Breaking Free - July 2022

From the editor

Welcome to the July edition of Breaking Free. This month our feature article explores the additional challenges that can come with being a parent when you have experienced your own childhood trauma.  Some survivors of childhood trauma can find it difficult to connect with others due to their own experiences. However, the good news is that this can change over time, and many survivors go on to have positive and healthy relationships with their children.

We also highlight the comprehensive range of resources on our website.  Whether you are looking to learn more about complex trauma, coping strategies, research or building a trauma-informed world, our videos, fact sheets and publications cover a wide range of topics. Visit to view, download or purchase

This month we review the book: “It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle” by Mark Wollyn. It supports our lead article and provides insights and tools into how to break patterns of trauma between one generation and another (intergenerational trauma).

Finally, we would like to thank Fahad Alqahtani for sharing her powerful story: “My Shame Flame”.  Fahad hopes that her contribution will be a support others. We are inspired by Fahad and grateful that we have been able to help her in some way on her recovery journey.

Until next time, take care
Blue Knot Team

Becoming a parent when you have experienced your own childhood trauma

We know that many people who experienced trauma as a child can be concerned about the possible impacts of their childhood experiences, when they become a parent. It is true that, without resources and support, the trauma experienced in one generation can be inadvertently passed on to subsequent generations. Becoming a parent can be a challenging time as there can be a lot to grieve from one’s own childhood, as to what you lost or didn’t receive.

Becoming a parent can also be a time of new insights, growth, hope and repair. We know that as people work through the impacts of their own trauma, reflect on their own experiences, adopt tools to help them, and build a support network around them, their children can do very well.

Rewiring our connections

Human beings are wired for connection. As infants we are driven to form attachments with the people who are ‘looking after’ us to ensure our survival. Infants and young children rely on their caregivers (attachment figures) for protection, support and to help them regulate their emotions. The way our caregivers respond to us especially when we are distressed can affect the way we attach or bond to others, as we get older. It is about feeling and being safe, feeling and being seen and being supported to get in touch with and manage strong feelings. The good news is that even when this hasn’t happened in childhood, it can happen later on through the healing power of relationships.

The reality is that many survivors were not nurtured or protected as children. Some did not have a parent or caregiver who they could rely on for consistent care which responded to their needs. Others experienced abuse or violence in which they felt and were unsafe. These experiences can mean that many survivors find it difficult to trust enough to develop close bonds with others as an adult.

However, we know it is possible to change this through a mechanism called ‘earned security’. Earned security depends on neuroplasticity i.e. the capacity of the brain to change. Healthy relationships of trust and safety later in life can over time support the development of a secure base, which is a foundation for other relationships, including with one’s children. This relationship might be with a partner, a close friend or a professional. For survivors who are parents, or wanting to become parents, it is important to know that you can become the secure base for your child, that you may not have experienced yourself.

We can learn new ways of interacting with a secure base – no longer avoiding intimacy or closeness or not clinging tightly to others for fear of being abandoned. We can learn to be consistent, warm and nurturing even when we ourselves didn’t experience that growing up.

As Daniel Siegel states in Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation:

“The best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to his parents as children, but rather how his parents made sense of those childhood experiences.”

Becoming more aware of our own reactions and building skills to manage them

All of us can experience the biological survival responses of fight, flight, freeze and feign at different times. These are automatic responses which all human beings experience in response to threat, perceived threat, stress or distress. For many survivors these responses are closer to the surface and triggered more readily. It is important to try to tune into our own survival reactions to understand when they occur and why.  Parenting can bring a lot of possible triggers, for example: particular behaviours the child displays, children reaching significant ages/stages, family patterns, heightened emotions and so forth. There are many.

Becoming aware of our triggers – what causes strong reactions– from anxiety, to withdrawal, to anger, and distress can help us better manage them in the present, including when we are interacting with our children. Once we learn what triggers us, we can work to try and reduce these triggers or reduce our reaction to them through different grounding strategies and ways to self-soothe. As we learn to soothe ourselves, we can better support our children to manage their own strong feelings. To do this we need to look after ourselves and our own needs, to refuel and to do what it is that supports us to feel calm and more energised.

“As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.” ― Daniel J. Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive

Remember, that it is important to build a network around you – of friends, peers, and people you trust - for you to share the challenges and the joys of being a parent.

