similar way because of that environment. But what you’re saying is actually different here. That’s actually what you’re saying is this is a blend of psychology, of circumstance, but also physiology. There’s literally a genetic shift that happens when someone experiences trauma. And that shift at that state can then be passed down to the next generation, even if their environment or circumstance is profoundly differently. So do I have that right?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:06:57] Yes. That’s correct. There are different ways in which our bodies internalize what’s happening in our environment. And in part of course, as I mentioned, like our genes are at play, right? Because our genes are basically saying, well, you know, I’m going to either turn on or off. They’re called gene expressions. I’m going to turn on or off, depending on what my environment looks like, how safe or unsafe it is. And they basically just kind of like almost kind of hardwire into those settings. There’s also cellular memory, which is memories of what has happened to us in the past. Like if you, you know, sometimes, like you’ll have a moment where let’s say that somebody unfortunately, they hurt you and they smelled like Chanel number five. I don’t know, you know, like then the familiar perfume that sometimes. You’ll smell walking through a department store, and you just happen to be walking through a department store, and all of a sudden your neck muscles tense up and you feel like the tension and the pain that is your cellular, your literal body memory, saying, I remember the the sense of lack of safety. And I’m tensing up because I feel like that may happen again.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:08:12] And I feel very unsafe in this moment, because I’m remembering that past instance where that person was Chanel number five hurt me. The same goes for our nervous system, yet another part of the physiological representations of stress and trauma, which is, of course, our our threat and alert system that’s hardwired into us as humans, is situated in our nervous system, and our nervous system also helps us to understand what feels safe, what doesn’t, when can we rest? When can we be at ease, and when do we need to, in essence, like feel like we need to fend off a threat or protect ourselves? So in all of these areas, our genetic, you know, makeup and expressions within our cellular memory, our body memory, and within our nervous system, we have all of these pre-programmed responses that are there kind of as a way to help us survive. But unfortunately, what happens when we experience traumas or long standing stressors that become chronic is that we start defaulting to these specific states of being physiologically, and our bodies over exhaust themselves trying to protect us even when no threat is in sight.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:29] Talk to me more about these physiological states that tend to happen. So if we whether we’re carrying a capital T trauma from childhood or something that’s been inherited, or whether there is something that is recurring on a regular basis, how does this manifest in our health and in our well-being, in our physiology? I mean, I think a lot of us make the association with how it affects our mental health. You know, we feel emotionally stuck. We feel like we’re suffering, we feel anxiety. We feel so many things more broadly. How does this also show up in the physical body?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:10:03] Yeah. You know, our physical body actually has a neurological wear and tear meter that actually gets, um, overloaded when trauma enters the picture. So we actually have specific areas of our bodies and even our entire bodies that are actually created to absolve some sort of stressor and then transition from it, move on from it. But when we have chronic stress or ongoing pounding of our mental status on an ongoing basis, chronically all those things, what tends to happen is that we go into what we call allostatic overload or like our in essence, our entire being just becomes overwhelmed by the number of stressors that we’re undergoing. And a lot of the things that happen to us physiologically related to stress starts kind of like eating up at our bodies. An example would be, you know, we have a lot of like stress hormones that that start like floating through or through our bodies whenever we experience even mild stressors. Cortisol is like, you know, the the biggest offender, if you may, but we have others is adrenaline or adrenaline. There’s other hormones that are also implicated in the stress function. When our bodies are programmed to have so many of these hormones in our bloodstream for an extended period of time, some of our metabolic functions start to become worn down. And one of the ways in which that can impact our bodies is that our, for example, like our heart, starts to be impacted by the amount of not just stress, but the amount of like hormones that are being pumped and flooded into into the heart system.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:11:50] So like that’s just like one organ. But there are multiple organs, especially those connected to the nervous system that eventually start wearing down and start malfunctioning as a result of ongoing stress that isn’t moderated and dissolved. And eventually that leads us into having specific kinds of diseases that have been directly mapped to stress, stress, disease, connections that are connected to our cardiac function. There’s also, you know, the autoimmune conditions that have been like, directly mapped to stress and especially long time stress, and in particular, generational stress. And there’s also specific cancers that have been mapped back to chronic stress, specifically the type of stressors that happen early in childhood. And so there are so many ways in which the body starts feeling that overload and starts giving up because it just feels like the stressors are coming. Too frequently, or there are too acute meaning too big. And and it’s too much for us to actually contain in our bodies and our bodies, in absorbing so much of that stress and absorbing so much of the actual stress functions of the body, including how the nervous system defaults to a stress response. It starts giving up on itself, and it starts even attacking itself. In the case of like autoimmune conditions and even cancers.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:13] I notice you’re using the word stress a lot. So I want to bridge the gap between trauma and stress.