Intergenerational trauma is defined as a traumatic event that started years prior to the current generation and has impacted the way individuals within a family understand, cope with , and heal from trauma. One example of this can be the patriarch of a family or father whose suffered from sexual abuse. That trauma will cause him to engage in harmful behaviors towards his daughter and/or other family members. The daughter and/or family member, having endured years of emotional and psychological abuse, now has his/her own family to tend to. Not having a release in either form, emotional, psychological etc, the individual will start to exhibit similar patterns and behaviors. Coping behaviors may also be dysfunctional: alcohol, drugs, promiscuity. It starts to become the “normal” way in interaction and raising children. These unhealthy and often damaging behaviors can continue for generations.
Another example of Intergenerational trauma would be Historical trauma. Examples such as the “Trail Of Tears” “Holocaust” Chattel slavery and so on. There is a term called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Although the words differ from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, both have a connection with how deep emotional wounds have been formed and then passed down to children. I believe the difficult issue with trauma is not knowing how to define it and recognize it. Especially with children, many look to adults for guidance and direction. Patterns of dysfunction are often dismissed as “ Well, you know how she/he is” or “ Do as you are told” , which can result in unhealthy parent/child relationships and emotional attachment. Understanding traumatic stress and emotional trauma is the first step in learning how to break the cycle: Awareness. The ability to directly know and perceive, feel or be cognizant of events and emotions can be major because it gives meaning and can validate an individual in terms of “why?’ they experience anxiety, depression, repeatedly wash their hands, use harsh discipline in parenting, have multiple sex partners etc. The most important aspect of Mental Health is feeling safety with others (Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. Psychiatrist, Author, Researcher. Boston, U.S.) The next step, I feel, would be to seek professional help, such as a licensed therapist. Talk therapy can be helpful, allowing the individual to express varying emotions of anger, sadness, resentment and/or frustration. There is a process called “ mentalizing” which shows individuals how to respond to their emotions and not have a impulsive action which may be harmful. It would be awesome if an individual could seek group therapy with family but most often, that task seems to be hard to take on, as some individuals may be in denial or simply feel they are fine and do not need assistance. Educating yourself with different resources can also be very beneficial to emotional security and stability. From online workshops about trauma, articles & podcasts: learning is on-going and it may even feel like a relief to find out that you are not alone, assistance is available and although you may have experienced events and situations that were unfavorable and/or discouraging, there is hope for a secure, fulfilling future.
Tamara Hill is a licensed mental health therapist, internationally and board certified trauma therapist. Subscribe to her YouTube channel to gain access to her versions of “digital psychotherapy”.
“Breathe Darling. This is just a chapter. It’s NOT your whole story” – S.C. Lourie