Have you ever visited a family member’s home, and it looked like the set of “Sanford and Son?” I have. Dr. Mariel Buqué has been able to see similar challenges within her own family through the lens of intergenerational trauma. Some members lived with extreme clutter, finding difficulty parting with broken or unused, items because they went without material comforts when they lived in the Dominican Republic. The psychologist brings this realness and relatability to her book, Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma, and to her popular podcast with the same name.
Below, I’ll share her publisher’s synopsis and my fascinating email chat Dr. Buqué. Plus: Enter for a chance to win a free copy!
A lot of my clients, if not all, are cycle breakers. Many take on the hard task of helping themselves and others in their families and communities to feel better, even if life still feels hard.
From the publisher, Dutton:
Intergenerational trauma: it’s a term that’s becoming more commonly used in today’s society, but what does it really mean, and how can those experiencing it begin to heal? Leading trauma psychologist Mariel Buqué, PhD, brings her years of in-depth research on the subject to the page this January with her groundbreaking book, Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma. With practical exercises and stories from the therapy room, Dr. Buqué explains to readers what intergenerational trauma is—unhealed emotional wounds that spread across families, communities, and lineages—how it’s transmitted, and how they can break the cycles of familial trauma through tangible practices.
We can engage in daily practices that can help us alleviate how much stress our bodies are taking in and as a result, help ourselves to digest less of the emotional weight that we carry around from having legacies of trauma and stress carried down our family line.
Dr. Buqué is a Columbia University–trained trauma-informed psychologist and practitioner of holistic healing who has shared her expertise on Good Morning America and The Today Show, and in Allure, Self, Glamour, Well + Good, and more. Her approach is rooted in scientific research and holistic practices, and she also draws on her own experiences with intergenerational trauma and explores the healing she herself has done.
Enter here for a chance to win a copy of Break the Cycle
What Mariel Buqué, PhD, shared with Sisters:
It’s a new year—and an eventful one, what’s important to center ourselves as we flow through it?
With any year, but certainly this year in particular, it will be a healthy practice to offer ourselves moments where we can pause and help ourselves feel calm and centered. When we work on bringing more peaceful moments into our lives, anything that happens throughout is going to roll off our shoulders with greater ease. In part, when we take a moment to quietly sip on a cup of tea, or have a heart-warming conversation with someone we love, those moments help build our emotional resilience, which can help us flow through the year, and really flow through life, feeling lighter. So, keep engaging in moments that help you feel more serene, whether that’s watching a soul-nourishing movie, taking a gentle stroll outside, or doing a light stretch to release any tension. All of it helps with building your emotional stamina and can be wonderful centering practices.
Tell me about your “Hot Tea” sessions.
I created Tea Therapy Sessions to offer my online community little nuggets of therapeutic wisdom and help them through some challenging areas in life. My catchphrase, “the tea is hot!” was a way in which I was telling my community that the message might sting a little, but was a necessary truth to digest if they wanted to do some real healing. I have covered so many topics during these tea sessions, from intergenerational trauma healing, to healing harmful family dynamics, to just taking really good care. But my love for teas came long before I even developed tea therapy. My grandmother was a lover of teas and knew a lot about their capacity to offer us natural healing. And she passed on that love and intergenerational wisdom to my mother, who passed it on to me. So, when I make tea and when I share wisdom through my tea therapy, it is also a way in which I honor my grandmother’s practice of making blends of teas, as a stress balm. I call it my generational gift; healing wisdom that I pass on to my global community.
What is cellular memory?
It is what our actual cells remember from previous experiences of what has happened to us. Our bodies capture a lot of our stress, which creates almost a memory bank at a very microscopic level. These memories of the past, when stressful enough, can have the capacity to create genetic changes in us that reflect the longstanding stress we’ve been through, but also the stress of our parents, our parent’s parents, and more distant ancestors in our family. For Black people in particular, legacies of stress and trauma have been prominent in our communities, but it’s important to note that we also carry within us, both biologically and psychologically, an enormous amount of generational resilience that our bodies also capture.
How does understanding it create opportunities for us as Black women?
We can use this knowledge of cellular memory to create lifestyle changes that can help our bodies absorb less stress and even lessen the impact of the stress that has already been reflected in our families and communities. We can engage in daily practices that can help us alleviate how much stress our bodies are taking in and as a result, help ourselves to digest less of the emotional weight that we carry around from having legacies of trauma and stress carried down our family line.
