Stopping the family cycle of trauma

As a society, most people have accepted that mental health is a real need that must be addressed and maintained regularly, just like any part of the body. However, in Hispanic/Latino culture it is still widely taboo.

My generation — that is, millennials — have been the first (from what I’ve seen) Hispanics/Latinos to actually work on themselves and address underlying trauma and mental health issues. And this with even greater odds than the general culture has had to overcome since we don’t have the support at home. While those of us who practice our faith are used to being at odds with the world as we adhere to tradition, this is one area in which it’s not healthy to be so far behind.

How so? First of all, mental exhaustion and breakdowns aren’t permitted in Hipanic/Latino culture. Latinas are infamously bad at self-care. It’s like a badge of honor to be la única persona que hace todo (“the one who does it all!”)! Latinas complain about it, but they never do anything to change it, as if they don’t want to admit that they’re human and cannot do everything well.

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Within Hispanic/Latino culture, it’s also ingrained in us to turn the other way when we see something wrong in the family, as if ignoring and not speaking about issues somehow makes them disappear. I’ve had family members refuse to talk about things, or somehow “not recall” any of what I was bringing up, even though others of the younger generation remember it plain as day. To use the phrase, they will ignore the elephant in the room.

This approach, of course, adds trauma on top of whatever issues already exist. Not only that, but when some of the younger kids in the family have needed professional help, like therapy, counseling or just some space and self-care, the older generation couldn’t understand. Mention therapy and the immediate answer is, “I’m not crazy!” Therapy and the like equates to being out of one’s mind in Hispanic/Latino culture. They don’t see it as a tool for remedying basic things that all humans experience at some point, like anxiety and burnout.

Older generations also get their wires crossed when it comes to the Faith in that, when trouble strikes, they think they “can pray the cray away.” While prayer is vital, God also gave us other means to use and heal ourselves, and sometimes self-care and getting some professional help is the means God wishes us to use. It’s not a lack of faith in God to acknowledge that you are burnt out and need to say no to taking on more responsibility in order to give yourself some space. But to the Latina who does everything, this is an embarrassing defect.

So what can we do?

Make it normal. Just do it. Just talk about it, talk about what you’re doing for your mental health and self-care. Make it attractive. Help the family see how much happier you are when you take care of yourself, and how much more you have to offer the familia because you are a happier and better person. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally broken through to my mother that self-care — which for me looks like taking time to be well dressed and getting manicures — is essential, and that we’re worthy of taking care of ourselves. That’s not the message she was raised with, so it’s been a battle in even those small things. But talking about these issues and showing how you cope with anxiety, burnout or whatever it may be can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health in the Hispanic/Latino culture.

Self-work, of course, is the most important work because even if none of your familia catches on to your newfound calm and clarity, you’ve done the work to say that the trauma and drama stops with you. You protect further generations of Hispanics/Latinos from living a sub-par life. God made us for so much more! Yes, we will have trials, traumas and struggles, some that we cannot escape, but part of sanctification is becoming a “whole person,” and that means having all our faculties in the best working order that we can, particularly that which controls our minds and hearts.

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