What It's Like Being The Cycle Breaker in Your Family

I Am The Cycle Breaker In My Family

breaking-the-cycle-1
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, PTSD, and trauma

The biggest thing I’ve learned from being a parent in therapy is that when a child is abused or neglected, they don’t stop loving their caregivers. They stop loving themselves.

As a kid growing up in an abusive and emotionally dismissive household, the toxicity levels ran very high and my self-esteem ran very low. I couldn’t predict, despite my best efforts, when I’d be physically violated for random mistakes or when shame-inducing words would be screamed at me. I didn’t have a single healthy adult in my life to turn to, so I often felt like the pain that accrued inside of me during my youth lived there on emergency lock down. I existed in a constant state of panic as a child, doing my best to appear as perfect and happy and “good” as possible. It was custom in my house to keep my body thin, my hair long, and my grades all the way up. This led to an eating disorder, body-dysmorphia, self-harm, and a complex PTSD diagnosis that I’m still grappling with.

I Am the Cycle Breaker in My Family: woman looking sad
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

But this year, I decided to make a tough yet necessary decision. I’ve actively chosen to become the cycle breaker in my family.

You might be wondering what this term means and how it can apply to a life lived in trauma. For me, being a cycle breaker is telling myself every single day, “This ends with me.” It’s allowing myself the space to acknowledge the painful victimhood that I lived in for many years as an abused and shamed kid. It also means that I harness the dual power of healing my victimhood with growing into a courageous survivor of this childhood and take responsibility now to make peace with and release every dysfunctional aspect of my past. I do this a number of ways, and they include ongoing therapy, psychiatric medication, honesty and clarity about my struggles in my relationship with my husband, and creating firm and loving boundaries between me and those from my past who caused the most harm. I’ve also learned the powerful art of reparenting myself, which only grows more necessary in my life as I step into each new chapter of motherhood.

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Comment with “it ends with me” if you have become the cycle breaker in your world. // What does it mean to be a cycle breaker? Well, if you grew up in childhood abuse, toxic family dynamics, experiences of emotional & mental dismissal, neglect, or trauma at the hands & voices of your caregivers & loved ones, becoming a cycle breaker is when you have finally decided to lean into your own healing & recovery to literally break the cycle of harm & abuse in your family. It means that you have chosen to be the one who calls out what is uncomfortable to call out and who places boundaries between yourself and belittling, shaming, or dangerous behavior. It means that you choose to actively investigate your own past & current trauma coping mechanisms and past & current conditioning to separate what has helped you survive up until this point and what is no longer necessary or helpful in your present behavior. It means taking responsibility to repair when you make a mistake that’s connected to triggering moments and being willing to rewrite your mental narrative. And it means directly providing yourself with the parent you may have never fully had but always needed – by literally taking the courageous steps of reparenting yourself as an adult. This is not easy work, and we are seeing it on a much larger scale as non-BIPOC & non-Black folks are standing beside & speaking up for the Black human beings who have been violated, abused, discriminated against, oppressed, & needlessly killed due to the abusive and endangering reign of white supremacy that has existed for centuries. Whether you become a cycle breaker in your own personal life or choose to step into the larger role of a white individual who no longer tolerates racism, bigotry, and hatred, then know this. Being the person who stands up to and places firm boundaries around abuse of any kind may lead a lot of people in your world to feel deeply uncomfortable. And that is okay. Because the deceptive comfort of existing in toxic relationships is what helps keep the abuse going. I am a cycle breaker. I encourage you to explore this role too, if you feel up to the task. Our world needs more of us to break the cycle. 🦋

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These practices have honestly saved my life, mostly because they’ve taught me to cultivate comfort in relating to and letting go of what does not feel comfortable inside of me.

Since I live with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from ongoing childhood trauma, I’m used to my fair share of deep muscle tremors, temporary body paralysis, panic attacks, and the urge to self-harm. I’ve also had two close calls with my life, when I recklessly decided during the lowest points in my journey that the world may be better off without me. Mental and emotional anguish, coupled with deep shame, can convince anyone that disappearing is the easiest way to go. Thankfully, after watching a young person in my life take the brave step of going to their local emergency room for self-harm and suicidal thinking, I was inspired to take the same proactive steps. With the help of compassionate medical professionals and on-site counselors, I was able to walk out ready to discover all of the reasons why being here matters.

Not only is my existence a vital part of this world, but I now realize that my life matters even more to the millions of young people who need to have their stories validated and heard by other healed adults in their world. Which is why I have chosen to not only be a cycle-breaker in my own family, but to publicly share this way of life with anyone of any age who may be stuck in the vicious patterns of trauma and abuse.

Because this ends with me.

I Am the Cycle Breaker in My Family: mother holding child
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Accountability is very important, so I make sure to check in with myself regularly. Am I acting in ways that perpetuate the violence and endangerment I experienced as a child? Are the toxic coping mechanisms that protected me well enough to keep me alive helping me or hurting me today? These questions, while deeply uncomfortable to investigate, have helped free me of the dysfunctional narrative that comes with maintaining an abusive status quo that keeps others comfortable enough not to stand up and speak out.

I Am the Cycle Breaker in My Family: mother and daughter smiling for camera
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Because here’s the thing about families. All of them are systems that constantly work to maintain the way things are. Families are meant to grow, shift, and evolve, but not every individual within one is ready for or open to change. No matter how destructive the behaviors are or how mentally unwell the family members may be, there is always an underlying need to protect the status quo and stay comfy within it. Unless others in this interpersonal dynamic want to actively shift it, a cycle breaker will always be seen as the “outsider” who causes disruption and drama.