Holistic healing is a global practice and Africa and its descendants have been great teachers in helping us understand how to achieve mind-body-spirit balance.
What’s a memorable example of collective trauma that you’ve witnessed in your work?
A lot of my clients, if not all, are cycle breakers. Many take on the hard task of helping themselves and others in their families and communities to feel better, even if life still feels hard. I once had a client who, during what felt like a heavy moment for the community, when we were bearing witness to another incident of police violence in the Black community, decided to bring homemade snacks to her close community members and ask them how they were doing. It was a way she was trying to engage in community care, which also helped her feel less alone in her own feelings. This was so heart-warming for me to witness as her therapist because she was seeing how caring for her community through a collective trauma was also a way in which she could care for herself, because she understood, even if implicitly, that community health feeds into individual health.
What was an “aha moment” that connected you with your own cellular memory and capacity for healing?
I reference this experience in my book, Break the Cycle, but my mother’s propensity to keep a lot of stuff in her house has always been a reminder of her challenges with letting go of the past. I would often feel a lot of emotional weight when I saw all her stuff, but more recently, I noticed myself actually taking in a deep breath unconsciously when I walked into her home. It was as if my healing was being activated by default. It was a beautiful moment when I was able to experience the very thing that I teach others; a relaxed nervous system, even when a circumstance remains the same. That, to me, was beautiful. I was able to speak to my mother in a compassionate tone and offer myself an opportunity to see myself healing. I can’t think of a better intergenerational gift to offer us both.
Are there holistic methods of healing with African diasporic origins? We often hear about Asian modalities such as yoga.
Absolutely, there are so many, including some that many of us might think only originated in the Asian regions. Many of the world’s herbal and plant knowledge originated from African-derived knowledge and connections to our planet’s plant power. Aromatherapy, or the use of natural essences and oils to stimulate relaxation, also has origins in Egypt, where local herbs like eucalyptus were extracted to produce a sense of calm. The same goes for bodywork like massages, which in East-Asian cultures are said to help enhance the body’s vital life force, called chi, and which comparably in Yoruba is a force often referenced in the term Ashe. Holistic healing is a global practice and Africa and its descendants have been great teachers in helping us understand how to achieve mind-body-spirit balance.
What are some other methods accessible to us as Black women? Can we practice them at home?
There are plenty of modalities that can be tailored to the unique needs of Black women and also be practiced at home. I actually encourage practicing at home, because it would create a greater possibility of you baking them into your lifestyle. For starters, let’s look at what we are now calling dance movement therapy. This has not been a new method of healing for many African and diasporic communities. Dancing, with the purpose of healing, grieving, lifting community members up, and diminishing the pains of life, has been prominent in our communities well before holistic healing was even an idea conceptualized in the Western world. We have inherently known that dance, coupled with sound, has been a method of release and restoration. So, when I offer clients the opportunity to integrate dance into their holistic toolbox, I am also getting specific about what dance modalities help them feel most connected and rooted to their own ancestry. Sometimes we’ll land at traditional African dances, which I practiced in middle school and offered me so much joy and peace as a child. Sometimes we’ll arrive at Kizomba, sometimes it’s Afrobeat, and sometimes it’s a bit of R&B or hip-hop. So long as the movement offers release and offers you greater attunement to your own emotions, the practice has met its purpose.
Another practice that has alternate roots in African regions, particularly in northeast regions, is Kemetic Yoga, which offers a blend of lying still, meditation, deep breathing, and physical motions that emulate ancient hieroglyphics, toward the goal of mind-body-spirit healing.
And finally, we have the universal breath, which we all have and can use for healing. However, a newer form of deep breathing that has a more culturally-connecting approach is one called Afro Breathwork. It is a breathing practice that combines deep breathing techniques and African rhythms, with some gentle words offered in Swahili and Yoruba.
What role does joy play in our healing, and how can we harness it right now?
Joy is not only critical for our healing, but essential for vitality of life and longevity. Small pockets of joy and laughter have been known to increase our emotional resilience, decrease the ways our bodies internalize stress, help us feel more connected to others, and even change our brains in the long term. There are so many benefits of adding joy to our day and it’s simpler than most of us think. I usually like to start asking people “What brings you joy?” Perhaps it’s your child or grandchild’s smile. For some it’s a funny pet video. For others it’s an old joke that hasn’t lost its effect because it’s truly that funny. Then I ask them to try it, today. So, if you’re lost on how to increase joy, all you have to do is look at the small things in life that already offer that and replicate that experience over and over.