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Episode 156: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma (w/ DJ Johnson)

By September 26, 2022January 3rd, 2023Podcast

When we talk about breaking the cycle of trauma, there is no clearer example of this than in the life of DeAntwann “DJ” Johnson. DJ experienced a traumatic childhood that included child abuse, domestic abuse, homelessness, and emotional trauma. As a result of his family life, he entered the Indiana foster care system when he was about 10 years old. As DJ grew up in foster care and entered adulthood, he began to peel back the layers of his story to uncover cycles of trauma and embark on his own healing journey. In this episode, we talk about DJ’s story, how he is working to break generational cycles of trauma, how to cultivate empathy for others, and so much more. I loved this conversation and I know you will too!


1. Generational cycles of trauma take a deep emotional toll.

Cycles of trauma are very real and are so hard to break. When it comes to a child or to ourselves, there is often so much more to the story than what you can see on the surface. And oftentimes those with trauma have lived in the circumstances for long enough that it no longer feels abnormal. We are so proud of DJ for the hard work he has put in to break those cycles in his own life and parenting.

“So many things had been happening in our lives that I don’t even remember having a real reaction. I just remember saying ‘Okay, Mom.’”

2. Help your children cultivate autonomy.

Our natural reaction as parents is to tighten up the restrictions when our children start seeking autonomy. But especially when it comes to foster and adopted children, we need to embrace their journey towards healthy autonomy as much as we can. Many of the children we care for have not experienced much control over their lives, so when they begin to seek autonomy, it is actually them learning to use their voice and express their wants.

“You have to find a way as a parent to help them cultivate autonomy for themselves.”

3. Cultivate empathy.

Empathy is how we hear and relate to others’ stories. It’s being able to relate to the feelings another person is experiencing. As a culture, we struggle to have empathy and, for some of us, it’s because we were not listened to growing up. As we heal and share our stories with one another, let’s work to cultivate empathy and compassion for one another.

“We are a society that lacks empathy in general. We lack the ability to feel other people’s feelings. We lack the ability to put ourselves in other’s shoes and say, ‘I really feel for you right now and feel the pain you are experiencing.’”


We hope this episode has helped you wherever you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal! If so, will you tell others?

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Meet Our Guest

DeAntwann “DJ” Johnson is an author, mentor, coach, counselor, and sports statistician. He grew up in the Indiana foster care system. Prior to entering the foster care system, he experienced child abuse, domestic abuse, homelessness, and emotional trauma. At one point, DJ even wanted to end his life. It wasn’t an easy road, but DJ was fortunate enough to have several people inspire him to do great things. He has found his purpose through using his experiences to help establish relationships with the students he serves and help parents better connect with their teenagers. DJ is a husband and father and lives in California.

Foster Parents, check with your agency to see if listening to this podcast will count toward your foster care training hours!

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