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  • Writer's pictureMartin Beck

Grasping and Disrupting the Pattern of Intergenerational Trauma

Updated: 17 hours ago

A family group photograph

Recent years have brought greater awareness and understanding of intergenerational trauma, a phenomenon where the effects of trauma are passed down from one generation to the next, impacting families and communities over time. Let’s explore what intergenerational trauma is, its causes and symptoms, and effective strategies for recovery.

Intergenerational trauma can originate from various sources, including historical events such as wars, natural disasters, and systemic oppression. It may manifest as emotional distress, behavioral issues, and even physical health problems. Understanding its roots and repercussions is vital for developing effective healing methods. These may involve therapy, community support, and cultural practices that foster resilience and recovery. By addressing and healing from such trauma, individuals, and communities can create healthier and more stable futures.

What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational trauma, also known as transgenerational, multigenerational, or inherited trauma, is a powerful legacy that can span generations. Imagine a trauma so profound that even descendants who did not directly experience the original event still feel its impact. This trauma can arise from sources like racial trauma, systemic oppression, family separations, or witnessing and experiencing abuse.

Types of Intergenerational Trauma

When someone experiences a traumatic event, its effects do not simply vanish—they shape the individual's relationship skills, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. These changes can then affect interactions with their children, passing the impact down through the generations. Future generations may find their own behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs subtly influenced by a trauma they never personally experienced, creating a complex web of inherited emotional and psychological responses. Understanding and addressing intergenerational trauma is crucial for breaking this cycle and fostering healthier, more resilient future generations.

A family of trauma

Examples of Intergenerational Trauma

  • Racism

  • Substance abuse

  • Relational trauma

  • War, combat, or terrorism

  • Forced separation from family

  • School-related violence

  • Famine

  • Domestic abuse

  • Disasters

  • Pandemics

  • Economic downturns

  • Forced relocations

  • Poverty

  • Police brutality

  • Loss of loved ones

  • Discrimination

Symptoms of Intergenerational Trauma

Both children and adults may exhibit signs of intergenerational trauma, such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Identifying these symptoms is crucial for addressing the issue. PTSD includes symptoms like anxiety, loss of interest, negative thoughts, and isolation. Anxiety can manifest as worry, headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances. Depression often involves mood swings and behavior changes. Physiological stress might include muscle tension, shaking, and a rapid heart rate. Consulting a mental health professional can help differentiate these symptoms from normal emotions and understand their underlying causes.

Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma

Healing from intergenerational trauma is possible by becoming a cycle breaker. Key steps include acknowledging the trauma, preventing its transmission to the next generation, connecting with supportive groups, raising societal awareness about trauma, and seeking professional treatment like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Empathy and open communication are essential throughout this process.

a family of trauma

Moving Forward

While comprehending and addressing multigenerational trauma can be challenging, recognizing it and seeking treatment offers an opportunity to heal your family and future generations. Although you can't rewrite history, you can work towards a healthier future and break the cycle of inherited trauma. Remember to embrace your intergenerational wisdom as you focus on breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma and changing the narrative. Healing can be passed down through generations just as trauma can.

The Trauma Institute has a fascinating episode called Healing Generational Trauma that is worth a listen:


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