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:13:18] Well, the reason why I incorporate stress into the ideas that we have around generational trauma is because the ways that I frame generational trauma, really, before it even gets to the point of trauma, is by calling it strain, like generational strain, because there’s a lot of strain that we experience in our day to day lives. And typically when the strain is either too much or too big, or we have perhaps not enough of the coping mechanisms that we need to actually help us through it, then it becomes really kind of like that setup, almost kind of the foundation for us to actually be at greater risk for experiencing trauma symptoms. Stress and trauma are very interconnected and correlated on many levels, and in part is because we can experience a number of different stressors, and they can be those small t traumas, like you mentioned, the capital T or the big T traumas like the, you know, a car accident or witnessing a death or things that we can identifiably say that is traumatic. But then there are the day to day stressors, the day to day, smaller traumas that can also manifest in our lives, that can also cause us to over time, especially if they start accumulating on top of one another, can also cause us to experience trauma symptoms in the long terme.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:43] They’re basically pretty intertwined because when it’s interesting, when I think about stress, I think a lot of us associate the word stress with like, oh, this is a bad thing. And yet at the same time, when you really dive into the literature on stress, you know, so there’s different types of stress, eugenic stress versus, I guess, the curiosities that it seems like there is like there’s a tipping point, like we need a certain amount of stress to strengthen our system to a certain extent, to grow psychologically. Yet if it goes too far and it gets that tipping point is probably very individual, then you tip into a point where it’s now dysfunctional and destructive and potentially tipping towards some form of major or minor trauma. Is that right?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:15:26] Yes. And the part of the reason why I’m opening up this dialogue through this book of like, generational strain is because I want people to be more attuned to the fact that they could hold bigger vulnerabilities than other folks, and something that would be experienced as not so alarming, not so stressful by someone else, may not be the case for someone whose parents and grandparents and great grandparents underwent extreme adversity, and so it’s going to be really critical for us to have that lens integrated into our understanding of ourselves so that we can be gentler with ourselves. We can hold ourselves with greater compassion because there are times when people, their emotions get really big, they might, you know, become like very sad and very tearful and super apologetic about their emotions, not realizing that, yeah, you know, to someone else, maybe someone got a bad evaluation at work and they just became hyper tearful. It may not be that big a deal to someone else, but your emotions are structured differently, and you may have these emotional vulnerabilities that lie within you, that make it so that day to day stressors hit you harder. As a result, it’s going to be really critical for you to also integrate a lot of day to day practices to help even things out, to help keep you in a state of balance, to help integrate health and wellness into your being, but also into your lifestyle, so that you can also absorb day to day stressors in a way that feels a little bit lighter than what you might be accustomed to because of the ways that your biology is structured.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:11] Yeah, that makes so much sense. I feel like it also builds a certain amount of forgiveness into the experience, because it’s sort of like, well, wait a minute, I am reacting to people side by side, get an equally unhappy job review or something like that, and one person’s like, whatever, I’ll figure it out, you know, I know what to do. And then another person is just devastated. And rather than saying, well, there’s something wrong with me or there’s something, you know, it’s like, well, yeah, I’m carrying a different load going into this physiological and psychological load and the way that it’s landing with. Me is so different because I’m not the same person. I’m carrying something very different into this experience. What I think is really fascinating, too, is I think when a lot of us think about moments like that, we think about, well, what have I endured during my life that I’m carrying into this that may be leading me to respond this way? And what you’re inviting us to think about is what were your parents also carrying or their parents carrying, because some of that may have been transferred down into you and may be contributing to the way that you’re feeling. And it’s good to unpack your own personal experiences. But maybe we need to unpack in a more expansive way, too.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:18:23] Absolutely. Because it allows us to also not just see the humanity in us, but also the humanity in others, which I think is a beautiful consequence of being able to integrate this lens into our lives. Recently, I actually interviewed my parents for my own podcast. I like, you know, have some conversations, usually with healers. But this time I invited my family to have a conversation about generational healing with me, and my father shared a story about when he was still, I believe, ten years old. And he started crying like bawling during the conversation. And the conversation was around how he was so poor that he couldn’t afford this toy that he really wanted. And so what he did was that he, you know, took a shoe box and cut it out into different pieces and created the toy. And so it was this, like, really wholesome story, but a story where he he still felt pain six decades later in reference to this experience in his childhood. And I always say poverty is trauma. It really hurts. Right. And he was a poor kid in the Dominican Republic. So in a very poor country, poverty is like even deeper poverty. I didn’t know that about my dad.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:19:39] Right. Like I didn’t know that this was some a wound that he carried for such a long time, that poverty had caused him so much grief and for so many years. And I myself grew up in poverty, but in the US. But me seeing that in my father allowed me to have greater compassion for the ways that he has carried his own wounds. And it also helped me to have compassion for the ways that poverty had injured me, in ways that I wasn’t fully attuned to, because it did hurt to grow up, you know, without being able to have some meals or some clothing that, you know, wouldn’t be made fun of and things like that. But, um, I didn’t realize that the intergenerational impact of how poverty can be so incredibly wounding. And I think all in all, like it just allows us to be able to have this multi-dimensional view of being able to view our fellow humans, whether they’re in our family or even if they’re, you know, all the way across another part of the world, that we have a lens by which to see people in their emotional vulnerabilities, that helps us to humanize each other.