My Shame Flame

Fahad Alqahtani

(trigger warning: child sexual abuse)

As false as a mirage, I weaved my shame story. It started with a basic need of a child: to survive by the only adult in his house. Back then, my father was just a visitor. So, she was the center of everything to me: Food, warmth, guidance and even pride. However, pain in my stomach started to alert me about her continuous crimes against my innocence. She was asking for more obedience, more sacrifices and more faking of our toxic relationship. My biological mother was my sexual long-life perpetrator for more than three decades. When she died few months earlier to writing these words, I did not attend her funeral.

When I posted a summary about her sexual misconducts after her death on twitter, a mass rejection from my inner circle, combined with little support from strangers conveyed an interesting meaning: Truth is rarely relevant when it comes to a symbolic concepts like motherhood. It also meant that my last decade of building awareness about child and sexual abuse was received positively from everyone as long as I do not make a personal reference.

It took me a while to fathom this complicated layer of reactions. However, it was easier to see this complication within myself as I found it difficult in the beginning to admit it to myself in forms of internal thinking and marginal writing.

My shame flame that I kept alive my entire life was serving an obvious goal; this goal is known for all romantic people who ever lived: Being normal. It is what makes tens of industries make their bread and butter with every day. Art and literature are also selling dreams that any person wish to realize, a great mother, father, brother, lover…etc. So, I kept leaning on availability of these unrealistic templates to fuel this flame as it consumed a substantial portion of my self-respect and encouraged my mother shamefully to ask for more, even after clarifying to her few years ago that I do not wish any form of contact with her.

As my recovery journey started, I have voluntarily let go many things I held dear; perfect parents project, perfect job project, perfect homeland project and easy life by getting along agenda. As a result, everyone who stayed in touch with me started to realise how serious I am about putting this flame to rest. So, as of now, I experienced how many possibilities were blocked because of my loyalty to keep my shame flame. As of now, wellbeing is a concept that currently defines all major aspects of my life. It reflects end of suffering that I experienced as I let go of clinging to an ancient need from a toxic person. My mother was just the only option back then, but the entire world is the alternative now.

Learn More with our Comprehensive Resources

If you or someone you care about has experienced complex trauma and it is still affecting you, we are here to help. Many people find learning and understanding more about what happened, the possible effects, and pathways to healing, helpful.

Blue Knot Foundation has developed a range of resources in collaboration with people with experiences of complex trauma, as well as people who work with them and support them. Whether you’re a survivor, a supporter of a survivor or a member of the public we hope that you find what you need on our website:

Book Review

It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.
Mark Wollyn

This book provides insight into how to break patterns of trauma between one generation and another (intergenerational trauma). It was the winner of the 2016 Nautilus Book Award in psychology. It is a transformative approach based on the most recent neuroscience to working through long-standing challenges.

“Bridging both neuroscience and psychodynamic thinking, It Didn’t Start with You provides with reader with Mark Wollyn’s hard-earned tool-box of clinical aids and provocative insights. Jess P. Shatkin, MD, MPH, Vice Chair for Education at NYU Langone Medical Centre and Author of Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

“Mark Wollyn’s extraordinary book cracks the secret code of families and proves that you can go home again – once you understand how history made you. Full of life-changing stories, powerful insights and practical tools for personal healing, It Didn’t Start with You deserves a place on your bookshelf next to Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child and Dan Siegel’s The Developing Mind. You will never see the family the same way again. Mark Matousek, author of Ethical Wisdom

Purchase the book here:

It Didn't start with you

Seeking people who are interested in speaking to the media

From time-to-time Blue Knot Foundation is asked to speak to the media around a range of different topics related to complex trauma, childhood trauma and abuse, the redress scheme and others. This can involve print, radio, TV media as well as social media channels. As part of some of these interviews, journalists ask if Blue Knot knows of any survivors or family members, partners or friends who would be comfortable being interviewed either anonymously or using their name.

If you would like to register your interest in speaking to the media should an opportunity arise and feel well enough supported and ready to do so please email [email protected] with your contact details and we will get back to you. It is important to know that the media often wants to explore a particular topic and angle and in this case, that will be the focus of a particular interview, rather than your full story. Every survivor’s experience and story deserves to be honoured and we will always do what we can to ensure that the media we work with is sensitive and informed.

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