large family around table family curses

Breaking Generational Cycles to Building Positive Family Dynamics

By Crystal Hamilton

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What generational curses are you looking to get rid of within your family line? Take a moment and examine your own household. Are any of these habits, behaviors, or mentalities perpetuated in your own home? Just the thought of the matter can become overwhelming. Why do they exist? How do they exist?

I’ve asked myself these same questions time and time again. As I transitioned from child to young adult to adulthood. You see things, you notice things. Even when the adults don’t think you do. I remember wondering why aunts weren’t getting along, why some family members were absent in their children’s lives, and even more so why this seemed to be a pattern throughout out my family.

I knew that I wanted to create a different narrative for my family. I could see how these issues held several family members back from living a better life. I could see how their personal issues affected their parenting, relationships with other people, and how these same issues seemed to stunt their progress in life and even become detrimental. I knew I didn’t want to repeat any of this.

What is a Family Curse?

Family curses are recurring generational struggles that can haunt and destroy a family’s stability for years. Presumably,  somewhere up the family lineage, one or more relatives could be the cause for these negative cyclical burdens. However, cultural norms within certain environments can also play a significant role in influencing or molding the family’s outlook and mindset. 

Personal self-destructive behaviors should not be confused with family curses. If you are the only person in your family experiencing a particular difficulty, it is unlikely that you are experiencing a generational curse. However, failure to address the issue appropriately, can trigger a new curse, resulting in it being passed down to future generations. 

It is important to observe patterns of behavior within your own family. If there are clear repetitions of harmful activities, evident in the attitudes of grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, this may be an example of a family generational curse.

Types of Negative Family Cycles

I have observed a number of damaging generational cycles within my own family tree. Here’s one that’s all too familiar for people who grew up in impoverished homes.

Economic Cycles

The Cycle of Poverty

Most families experience a degree of financial difficulty at some point. Job loss, divorce, and death are examples of situations that can put families under severe financial stress. These are examples of occasions when income and support is decreased or eliminated due to a sudden change or event in a person’s life.

I call this experience “going broke”, but the correct terminology is Situational Poverty. Most families, who experience situational poverty deal with it as a temporary setback, bouncing back within a few months or years. However, situational poverty can also result in a snowball effect, where one financial disaster seems to lead on to another, then another and so on.

Generational Poverty, as opposed to situational poverty, exists when financial setbacks permanently affect a families economic status through at least two generations- leaving the whole family stuck in a rut for decades. That is, until one person is brave enough to do something about it and change the trajectory of this family dynamic.

I have experienced this type of generational poverty first hand. Growing up, my own family was caught in this cyclical struggle. We lived paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay the rent, struggling to eat, struggling to free ourselves from the poverty trap! There was very little, if any, control over our daily lives.

Financial literacy was a term I was unfamiliar with growing up. The idea of financial planning, savings, and good credit seemed like an impossible dream. My family could never imagine having an emergency fund; everyday was an emergency. Most of the women in my family were single moms or divorcees trying to make ends meet. In my family, dreaming of a vacation was every bit of a fairy tale.

Most of our family valued hard work and education (values instilled by my grandmother no doubt). We recognized that hard work and education were the keys to changing our outcome. Breaking the cycle of “broke”, would require opportunity, skills, and financial literacy. However, these vital elements for success are still not enough. I wasn’t until my late 20’s earlier 30’s, at the beginning of my self-discovery journey, that I began to fully understand the role that self-education and entrepreneurship play in creating a better destiny for me and my family.

The Cycle of Poor Education

There is no doubt a correlation between lack of quality education and poverty. This factor often impedes an individual’s chances for success. Very often, in families who are deeply rooted in generational poverty, guidance, feeling of adequcy, and hope for a better future are non-existent.

This was the case for some of my own family members. Many of them aspired to a better future, but they lacked structure, discipline, and confidence, which prevented them from achieving their dreams. When your family history is one of incarceration, substance abuse, high school drop-outs, and reliance on government assistance, it’s kind of hard to be optimistic about your chances of a successful future.