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:44] And that’s so important, especially these days. The way you described the story that your dad shared. Also, you know, like literally six decades later and it was so present when he told the story that it sounds like it literally brought him back to the emotional state that he was in a couple of years back. I had the opportunity to sit down with Bessel van der Kolk, who’s one of the leading voices in trauma, as you know, and one of the ways that he described trauma and noticing it is that people would share with him a feeling of stuckness, like they’re really struggling to move past the experience. It was almost like when this thing happened, it put a pin in their life, and no matter how much you tried and worked and you struggled and you efforted around it, it was like that pin never got pulled out of the map of your life, and you kept spiraling around it. You just couldn’t break free from it and start to plot that future course and life in the present. It sounds a bit like what you were describing your dad experience in that moment, even sharing it literally six decades later.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:21:46] Yeah. And how many of our parents, even ourselves, but our parents, grandparents and so forth, have had these long standing wounds that they never talked about. They never told a soul. They just carried it and carried it and carried it until eventually it became a part of their cellular memory, a part of their biology, a part of their being. And we’re very psychologically minded and compassionate family. My sister’s a social worker, you know, I’m a psychologist. And so we hold a lot of space for my parents. However, you know how many other parents that are out there have never gotten an opportunity to just express this and have a cathartic moment of just releasing those wounds that have been held in their bodies, in their minds, and in their spirits for such a long time, and in part a part of what I’m hoping can be what this book can mobilize people to do is to have those vulnerable conversations with the people that they love, so that there is openness and a space for there to be healing that’s multigenerational, that we don’t leave people behind because it wouldn’t be fair. My parents are now in their 60s and 70s. It wouldn’t be fair for me to go through my process of healing and just see them in their suffering. Now, granted, they can only do but so much. I’m a psychologist. There’s so much work that I’ve done right. I have a ton of privilege in the health, you know, space and for myself. But I, you know, I sprinkle little nuggets here and there in the in their direction so that they can just have a little point of enlightenment that can liberate them a bit from the shackles of the past, because I want that for them, even if it’s a tiny, microscopic change in a tiny, microscopic form of healing that I could just, like, push that in the direction I think offers me healing to.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:43] What you’re kind of referencing also is almost like a bidirectional intergenerational experience, both backwards and forwards, which recently I was actually talking to someone from the Ojibwe nation. He was describing how part of their ethos is that you think about any decision that you might make, or actually might take in the context of its impact to seven generations, but it’s not just seven generations down the road from you. It’s also this notion that you can ripple back through time and affect seven generations and somehow relieve or release the suffering, the trauma that came before you, which I thought was such a beautiful notion to consider it is.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:24:22] It is what.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:23] You’re describing also, I think is interesting because someone may be listening to this conversation saying, okay, so I’ve experienced some tough stuff and I feel the trauma launched in me. And I notice it’s no doubt there’s something that’s been passed down to me as well. And if you accept the notion that is at least in part heritable, like it can be passed down, couldn’t you also accept the notion that there are things that I can do in my lifetime, if I’m experiencing trauma? It’s having an effect on my physiology and psychology, where I can do some of the work holistically and internally and culturally to shift it in my life. And maybe I can change my state and that I’m not only helping myself then, but I’m then able to pass that improved state, healthier state onto whoever might come after me. Is that realistic to think along those lines 100%?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:25:13] And it’s actually a part of the conversation around generational healing that gets me most excited, because what I did in my own research, like I dove into almost 300 pieces of text, scientific text. I was like, completely nerding out around this because I just couldn’t believe the wealth of information that there was out there that helped us to understand how much power we actually have within us to transform and change not only our minds, but our bodies. How we can actually create new neural. Pathways in our minds and in our brains to actually form around health, form, around ease and calm, rather than around chaos and around, you know, emotional tumult. And so, like the fact that there was so much out there that was already helping me understand from a holistic perspective, many things that we can do that can actually create almost like an upward spiral rather than a downward spiral. I was like, this needs to be shared because a lot of these techniques are actually pretty accessible. And the only thing that we do not have is the more global knowledge of the fact that these things can help in a very sustained way. They can actually create new ways in which our bodies are expressing gene wise, in the ways that our bodies are remembering that cellular memory and creating new ways in which our nervous systems are engaging with our social environments. So why not actually do the things that can be helpful and health promoting and create within us a different body that then will also be impacting future generations?