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I grew up in restriction. I was taught from a young age that the world would only love me if I conformed & packaged myself into a societal ideal. Growing up this way led to an eating disorder, complex PTSD, chronic perfectionism & constant people pleasing. It stripped me of my authenticity. It whittled down my self-esteem. And it kept me locked into a version of myself that appealed to many, but silenced the very core of me. I spent so many years believing that this was the only way to live – until the pressure & the burden & the overwhelming pain of stifling myself became too much to bear. Last year, I thought that the only way to move forward was to stop completely. To end everything. To disappear entirely from this world. Little did I know that I was only at the beginning of an inner revolution that had been whispering to me gently & quietly. “Come home,” it said on repeat. I finally listened to that voice last fall. I got the help I needed. I confirmed to loved ones that I was drowning. And I found support everywhere I turned. We don’t need to wait until we hit rock bottom to find ourselves. We’ve been there all along. We are the true north we’ve been waiting for. We are the great, lifelong romance. All it takes is waking up a reality where we trust that we always have a choice. It is up to us to answer the call inside. I’m so fucking thankful I did. 💖🦋🌈 #traumarecovery #suicideprevention #bisexualpride

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So, in essence, becoming someone who calls out abusive behavior for what it is, who makes firm boundaries around what they will and won’t tolerate, and who heals their own past traumas in order to stop the cycles of dysfunction in their own world also means becoming a human being who others might not like or want to have around. And that is totally okay. Because the most important distinction to make here is that if someone doesn’t want to respect your right to live without abuse, then it is because they cannot get past their own traumatic background enough to grow and evolve alongside you.

Healing cannot occur in the same environment where trauma exists. Everyone involved needs to shift for the greater good. And if they don’t, you still can.  It can end with you.

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This is my story. These photos represent three very different chapters of my life. The one on the left was taken after I won a beauty pageant at 5. I was entered into talent & beauty pageants from the ages of 4-8, and the days of practicing for them were grueling. Add to that the pressure of feeling like I always had to win, being physically & verbally abused, and constantly having my appearance altered to seem “pretty enough” & “feminine enough” to compete, & I was a child who did not know or love herself. 🌺 The photo in the middle is from about eight years ago. I was steeped in disordered eating, chased a career that mirrored my pageant days, never felt loved enough or thin enough, & masked my pain with perfectionism, people-pleasing, & self-harm. From the looks of me, you’d assume I’d achieved the “body ideal” that society tells us makes us worthy. But body dysmorphia told me a different narrative. I was miserable deep inside. 🌺 The photo on the right is from this week. I’m 36, have healed my relationship with my body, am living authentically as the version of myself I’ve always wished I could be, finally came out as bisexual, & my career no longer rides on whether I’m thin enough or liked enough. I’ve also spent two years digging into trauma recovery after a complex PTSD diagnosis & feel whole for the first time ever. Of course my body is merely reflecting my journey – isn’t it amazing how healing can look different on everyone? Society would tell you my fat body means that I’ve “let myself go,” am not healthy, & should not be seen as a positive role role model because of my size. Society is wrong. Thinness does not equal health. Fatness does not equal failure. And positive transformations can and do look like mine. 🌺 Stop letting a racist, fatphobic, ableist, sexist, ageist, discriminatory society dictate your worth & value. It can’t be found in a pant size or a number on a scale. It lives in each of us, and no one has more or less of it than another. This is my story. And each chapter deserves to be seen & heard. 🦋 #EDrecovery #HAES #complexPTSD #traumarecovery #dietculturesucks #fatphobia #mentalhealth #itgetsbetter #youareworthy #reparentingyourself

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Now, you may be thinking that this only applies to the abuse occurring within a family unit. But it’s about so much more than that. You can fight for social justice or any other cause that matters to you with the strength and focus of a cycle breaker. As you may have noticed, there is an uprising happening across our country that begs for our long overdue attention. Black people are being abused, killed, unjustly incarcerated, oppressed, and discriminated against, and they deserve to have cycle breakers like us working with them to help amplify their voices. Dismantling over four hundred years of white supremacy isn’t easy. But if you can choose to take your “cycle breaker” badge out into the world, you just might find that it works to get you into nearly any room to talk about anything you want to change. So, have those tough conversations. Educate yourself in the most honest way you can. Be willing to investigate the inherited and conditioned racism that lives inside of you. Sign petitions, attend protests, call lawmakers and officials, and do anything possible to get out of your comfort zone. Even if it means losing a few friends who weren’t open to changing in the first place.

I Am the Cycle Breaker in My Family: family of four smiling
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

The magical thing that happens when you choose to become a cycle breaker as a parent is that tiny, young eyes are watching you do it. You have the potential to not only break abusive generational patterns of behavior for yourself, but you also have the opportunity to show your children a different way to exist. Kids cannot feel loved in a toxic environment, just as plants cannot grow without water and sunlight. By breaking the cycle inside of you, you become a loving role model in front of your children. So if you think about it, in addition to ending years of abuse and trauma, you are also preventing it from happening to the generations after you. Cycle breaking can be the legacy you leave your children. And they will have a safer, more whole, and empowered life for it.