If you are serious about achieving your life-goals, you must find a mentor to support and encourage you. Having a mentor, someone whom you perceive to be successful in life is a wonderful advantage. They will help you find the tools which will, in turn, allow you to build your own success.

Behavioral Cycles

Negative family behavioral norms, reinforce destructive generational cycles. I’ve witnessed various ways in which every family member is affected by the previous generations poor choices. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence are all prevalent in my own family. In my experience, these are behaviors which create chaos and damage affecting the entire family; now and for future generations.

I am all too aware of the devastating effects on children of drug addicts, alcoholics, and those exposed to domestic violence. These children suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. Unfortunately, I was that child.

The Cycle of Drug Addiction

Growing up with a father who was absent from my life as a result of drug addiction devastated our parent / child relationship. A range of emotional disorders are experienced by children who experience this type of home-life. Shame, neglect, vulnerability to abuse, together with developmental and mental health issues are common repercussions amongst children who have drug addicted parents. The effects of this behavior are often internalized by all family members.

I have vivid memories of my mother fighting with my father on several occasions because he regularly pawned the few possessions we had, in order to fund his drug habit. Financially, we got by on the bare minimum, and we could only afford for our most basic needs to be met.

On a few occasions, my mother would work really hard to afford presents on our birthdays or Christmas gifts during the holidays, only for my father to pawn them, in his desperation to feed his drug addiction.

I vividly remember one incident, my mother purchased me a Nintendo NES console along with the legendary Super Mario Bros. 3 video game. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sooo ecstatic! Y’all don’t even know.

I was very young, not more than three or four years old. I played that game at every opportunity; one day, mysteriously, it vanished. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Eventually my mother admitted that my father had taken it and sold it. So, there it was, at such a young age, I was forced to learn the hard way about the burdens associated with drug abuse.

As I got older, I realized that this disease of drug additction was not limited to my just father, other family members were involved too. During my teenage years I became more aware of the reasons why some of my cousins lived with my grandmother instead of their own parents. Relatives would vanish for years and return out of nowhere looking like a completely different individual. It all began to make perfect sense to me. I started to connect the dots.

The awareness of this level of dysfunction within my family, allowed me to develop the wisdom needed to stay drug-free during the ups and downs of my own life. It is important to be aware of the devastating habits which are preventing your family from succeeding. Awareness, allows you to make the decision to take a different, more positive, path. If you see it didn’t serve members of your family well, gather courage, learn from their mistakes and do something different. Create a better life; one that you deserve.

The Cycle Teen pregnancy

Teenage pregnancies have been epidemic in my family for at least three generations (that I know of). My husband and I were teenage parents ourselves. Experiencing the difficulties of raising a child when you’re a child yourself is an enormous and, at times, intimidating challenge. I’ve seen several of my family members fail miserably at this.

I made my mind up early on, that this was a curse I didn’t want to pass on to my own children. My husband and I both had difficult childhoods, and have experienced severe trauma as a result. We promised each other that our home would be a safe haven for the children we would go on to raise. Mental and emotional stability, coupled with a positive educational experience is essential for children to mature and develop well.

Obtaining a good education, creating financial stability, developing mental and emotional stability, and creating a safe home environment have all been challenges that most of the women in my family have struggled with. I personally believe that not achieving these life goals, prevent many of us from reaching our full potential. There is an undeniable correlation between poverty and teenage pregnancy. 

However, it is important to recognize that being a teenage mother doesn’t rule out having a successful life. I never lost my ambition or drive. I graduated high school, obtained a BBA marketing degree, and went on to achieve an M.S. degree in innovation and entrepreneurship. Whilst studying, I was developing as an entrepreneur too. Although I still battle with a self-doubt and being enough as a result of my childhood, I recognize the importance of disrupting negative family patterns and doing something different. You too, have the power to break your generational curses. Even if you have perpetuated a damaging curse in your family, it is never too late to change your circumstances by nipping things in the bud, and by showing your family that there is a different, and better, way.