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:02] Yeah, I love that notion. And a lot of those things you talk about and we’ll dive into. And there’s one other thing that I know that you certainly drop into the book, and it’s this notion of how trauma affects attachment. And I think a lot of folks have heard the word attachment, and I feel like there’s almost a pop psychology version of attachment, and there’s sort of like the real actual understanding of what this is and what it isn’t. Take me into that a bit, because I’d love more clarity on what the relationship is between stress, strain, trauma, and attachment and how that shows up in our lives.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:27:36] Well, you know, this is one of the areas where we can really specifically focus on caregivers and their children. The reason being is because our caregivers are the very first people that actually help us understand that there is another human that we can depend on. We can trust, we can feel love from, we can feel comforted by. And so whenever we’re engaging with our caregivers in those initial moments of life, from our infancy into our initial points of childhood, we are in this almost kind of like a dance with them where we have a need and they come to our aid and they help us with that need, and they help us to feel comforted. And they also relay the message implicitly when I am in a state of need and I’m so incredibly vulnerable in that need, there is an adult that will come and help me to feel safe and well again. And so that is the basic premise of how we start developing. What we know is the concept of trust. And trust is one of the most foundational elements of attaching to other human beings. Because remember the messaging there is a human out there that will come comfort me, love me, and I can trust to do that time and again. If we don’t have that initial foundation that’s set up that way, where there is consistency in there being a caregiver, an adult that actually comes to our aid, then we start developing the idea that we have to do one of two things.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:29:17] We have to avoid meaning, like pretend. Basically like we don’t need something, avoid an attachment, or we have to like scream and like get frantic so that we can actually get the help that we need. And that’s more anxious. Attachment. The initial one I can depend, I can trust they will come. That’s secure attachment. And so when we have an adult that is in a traumatized state and they are so incredibly preoccupied because their minds lose focus, because they are potentially in a state of depression, because they are anxious about things, because their nervous system is just hardwired to always be in a state of alert. If we have adults that are experiencing life this way on an ongoing basis, and have this tender little soul that is waiting to be attended to, but isn’t being so because they’re so preoccupied with their trauma, then it leaves room for an attachment bond to actually be severed, and for that baby to then develop an insecure attachment, meaning the avoidant attachment, anxious attachment, or a combination of the two, which is disorganized attachment.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:27] So when that happens, I mean, that can create a whole cascade of barriers to just healthy living, to being actually able to form healthy relationships that will endure, potentially for an entire lifetime and less than until they’re sort of surfaced and addressed. You talk about something in this context and you describe that. As intergenerational reparenting. Tell me more about what this is and how it speaks to this.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:30:54] Those ties. Sometimes when they’re severed, we don’t have an opportunity to go back to the source and actually undo what was done. We don’t have an opportunity. Some of us don’t have parents that are living. Some of us don’t have parents that are willing to engage in the conversation around healing, or really see how they may have played a role in the wounding, and there can be other barriers to actually being able to go back to the source. But there is one source that we can always fully trust and come back to, which is ourselves. And we are a fund of knowledge as to what it is that we need. If we can just sit in the silence of just being with ourselves and just take a moment to just listen in and think, you know, what is it that I need right now? And this can be especially helpful when we’re feeling almost kind of like, um, let’s say tantrum as adults, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:48] Of course, that never happens to us or anyone listening.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:31:53] You know, we’ll we’ll have those. I had a moment like that where I was so embarrassed at my behavior because I was, you know, I wasn’t being attended to at a doctor’s office where I was so afraid of the diagnosis that I was going to get because it could have been a big one. It wasn’t, but I was really afraid I was going to get an MRI. And I remember like, I was tantruming and I had to really like kind of like almost like remember the work and go back into myself and say, what do you need right now? What’s going on? You know, and that’s basically what a parent would do, right? A parent would say, what do you need? How can I help? How can I be here for you? However, you know, it is a work that we can do for ourselves when it wasn’t done initially, or when we’re coming upon a situation where it almost feels like that tender little person inside of us is coming out and like, forget the adult. It’s just the little human that’s being present in whatever situation. So Reparenting really helps us to see what we need as adults that wasn’t given or what we need as adults that needs to be given now. And the thing about intergenerational reparenting is that it also offers us an opportunity to also almost kind of like be thoughtful about the other people in our lives that also needed that and didn’t get it.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:33:10] My mother, for example, has always been a very strict mother, very stern. She lacked a lot of humor in her life, like she was always just very serious. And now that she’s in her 70s, she upon doing a lot of the work with us, like she has been acting like a kid in the most adorable ways, actually. And so it’s almost like I’m able to see that inner child in my mom that she could never express because she had to work so hard and make sure she tended to her family and took care of things, and just always, an entire lifetime of trying to survive. And now that we take care of my mother, she’s tending to the garden and she’s able to like, you know, like, say funny things. And I’m like, that’s not mom. Like, that’s not the person that I’ve known. But now that, you know, there is an opportunity for for us to have also, like, helped her with her own reparenting process, we can see that the tender person that you know was there all along. And so it’s an opportunity for me not only to see myself and reparent myself, but also do the same for my mother and, you know, almost kind of like pass that back. And, you know, we always talk about passing wisdom forward, but passing it back and allowing for her to experience her own inner child in a way that is heartwarming.