How Intergenerational Trauma Affects Families
Past trauma can have a serious impact on your overall health. In this post, I will explain how delving into your family’s past may be beneficial to your mental and emotional health.
Your trauma responses today may be rooted in prior experiences you were not present for.
It’s possible that you weren’t abused as a child, but your grandparents or parents were. Or that you weren’t discriminated against or survived a war, but your great-grandparents were.
Each person has a unique reaction to stress and traumatizing events, with fighting, fleeing, or freezing being the most typical. There are a variety of nuances to each response, including excessive independence and people-pleasing.
Your mental and physical well-being may be affected by the consequences of intergenerational trauma during stress responses.
What is the definition of intergenerational trauma?
Intergenerational trauma occurs when adverse events or experiences are passed down from one generation to the next, often in unspoken and complex ways.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), intergenerational trauma is expressed when the descendant of someone who experienced a traumatic event presents challenging emotional and behavioral reactions that are similar to their ancestor or relative.
The effects of historical events.
A specific cultural, racial, or ethnic group of people can experience intergenerational trauma, which is closely related to historical trauma.
Our present circumstances may not be the primary factor behind our triggers; rather, the past may be the culprit.
Who is affected by intergenerational trauma?
It’s true that everyone experiences intergenerational trauma to some degree, but anyone can experience it as well.
However, individuals from marginalized groups—such as People of Color and those in lower socioeconomic classes—may experience intergenerational trauma more acutely.
People whose ancestors lived through war or other hardships, such as the Cold War or the Vietnam War, may also be at increased risk for intergenerational trauma.
Trauma and the oppressed are historical.
Many marginalized communities, including those affected by the Holocaust, are also affected by intergenerational trauma. Historical trauma has been discussed in relation to survivors and their descendants; this type of intergenerational trauma affects many other groups of survivors and their descendants.
How trauma is passed on across generations.
According to Merissa Nathan Gerson, author of “Forget Prayers, Bring Cake,” an inherited trauma consultant for Amazon’s “Transparent” series, pain is transmitted from generation to generation if it is not dealt with.
Trauma can be transmitted through many pathways—from our genes to the dinner-table chatter.
Vivian Rakoff, MD, first defined intergenerational trauma in his 1966 paper on Holocaust survivors’ children. The method by which trauma is transmitted has been debated for years following Rakoff’s paper.
According to some experts in the medical community, intergenerational trauma is caused by the stress of living with a traumatized person who might still be experiencing horrific events. Alternatively, children might become ‘containers’ for their parents’ unwanted suffering.
The study of processes other than DNA mutation that alter gene expression is known as epigenetics.
Researchers have been examining the biological processes of intergenerational trauma via epigenetics since the 1990s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is “the process by which your actions and environment affect the way your genes function.”
A review of 2018 sources has been established as trusted.
There is evidence that children may be affected by prior parental trauma, which occurred before they were born and even before they were conceived.
Trauma can be inherited in the following ways:
The impact of generational trauma is intergenerational.
Individuals and families can be affected in different ways by intergenerational trauma.
Families are affected in a number of ways.
In some families, intergenerational trauma can bring them closer emotionally, while in others, it can cause them to drift apart.
Family members may experience the effects of intergenerational trauma in several ways:
It has drawbacks.
Certain ailments and health issues can be aggravated by trauma and stress, which can also lead to chronic pain:
A better diet and more exercise are frequently mentioned as solutions to black Americans’ higher risk of chronic diseases and cancer.
It’s correct that physical activity and eating well are beneficial for everybody, and the barriers to accessing wellness tools are highlighted in these studies and conversations.
However, the direct connection between intergenerational trauma—which is often exacerbated by the chronic stress of discrimination in the present—and these conditions is often unnamed.
A connection between Japanese-American internment camp descendants and cardiovascular disease was discovered in a 1997 study, and more recent research has identified COVID-19 contraction deficiencies in Black and Indigenous communities.
Furthermore to physical sensations of stress and ailments, intergenerational trauma symptoms, as per the APA, include:
Repairing intergenerational trauma wounds.
Even if someone with inherited trauma anticipates recovery to be a lifelong journey, there are ways to care for yourself as you go. Being in tune with your body is one of them.
Every person’s path to healing intergenerational trauma is different, Gerson says. She explains that finding a way to live with a story without obscuring or deleting it is key.
There is no established approach to healing intergenerational trauma, and no set definition of what it is. It is important to recognize the validity of the trauma and its origins in order to adequately support those who have been affected by it.
What treatments can be used to address intergenerational trauma?
There are several therapeutic tools for those who would like to seek traditional treatment options for intergenerational trauma.
Certain forms of therapy are successful in treating trauma and may be helpful for those with intergenerational trauma, such as:
What to do next.
By examining what intergenerational trauma you may carry, you have the opportunity to pass along new healthy coping skills to the next generation.
According to author Mark Wolynn, speaking about family trauma is rarely an effective strategy for healing it in his book “It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.” Furthermore, remaining silent about family pain is usually not an effective strategy for overcoming it. The next generation may experience the same suffering, manifesting in fears or symptoms.
Wolynn suggests that we consider the option of not completing our whole life stories as individuals and societies because reliving fears and feelings that we do not own can lead to reliving a trauma that we experienced in our family history.
Creating space and supporting the coping needs of people who come from lineages of trauma is often the best move, rather than attempting to “fix” or remove the pain.
DEI work and adequate representation, which can contribute to cultural competency, can assist in these efforts.
Taking small, gradual actions over time to learn about and heal intergenerational trauma while caring for yourself can help ensure that you pass on healing to future generations.