How to Navigate Being a Cycle Breaker in Your Family During the Holidays

If you’re a cycle breaker, you have chosen to bravely stand up to intentionally change generational family patterns. You may be doing this with or without the support of other family members.

Cycle breakers dive into their generational cycles, identify problematic learned behaviors, and seek to make positive changes for themselves and their relationships. It’s hard, painstaking work, and it can be incredibly lonely.

You may find that the holiday season triggers new stressors when it comes to dealing with your family. Here are some tips to keep in mind as the next few months unfold.

Man on bench sipping warm beverage

Remember Why You’re Choosing to Be a Cycle Breaker

Intentional behavioral change is hard and breaking cycles of generational trauma often takes time and tremendous effort. It’s normal to feel resentful at all the internal work you have to do to change your own responses or behaviors.

This is why you must get really clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing. Grounding yourself to why you’re choosing to be a cycle breaker can help reinforce your efforts to change. It may be helpful to write these reasons down as a reference.

As a refresher, people generally choose to break the cycle because they:

  • acknowledge how bad cycles affect their current mental health
  • struggle in their adult relationships due to relationships in their own family of origin
  • want to change toxic patterns of parenting for their own children
  • do not align with their family’s values or way of living
  • directly connect with how harmful patterns growing up contributed to developmental trauma

With that, you are never obligated to share why you’re choosing to break the cycle with your family system. This is your journey, and you have the absolute right to make it your own. In addition, there is no reason that’s too big or too small when deciding to make a change. If you simply feel uncomfortable with a particular family pattern, that can be enough reason to pursue being a cycle breaker.

Clarify Your Boundaries For Yourself This Holiday Season

As we get closer to the holidays, it can be helpful to consider which limits are most important to you. There are no right or wrong answers, but if you can already pinpoint some toxic behaviors you want to avoid, that may be the best starting point.

Everyone’s personal boundaries will look different, but being a cycle breaker means honoring your own integrity and avoiding enabling unhealthy patterns. Some common boundaries may include:

  • Checking in with yourself before saying “yes” to any social requests
  • Deciding which travel you will or will not do during the holidays
  • Setting a budget related to giving gifts or spending money on holiday-related events
  • Letting others know which kinds of conversations you will not be engaging in (i.e. talks about politics, physical appearance, religion, or anything that feels uncomfortable or inappropriate to you).
  • Setting time limits for yourself at parties or holiday events.
  • Establishing consequences if people cross your boundaries.

Unfortunately, you will likely receive some pushback when setting boundaries. It may even feel like you’re being overly rigid or cruel. But this often speaks to maintaining the status quo of an unhealthy cycle. A cycle breaker chooses to change how they relate to a specific family pattern.

Decide If You Need to Make External Changes

The holidays can be tough even for people who have healthy relationships. The inherent stress, symptoms of seasonal affective depression, and constant disruption to the daily routine can make the most “wonderful time of the year” feel anything but wonderful.

With that, holidays tend to amplify dysfunctional family patterns and bring intergenerational trauma into the spotlight. This is especially true if you generally spend this time with your family.

Some people decide that they need to revise their usual holiday traditions. For example, you may not want to spend Christmas with your parents this year. Or, if you historically experience the Thanksgiving blues, you might decide to take a vacation with your partner over that holiday instead of entertaining family members.

You may worry that loved ones will protest you making these changes. But, at the end of the day, if you want to step away from dysfunctional behaviors or protect your own peace, you need to think about which actions make the most sense to you.

woman and man at coffee shop

Lean On Positive Support

If you don’t have support from your family system, it’s imperative to seek safety and validation elsewhere. Family pain can be so raw and uncomfortable, and many cycle breakers identify with feeling a deep sense of loneliness when they differentiate from their own parents or relatives.

Remember that families come in all shapes, sizes, and variations. Family does not have to be synonymous with blood or biology. You can make a family of your choosing, which may include dear friends, your partner or their family, virtual connections, colleagues or close confidantes, or anyone who feels safe with you.

Strive to Practice Acceptance

During your cycle-breaking journey, you may naturally find yourself feeling angry or resentful of all the work you need to do to change your default responses. You might feel frustrated that your family isn’t interested in changing. At the same time, you may also hold onto hope that other family members will see what you’re doing and follow suit.

While such transformation can certainly occur, it’s important to also be realistic by remembering that you can’t control anyone else’s behavior. With that, you are not responsible for how your family acts or whether or not they change. If people want to grow, they ultimately have to make that decision on their own terms and with their own actions.

Acceptance never means condoning problematic behavior. It simply means allowing yourself to be with what is without trying to fix or resolve what’s happening. Many cycle breakers find that leaning into more acceptance grants them more peace.

Prioritize Your Own Self-Care and Well-Being

Anytime you’re navigating difficult family dynamics, it’s especially important to look after yourself. Poor boundaries or unhealthy communication can take a toll on your well-being, and self-care may be essential for centering yourself after challenging moments.

During the holidays, self-care may look like:

  • sticking to a consistent, predictable routine that helps you feel more grounded
  • taking more time off work than you typically do
  • engaging in more mindfulness or meditation
  • volunteering or giving back to a cause that you feel passionate about
  • trying a new hobby (or getting back involved in an old one)
  • creative expression, including journaling, scrapbooking, poetry, or photography
  • honoring the need for rest and relaxation

Woman writing at table

Allow Yourself to Grieve and Feel Your Emotions

No matter how passionate you feel about breaking problematic cycles, it’s normal to grieve the family you didn’t have or the needs that were never met. It’s also normal to oscillate between heavy feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, shame, and fear during this time. You may sometimes even feel numb.

It’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with how you feel. Cycle breaking can take a tremendous toll on your mental health, and you may lose some relationships as a result of making your own changes.

While grief may not feel comfortable, it’s okay to be aware of your emotional needs and process them either internally or with a safe person. Truly allowing yourself to feel can help you better cope with stress, and it may create a meaningful path for even more growth and healing.

Give Yourself Grace If You Find Yourself Regressing Or Struggling

Cycle breakers don’t differentiate from their families overnight. That said, it can be frustrating to feel like you aren’t making progress as fast as you would like. Remember that change takes time, and it’s important to practice self-compassion if you find yourself feeling triggered. Cycle breaking is often an ongoing process, and this journey doesn’t always follow a linear path.

Here are a few reminders that may be helpful for you to remember during the holidays:

  • I am allowed to be gentle with myself.
  • Even when things are hard, healing is possible.
  • I am still on my path.
  • I am changing this generational cycle one decision at a time.
  • I deserve respect and love.
  • I remain committed to my own growth.
  • I am looking out for future generations.
  • One rough day does not negate my progress.
  • I will continue to let go of what no longer serves me.
  • I choose to release myself of guilt.

Online Therapy for Cycle Breakers in Washington State

Whether you’re actively breaking cycles or thinking about where you want to start, therapy can be a tremendous source of support. You are not alone in wanting change, and you are also not alone as you prepare for the upcoming holiday season.

I work with cycle breakers, and I treat all types of developmental, chronic, and complex trauma in my practice. Healing is possible, and you can create a new life for yourself that feels meaningful, fulfilling, and different from what you were born into.

I provide online therapy for adults living in Washington State and life coaching services in the United States . I specialize in EMDR, life transitions, anxiety, depression, and working with the LGBTQIA2+ population. You are welcome to come as you are, and I would be honored to hear more about your story.

I welcome you to contact me today to schedule your initial consultation.



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