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:31] If somebody is listening to this and they’re thinking, this sounds really powerful, and it sounds like something that I would really benefit from, how would they start to step into this? Are they’re sort of opening questions that they might ask or exercises they might think about doing.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:34:47] I always like to, and this is a clue that I actually took from some of the therapies that I’ve been trained on in the past. I like to start conversations from a place where they can actually be connecting, because oftentimes when it comes to generational trauma, people want to get directly to what hurts and they want to have conversations about who hurt me. You hurt me, that person hurt me, and why did it happen? And why couldn’t you break the cycle when there can be so many points of data that we can collect? In having conversations about moments in our parents lives that left a specific imprint, for example, asking questions that are very emotion centered, like, can you tell me about a moment in your childhood where you felt really sad? Tell me about that moment. I love to learn about that one. It’s relaying the message. Your life story is important to me too. It’s relaying the message. I’m interested. In it. And there is an ear. A listening ear out here that wants to understand your story. And three, you know, like your emotions matter. And I want to know how sadness has been represented in your life. And within that, you know, just like with my dad, right. Like what we asked about was, tell us about a moment in your life that, you know, has left an impression on you. We didn’t even say sadness, but he went directly there and it was an opportunity to learn about him and also like, open up the conversation and really talk about generational healing. But it didn’t start with you hurt me. It started with, tell me about a moment. And I think it’s from there that we can then have very heartwarming conversations that can be very humanizing, rather than conversations that point fingers and shift blame.


Jonathan Fields: [00:36:38] I would imagine that you would agree with the notion, not necessarily saying that at some point it’s not important to have a conversation which is frank and really dealing with pain, but starting in a different way, starting from a place of curiosity and recognizing another person’s humanity. And and maybe the way that you feel like you’ve been harmed through their presence is related in a meaningful way to the experiences that they’ve had that brought them to that moment where their behavior caused something that landed in you and try to unpack it, and not just your generation, your experience, but, you know, beyond that, maybe much more holistically gives creates the space for a broader and more sustained healing.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:37:21] Absolutely. And it’s going back into, you know, it just feeling like a very humanizing conversation. Right. Like if we do a lot of these kinds of like reorganizing around conversations, like in couples therapy, right, like so that each person can see another person’s perspective. But first we try and have one side of the couple, you know, talk about their emotional experience around something so that the other person can hear them and then they they get into and this is how you may have contributed to that. But before then, you know, the conversation is a little bit more neutral. And that allows a person to internalize the message much better than when finger pointing starts at the very outset of the conversation, which builds automatic walls. And from there, productive conversations are less likely to be had.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:15] I would imagine you have seen this in practice, but I’m curious what your thoughts are when you start from that place of asking somebody what their experience had been, that then feeling that they’re actually feeling, being given the gift of being able to share in an open and honest and hopefully non-judgmental way that through that process, they may even come to a point where without even you having to go back to them and say like, okay, now it’s time to talk about how you heard me, then saying, I realize that this has caused so much in me that it’s led me to behave in a particular way towards you. And I can see how that has caused harm. And I want to work through this in a way that would probably feel more holistic. Is that something that you see processes? I’m sort of fantasizing like, is this possible? Or do you actually see this in clinical practice?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:39:11] No, I actually do, and I’ve seen it. I think one of the most heartwarming moments that I’ve actually experienced around a situation that mirrored what you’re referencing was between a mom and her teenage daughter, and it almost kind of like really made me realize, like, these conversations can even be had with children. Children can even say, listen, the way that you decided to approach this didn’t feel good to me. I’ll tell you how it felt. And I think that you meant a different impact than the way that this, you know, transpired. And a conversation that’s wholesome can be had that way, that can help each party understand the impact, but also help them understand. I also have a nuanced understanding of what I think you meant to do. I think you meant to protect me, but instead you hurt me. Or what you did created hurt in me. You know, there is the conversations that can be had that allow us to have. There’s a concept in my book and in my practice that I call like, you know, us being able to see our true family and not our false family, our false family, being like the people that we believed, you know, were like, never flawed and like, you know, just like could not hurt us. And then there’s our true family, the people that on a day to day basis, and sometimes even more pervasively, may actually cause some sort of adverse impact upon our lives. And when we can see our true families, see them with their full humanity and all of their capacities to both love and hurt us, there’s an opportunity for us to feel deeper connection to each other because, you know, beautiful. Brene Brown helped us to to really understand how vulnerability really breeds connection. And it also is a shame. Dissolver. And so whenever we have an opportunity to really see the fullness of our own humanity and the fullness of another person’s humanity and all of their flaws and their abilities and inabilities, it can bridge a deeper connection between the two people.