Emotional Cycles

The Cycle of Competition and Envy

The generational cycle of jealousy tears families apart. Blood is not always thicker than water. Often, it’s closest family members that wish you the most harm. As a result of jealousy, people spread horrible rumors, sabotage opportunities, or speak vindictively about the accomplishments that you feel so proud of. I’ve given over far too much time, power and energy experiencing the curse of competition and envy on my life. Unfortunately, I have allowed others to drain me, leaving me emotionally exhausted.

Relatives who are always trying to outdo one another are often referred to as “one upers”. You get a house, they get a bigger house. You buy a car, they buy a new car. It’s never-ending, and always frustrating. As much as you try not to get caught up in family competitions, sometimes it’s inevitable.

Do your best to support one another. Our own life journeys are all unique. Your potential success will not affect my success and my success will not affect the potential for yours. Let’s eliminate the “crabs in a bucket” mentality and learn to collaborate and help one another so that we can all win. 

The Cycle of Insecurity

How often, do we look at ourselves and identify the same personal insecurities of our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, or uncles? I know personally that growing up in an impoverished environment, with limited resources, it impedes the development of confidence in your own ability to succeed in life. You constantly compare yourself negatively, with those from affluent backgrounds. They, are fortunate enough to go to the best schools, wear the best clothes, possess all of the things you wish you were able to afford.

You grow up with a self-limiting mindset. This is extremely hard to overcome when most of the people in your environment live with this same mentality. In my experience, the best way to overcome this is to deepen your spirituality. When you truly realize the inner power within you, it changes your entire perspective on life. You began to overwrite those old beliefs with feelings of worthiness, self-love, and courage. 

The Cycle of Sweeping Things Under the Rug

Sometimes painful situations arise in our families, and hard conversations are avoided at all cost. Incidents are barely addressed or completely ignored altogether and swept under the rug.

It is this type of behavior in families that spawn negative emotions. Seeds of trust, betrayal, and doubt. Roots of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. New and deep fears take hold. It is essential to work on these problems immediately, in order to protect the emotional health of everyone.

I found myself struggling to forgive one of my own family members because they refused to acknowledge the hurt that they caused. The issues festered and were never properly resolved. For my own peace of mind, I had to learn how to forgive and eventually sought counseling, so that I would feel equipped to move on with my life, with or without the support of the person who wronged me. Sometimes, we don’t get the happy ending that we had hoped for. Counseling and word therapy are taboo in many families. However uncomfortable the subject of counseling is, it is often a necessity, in order for families to overcome the deep emotional instability that lie within.

The Wrap Up

In order to break negative generational cycles, you must first be able to recognize and acknowledge their existence. Awareness is the most significant step towards interrupting a family curse.

I am, by no means an expert, therapist, psychologist or a professional who deals with the effects of negative family situations. I am simply one woman who has experienced and observed destructive traits in my own family, acknowledging the effects of the negative impact from one generation to the next. I have made mistakes in my own life and perpetuated some of the generational curses too. I have, however, striven to break the curses where possible, ensuring that my own home is a pleasant environment for my children to grow and develop. I have aimed to ensure that the home life of my own children is conducive to a positive outcome.

Perhaps, you look at your own family tree and dislike what you see. Some of us come from family backgrounds filled with defeatism, divorce, pessimism, selfishness, greed, anger, addictions and laziness. We have the responsibility of breaking these curses. Otherwise, it is very likely that these traits will be passed on to our own children. 

We must learn to think, not only of ourselves and our own family, but we must sow the seeds of positivity for our future descendants. We must work to leave a positive legacy. 

Today, I urge you to be the one. Be the one who has the courage to break the generational cycles in your family. Be a beacon of empathy and love, and make a difference in the lives of future generations.

Work rigorously on developing yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and most importantly spiritually. It is by developing and strengthening our relationship with God, that we become aware of the tremendous power that lies within us. This power will allow us to conquer these nasty, damaging family curses.

To realize our full potential and achieve what seems like the impossible, we must tap into the superhero alter ego within us. The superhero, is what God created us to be. It is only when we release this super power within us, that we can live in truth and be the blessing to our family God wants us to be. When we do this, we will transform our family narrative from destructive to productive.

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