Many talk about generational curses passed down from parent to child, and on down the line. Are generational curses real? Can they be broken?
Often, people think of generational curses as supernatural realities. These beliefs aren’t without a scriptural foundation. Many Hebrew scriptures reference God punishing children and grandchildren for their ancestors’ sins (Exodus 20:5-6; Exodus:34:6-7; Leviticus 26:39-42; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9 for example). For this reason, you often hear about generational curses. But this represents a misunderstanding of God. It sees God as vengeful upon people who didn’t even participate in sin. The notion of original sin and penal substitutionary atonement follow this belief in a wrathful God. In this view, God punishes all of humanity for the sin of a literal Adam and Eve (Romans 5:18-21).
Evolving in Our Understanding of God
However, as spiritual people evolved in understanding God’s unconditional love, they realized this was a misunderstanding. So, we have contradictory Hebrew scriptures, affirming that descendants should not suffer consequences for their ancestors’ misdeeds (Ezekiel 18:1-8, 20; Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29-30). Likewise, the New Testament affirms that God doesn’t punish people for the sins of their ancestors (Romans 8:1-2; Galatians 3:10-14). If there is a curse at all, the New Testament affirms that it’s the curse of being under the old Mosaic law with its rules and regulations. Jesus set us free from this curse (Galatians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:15)!
So, from a supernatural perspective, there are no generational curses. God does not punish people for the sins of their ancestors. Neither are there any karmic repercussions that trickle down from one generation to the next. Yet, there is one kind of generational curse that is real—and that you have the power to break.
The Real Kind of Curse
The real kind of curse is when you use your words against another person to tear them down. One thing that the current generation gets right is that it doesn’t care so much about cussing as much as it does about cursing. Racist sexist, and homophobic phrases hold far more power to curse than traditional “cuss words” ever could. These expressions attack a person’s humanity. When they internalize the negative beliefs that others put upon them, they truly begin to live a cursed life.
Often, negative traits do repeat themselves from one generation to another. I’m not talking about scientifically hereditary things like diabetes—but I might include a tendency to self-soothe through overeating or consumption of unhealthy foods. Another example is substance use disorder, which can have its medically hereditary characteristics. But this also involves one generation visiting trauma upon the next. This also includes a younger generation learning unhealthy behaviors from its seniors.
Poor self-esteem is another example of a generational curse. If parents tell their children they’re no good and will never amount to anything, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When one generation convinces the next generation that they are worthless, they tend to live up to the expectations of their parents. As such, these things can be seen as generational curses.
Recently, a client of mine asked me if I believe in generational curses. I certainly do. And I can offer a way to break them.
What You Need to Know About Breaking Generational Curses
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Unlike the stuff of horror movies, real curses have the power to steal people’s personal agency, kill their joy, and destroy their hopes and dreams. However, those who follow the Way of Jesus have the power to break generational curses.
We break curses by speaking blessings into the lives of everyone we encounter. We instill a sense of well-being in others by communicating unconditional positive regard. In place of the conditional love that they have received from many Christians, we bless others when we make it clear that our esteem for them does not hinge on their living up to our expectations. We bless them when we make peace between opposing social forces by uplifting the fallen, not silencing the hurting. William L. Watkinson said that it is “far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” Often, the best way to break a curse is to shine a light so bright that there is no room for darkness in any corner.
By the power of our affirming words, we can hopefully prevent other people’s limiting speech from landing and taking root in people’s lives. While we can’t keep abusive people from speaking their curses designed to oppress, insult, and disempower others, we can deflect and disarm these curses. When we work to upend systems of oppression, we break curses that have kept God’s children powerless for generations.
War with Repressive Systems
We can learn how to break generational curses and wage war with repressive systems when we read Paul’s words In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” In other words, we break curses when we attack social structures that promote inequity and injustice. When we hear demeaning language, hurtful jokes, or speech that limits the potential of others, we must give voice to our inner disagreement. We must demolish strongholds with weapons of peace.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul reminds us that “our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” While many interpret this verse to be about otherworldly strongholds, I suggest that the powers of earthly oppression and degradation can be more demonic than those in the invisible realm. Many proponents of social justice make enemies of human beings on the other side of the aisle, returning insult for insult and opposing force with force. Yet, the best way to break curses is to keep in mind that we do not struggle against powerful human beings, but against evil systems that have existed from the foundations of society. Let’s not curse one group just so we can bless another.
Only Blessing Can Break a Curse
In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus says that only the power of blessing can break a curse.
“But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes away what is yours, do not ask for it back again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive payment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus knew something about the violent wars his people waged against the repressive systems of his day. He was born under the shadow of the Roman eagle. Yet, he encouraged nonviolence in the face of oppressors. Make no mistake—Jesus never advocated victimhood. Instead, the peaceful resistance he promoted was strong enough to tear down systems and strongholds. This is how we break curses. This is how we heal those who continue to suffer from historical trauma and generational persecution.
A Franciscan Blessing
As we end this series on blessings and curses, I leave you with this Franciscan blessing, which embodies what is necessary for breaking curses of all kinds. I pray that you may be so blessed that you become an agent of change, to tear down strongholds that have held people captive for generations.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU with discomfort,
at easy answers, half-truths,
and superficial relationships
so that you may live
deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for
justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
to shed for those who suffer pain,
rejection, hunger, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand
to comfort them and
to turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you
with enough foolishness
to believe that you can
make a difference in the world,
so that you can do
what others claim cannot be done,
to bring justice and kindness
to all our children and the poor.