Did you ever play memory games as a kid? The one where you are going on a picnic and each person is going to bring something that starts with the next letter of the alphabet, except, you must remember what everyone before you are bringing? If you aren’t familiar with it, the game continued until someone forgot one of the items and broke the cycle.
What is a Cycle Breaker?
Similar to this game, a cycle breaker is someone who ends a cycle – who puts a stop to certain behaviors. In terms of familial cycle breaking, a cycle breaker is someone who seeks to understand why they behave the way they do and how learned messages affect their lives, and perhaps even the lives of their children.
I truly believe that our parents raised use the best they knew how. They relied on what they knew to help them navigate the challenges of parenthood, whether good or bad. Intended or not, our parents inevitably passed on family systems developed over generations of child-rearing.
Unless a parent stopped to consider why they were parenting the way they were, or questioned whether their tactics allowed them to show up as the parent they wanted to be, each generation mindlessly passed on what they gleaned from their own parents. In some cases, this could be generational trauma, and in other cases, it is behaviors and habits, or the ways in which we connect with and relate to others.
How do you become a cycle breaker?
A cycler breaker is deliberate in their actions, uses mindfulness to recognize triggers, and dives deep into their healing to release underlying pain and trauma.
In order to become a cycle breaker, you need to be willing to ask the questions that no one was willing to or able to ask. You will begin to ask why something was done the way that it was and lean into the discomfort that arises around the questioning.
To be a cycle breaker, you must be vulnerable. You must be willing to identify the areas of your life – such as patterns, behaviors, and coping mechanisms – where you may not be showing up as your best self. You must be willing to admit that you don’t know all the answers and commit to breaking lifelong habits.
How to start breaking the cycle
To get started, begin approaching your behaviors, patterns, and the things you say with a new lens. Listen to yourself speak to your children. What do you find yourself saying over and over again? Be on the look out for things like “Because I said so,” or “When you’re an adult you can make all the rules.”
Pay attention to how you are parenting – the general feel that you bring to your parenting relationship. Are you always angry? The person in charge? Are you passive in your approach? Do you try to be the fun parent and avoid discipline? How do you answer difficult questions from your kids? Who are you actually as a parent?
Keep a journal where you can jot down some of your go-to one-liners and approaches to parenting. In the beginning, it is important to simply make note of who you are as a parent. Identifying and acknowledging the patterns is the first step to making a change.
Ask the Tough Questions
When you are ready, you can then begin asking the tough questions. Where does this saying come from? Where did I first hear it? Why do I act like this? Who were my parents when I was a child?
Sometimes, to uncover a familial pattern, it is helpful to think about a time when you heard or saw a parent say or do something you notice in yourself. Journal about that time. Take yourself back to that moment and write all the details of that moment down. Then take a highlighter to the story and identify the parts where you see yourself doing or saying the same things that happened to you.
Once you’ve identified these areas, it will be impossible to not see them as they arise in the moment. As you become more and more adept at identifying your patterns, you will be able to anticipate them before they happen. This is where you can begin to break the cycle. That moment when you can see where an interaction with your child will go is the moment when you take a deep breath, recognize how far you’ve come, and approach the situation differently.
What challenges might you face?
To start can be a daunting task. You may find yourself revolting against the idea, clinging tight to patterns or behaviors in protest. This is expected, but it is also necessary to realize that your mind can trick you into believing that those patterns and behaviors are part of your identity. Your ego – the part of you that is revolting – is trying to protect you. It is trying to maintain consistency to keep you safe. Change is scary because there are so many unknowns, and your ego will do what it can to keep you in familiar territory.
You will also likely find that your family of origin (parents, siblings, and grandparents) might not be open to the idea of you trying to make changes. They will be defensive, and they won’t understand why you feel you need to be different. There will be pushback. They will question you and may even make you believe that you think you are better than everyone else. You may hear them say things like, “you just think you’re better than everyone else,” or “you can’t change who you are.” Sometimes, you will be gaslit into thinking that how you were raised “wasn’t that bad,” or “didn’t happen the way you remember it.”
Keep Pushing Forward
During these times, it is important to stay committed to your desire for change and growth. Your most important focus is your parenting relationship with your children. Your parents and grandparents had their opportunities to parent, and now it is your turn. You get to decide how you show up in your parenting relationship. You get to decide who you are and who you want to be.
To help you through those days, write down your goals for being a cycle breaker. Why do you want to make a change? Why do you want to raise your children differently than you were raised?
It might look something like this:
My goal as a cycle breaker is to heal my own trauma and rewrite childhood messages in a way that allows me to show up better for my children. I seek to understand my own behaviors and how my inability to access certain emotions may stand in the way of healthy parenting.
And when the pushback becomes too heavy, you can repeat this to yourself as a reminder for why you are doing the work you are.
To be a cycle breaker is not easy. There are days when you will find yourself slipping back into old thought and behavior patterns. But it is that mindfulness, that ability to recognize that you are parenting from a place of habit and fear, instead of a place of love and peace, that allows you to continue to show up, day after day, as the parent you want to be.
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