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:17] Yeah, that makes so much sense to me. One of the things that you write about is also the importance of getting a baseline of, where are we starting from? And you created a tool, the Intergenerational Trauma Healing Assessment, which is available online. Folks can take it. I took it, and it’s really about actually starting out by gathering some information about me, about what I might know about the generation above or two generations above me, and maybe what they’ve been through and brought to our shared experiences of life so that we sort of have a starting point with more clarity around it. And what is the basic set of information here? When I’m reflecting back that I’ve endured, then it’s almost like an inventory of, this is what I’ve been through, and this is what people who have come before me have been through and how that contributes. And it was interesting because when I took it, the early question sort of says, you know, what happened to you? And then there’s a list of a whole bunch of different things that I’m going down it. And I checked almost nothing on that list. And I realized while I was doing that, just how incredibly privileged that I was to be able to respond in that way. And then I got to the question about those who come before me, and I started checking a bunch of boxes. And what I realized in that moment was that there’s a generation above me that were cycle breakers that I never really thought about or gave them credit for, and it was really powerful.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:42:52] It warms my heart on many levels, but the fact that, um, the assessment could bring that point of insight to you, it’s why I do this, you know, like, thank you so much for sharing that with me because it it’s humbling. It really helps me to see there’s an important function to digging into the layers even. For us to almost kind of have some form of gratitude for the people that came before us, that did the best they could, and the ways that they tried to make sure that pain didn’t reach us.


Jonathan Fields: [00:43:27] I use this phrase cycle breaker also, but that’s your language. You know, this is one of the core concepts of the book, right down to the title. So talk to me a little bit about this concept of breaking cycles or being a cycle breaker.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:43:42] You know, a cycle breaker is a person that has decided that generational patterns of pain must end with them. They take on the arduous and really courageous task of breaking through what they have known to be the normal way of being in relationships, in society, you know, and really deciding to act differently and to embody a different way of being and a different way of parenting also. And many cycle breakers do this because they haven’t had like a book like this in the past. They usually do it out of intuition. They just know that things must be different. They know they must protect their children. They know they must, you know, have relationships that have health at the center and have healthier dynamics than the ones that they may have seen growing up or even seen reflected in their communities and perhaps even society at large. Because society also feeds us a lot of ideas about how relationships should be. Uh, cycle breakers tend to just say something just doesn’t feel right to me. And I know that I have to do things differently. And I may not know exactly what that means, but I’m going to try my best to just create a different legacy for myself and for anybody that comes after me. And if I can sprinkle a little bit of that back, you know, to generations past and it’s an added bonus.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:08] Mmmm. So you talk about, um, technique and methodology, I guess, shorthanded as still walk us through that a little bit.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:45:16] Yeah. Still is a technique that I would use very often with the people that especially had a little bit of a hard time with impulsivity. Let’s say, like many of us who who have these nervous systems that are stuck in a threat response tend to go straight into defending ourselves with anybody that may come around, even if that person isn’t a real threat, but we just perceive it, perceive whatever it is that they’re saying or whatever it is that they’re doing as something that can actually hurt us. And as a result, we go directly into armoring ourselves. And what I have seen in my practice is that that can actually be very disruptive to people’s relationships, people’s relationships, they fumble or they suffer greatly because of this, uh, threat response. And so pulling together not only the science but also the psychology around, well, what can help a person, you know, almost kind of like gain 2 to 3 seconds before their response. What can help them to really cool down their emotions before they actually lunge at the next person that they believe, you know, is threatening them? And I thought about, well, we need to cool the nervous system down, first of all, so that the nervous system is not in that threat response.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:46:36] And ways that we can do that is by engaging in a practice which is the still practice, and it’s an actual acronym. Psychologists love acronyms, and it stands for um, the SS for stop. The T is for temperature, the eyes for inhale, the first L is for lay, and the second L is for launch. And stop is basically us just imagining a stop sign. That means that if somebody has basically what we call like triggered, right. Like so triggered us or like, you know, elicited a response in us that makes us feel uncomfortable instead of doing whatever it is that we’re about to do, just imagining a stop sign and freezing in place. The T temperature is literally when we start actually cooling our emotions down. And we do this in a very physical way by actually taking anything that’s cold, whether it’s a piece of ice or splashing cold water on our face, and actually like placing it on our face and hands sometimes, you know, people actually do this with like cold water plunges and all of these like, cold temperature stimulations actually help us to release endorphins that are actually going to be really helpful in cooling our emotions down. So it has an actual physiological way in which it actually helps us to feel more steady.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:47:52] The eyes for inhale, which is us actually taking a few deep breaths. And I always make the recommendation that we have to do this for a minimum of five minutes if time allows, right? Because our nervous system typically needs just about that amount of time to actually relax and release whatever tension is being stored, the L is, you know, we can either lay or. Sit down somewhere else that is distant from either the person or the circumstance that caused the trigger, if it is possible. And the last L launch is really our re invitation back into the conversation or into the circumstance. But now re-engaging from a place of having steadied our emotions and our nervous system so that whatever it is that we’re actually going to do or say is reflective of our core values, of our truest desire, of what we hope can be relayed, and not from a place that is emotion driven and driven by rage or shame or all of these emotions that can make us say things or do things that don’t really coincide with our values or our desires or the goals that we have for our relationships.


Jonathan Fields: [00:49:03] I mean, part of what I’m hearing underneath the acronym and the five different behaviors or exercises there is also almost like a silent A in this word, which is agency, you know, because what you’re talking about is saying, hey, I have some level of control over this. What it feels like. It’s just like it needs to burst out of me, and there’s something in me, and I’m showing up in this moment with all of my history and normally would respond in this way, that there’s actually a set of practices that will not only change the way that I unfold the experience and the way that the interaction unfolds, but it puts me more in the driver’s seat. It gives me some sense of I have agency in this moment. And that alone, I would imagine, can be really powerful.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:49:52] Yes, it’s such a beautiful framing, and it is empowering for folks to feel as though they can actually have a tool in their back pocket that they can utilize that can actually help them to engage in that sense of agency that you mentioned and really buy back time. Right? Like if I am, if I actually have 2 to 3 seconds where I can be reflective and know, okay, still is the thing that I need to do, it takes 2 to 3 seconds to just think that through and then do all the steps. You know that that takes a couple of minutes, but just transition into doing all the steps. But those 2 to 3 seconds allows me to understand I have a tool. I don’t have to respond from this place of rage or sadness or grief that I’m accustomed to. I have an alternative, and that can be really empowering for a lot of people, and it can allow for a greater connection to actually burgeon from the conversations that are had after person does the actual skill. But the added added bonus is that these practices, they also are practices that start creating different ways of being within your body. Your neural networks are starting to register each time that you do these practices that you are engaging in a healthier response. And so it’s just such a beautiful gift almost, you know, that that also elicits a lot of pride in people because it allows them to understand, I’m doing this all, not just because I don’t want to say something that I know can be destructive in this moment, but also that I’m actually building up myself neurologically. I’m building myself up to have a better response time by default.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:36] Circling back to the beginning of our conversation, maybe just not just even neurologically, but physiologically because of these three practices, both make me feel better in the moment and maybe start a process of healing in the relational aspects of my life. And then whatever epigenetic switches were thrown or passed down to me in a high alert or trauma state through those repeated behaviors over time, maybe we can alter that epigenetic state and that will help in, as you were describing earlier, the physical manifestations of this, from inflammation to illness to disease to all the different things. And then maybe that state that we have now shifted ourselves into becomes the heritable one for anyone who comes after us. It’s really meta when you think about it, but it is also at the same time very practical and very in the moment. Real time like this can feel good now, and it can ripple out in a lot of different ways and make a meaningful difference over time.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:52:38] Indeed, indeed, because the body does. Remember when you know you’re in trauma, but the body also remembers your healing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:46] And when we zoom the lens out a little bit and you think about the ideas that we’ve been talking about, the ideas in your book, the work that you’ve been doing around intergenerational trauma. We’re in a moment where a lot of people are looking not just at their own personal experience, but they’re also looking at systems and societies and cultures in which we have existed, some of which bring long terme systemic harm and are not evolving very quickly to remove that as much as tension some. Times gets shifted to them. So people are feeling that they have to keep living in those systems without a lot of hope. And I would imagine for any sort of immediate enough change to allow them to benefit from it. And that has got to cause just tremendous, sustained trauma. How do you think about how somebody moves through their days when you’re in that experience, whether that system is your immediate family, your extended family, your community or culture, the country you live in or whatever. Like we all belong to nested societies and cultures that have their own elements and ethos, and that that is can be both fantastic and aspirational and hopeful and helpful and also harmful and oppressive. So when somebody is living in that experience every day, it doesn’t really feel like there’s a clear or remotely immediate opportunity to opt out of it or to change it. But you want to feel better as you’re moving through the day. Talk to me more about how you would have a conversation with somebody who’s coming to you saying, I can’t really easily change the circumstance right now, and maybe never in my lifetime, but I need to feel differently than I feel now.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:54:26] Yeah. A part of the process of generational healing is one that requires intentional grief. Grief is something that we tend to look at as just kind of coming to us because we suffered a loss. But in reality, grief is also found in the generational healing journey, because we have to basically grieve the fact that there are aspects of our lives or people within our lives that aren’t likely to change. And and what it requires is us, in essence, like like I mentioned in my book, like we have to have like a mental funeral for the people or for the circumstances, but that’s, you know, it’s only a part of the process. It’s only what helps us to, in essence, kind of reconcile with the fact that things are likely very immobile in our lifetime. But I don’t like the idea of stuckness or inaction when it comes to trauma, because it it actually can, you know, further perpetuate pain. There’s also an understanding in trauma healing, especially generational healing, that we can also do little things to actually try and create some sort of a shift. And that’s why I also try to help orient folks around like, well, collective trauma exists all around us. How what is the one thing that you can do today? Right. My parents are, you know, both immigrants and folks that felt the inequities of immigration, of their migration to the United States and the terrible pain that it has caused us to have a separation in our family as a result. And part of what they their advocacy efforts have been, it has been in helping to increase the Latino vote, you know, in order to try and get our voices, you know, on the ballot in ways that perhaps haven’t been represented before.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:56:24] And working class couple, immigrant couple that is non-English speaking, you know, decided between themselves that this was something as microscopic as somebody might see it to be. That meant a lot to them to do for themselves in their community. And so I think it’s, you know, it’s both and it’s like the grieving process, but also the action that can be very helpful. But when it comes to a more psychological kind of process for ourselves, it’s going to also be critical for us to understand that, especially if we’re like going back into disease systems like institutions that, you know, just have a toxic element to them or inflict harm upon certain groups of people. Or if the disease system is our home and we have to go back into those systems to that, we have a very intentional focus on how we can help ground ourselves, even when the chaos is still around us. I like to think of the perspective of like the eye of the storm. Like we can remain in the eye of the storm and be still, but the storm isn’t, you know, it’s still storming like there’s still a storm. We’re still in it, but we are in the safer zone because we are in the stillness of ourselves and of the work that we’re doing, even while the chaos is still, you know, wreaking havoc around us.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:46] Yeah. So it’s sort of like saying, well, what is available to me to change externally, even if I perceive it as something small, what can I actually what small needle can I move? And then just internally, are there practices that I can say yes to that will allow me to more readily step into the eye, or even the storm that is swirling around me, so that even if I can’t change a lot of that circumstance. There’s something inside of me that will allow me to touch stone, to find a certain sense of grounding. Maybe not completely, but maybe it’ll help a bit enough so that I can kind of breathe through it with more ease.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:58:25] Exactly. And this is why, you know, even the still technique and other techniques that I referenced to in the book, I say to the reader, I’d like for you to try this when you’re not in crisis, when things aren’t like, you know, just all over the place, I’d like for you to try it in the moment when things feel a little bit calmer, or there’s just a mild stressor that you’re trying to sort through. And part of the reason for that is because there’s this concept in cognitive behavioral therapy called building mastery, specifically in dialectical behavior therapy. And it’s the idea that we are basically like practicing an actual practice time and again, time and again, that helps us with greater emotional regulation, and that allows us to then when the skill is most needed, when we’re actually in a state of crisis, we default to the skill rather than defaulting to unhealthy coping mechanisms.


Jonathan Fields: [00:59:19] So powerful, and also just a great concept to bring to all parts of life, and it feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well. So in this container of Good Life project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [00:59:34] What comes up for me is going back to the basics. It’s going back into watching sunsets. It’s in staring at the moon. It’s in breathing fresh air outside. It’s in picking leaves from a plant and placing them on a dish. It’s literally like the things that are already out there in life, most of which are free and most of which are just craving our attention. I think a good life really gets us back into mindfulness and back into the present and the now, and the little things that can really deposit goodness and and joy into our lives and don’t need a lot of effort to do so.


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:19] Thank you.


Dr. Mariel Buqué: [01:00:21] Thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [01:00:23] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode safe bet you’ll also love the conversation we had with Paul Conti about healing from trauma. You’ll find a link to Paul’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing Help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor? A seven second favor and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.

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