Who Is Vulnerable To Intergenerational Trauma
Everyone is susceptible to generational trauma, but there are specific populations that are vulnerable due to their histories. Being systematically exploited, enduring repeated and continual abuse, racism, and poverty are all traumatic enough to cause genetic changes, Dr. DeSilva says. So African Americans in the United States and around the world are particularly vulnerable. And the families affected by catastrophes such as the 2004 tsunami in Asia will have traumatic reactivity for generations to come.” People in countries that have endured years, even decades, of war may also have generational trauma, she adds.
Domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual abuse, and hate crimes are other acts that can result in generational trauma.
Examples Of Generational Trauma
The current research explores historical collective traumatic experiences, such as the Ukrainian Holodomor in 1932 1922 and the sustained trauma of aboriginal communities in Canada. However, one article, published in Scientific American in 2015 offered a pictographic showing the transgenerational effects of trauma. A paternal grandfather overfed as a child has a grandchild that is more likely to die at a younger age. A paternal grandmother with extreme variations in food availability has a granddaughter at greater risk of heart disease and you guessed it a mother that survived the Holocaust has a child with a possible higher risk for PTSD.
Now You Might Be Asking Yourself How Does This Show Up In Families Generational Trauma Can Affect A Wide Variety Of Families And Show Up In Ways That You Might Not Think Of Such As:
A family might seem emotionally numb or have strong hesitancies about discussing feelings
A family might see discussing feelings as a sign of weakness
Another family might have trust issues with outsiders and seem continually conflictual
Some families might seem anxious and overly protective of their children or family members, even when there is no threat of danger
This is by no means a comprehensive list of examples of how trauma affects multiple generations. It can also show up in unhealthy relationship boundaries and families subconsciously learning unhealthy survival behaviors.
When we think about history, there are many groups that come to mind that have been affected by generational trauma such as descendants of United States enslavement, Native Americans, refugees, those that have experienced substance misuse across generations, those who have survived childhood abuse or neglect, and family members of Holocaust survivors, just to name a few.
Phew! Thats a lot to take in. Now, what CAN we do to stop generational trauma from continuing?
In counseling, it is my job as the therapist to assess my clients holistically, meaning looking at the person, their environment, and their past, and work to help the client fully understand the meaning of their trauma so they can best heal from it. When we do this it can help bring to light the, Why do I do this? behind the negative behavior that is affecting the clients life.
Read Also: Scab Inside Nose Won’t Heal
Identifying Aces: Getting To The Root Of Generational Trauma
In order to break the cycle of adverse childhood trauma, experts say ACEs must be identified and the trauma treated as soon as possible. Ideally this would take place before young people begin to have children of their own.
The comparison between ACEs and genetics is very interesting because ACEs tend to be passed down as if they were genetic, but its a culture thats passed down from generation to generation within families, said Chambers. If you have adequate mental health and addiction care delivered to the adult populationespecially those who are having children and raising themthat is the best possible way to disrupt it.
In some ways, understanding ones ACE score could be compared to passing along the gene for high blood pressure: if you know youre at risk, you can start implementing habits and medications to reduce your likelihood for problems down the road. Parents who understand their risk for ACEs can get help to avoid passing them on to their children.
Prevention starts before and during pregnancy by making sure mom doesnt get pregnant until shes ready to have another child. This means counseling mothers on contraceptive care at the infant well checks, said Dorota Szczepaniak, MD, pediatrician for Riley Childrens Health. If we can educate pregnant women on how leaving their diabetes untreated will reduce their childs intelligence, they may consider changing behavior.
Essentially, we are helping parents become better parents, Szczepaniak said.
Generational Trauma And Epigenetics
I chose to read about Rachel Yehudas work for this post. Her work allowed us to shed light on the reality that just because someone is born with a set of genes does not mean they are in a biological prison due to those genes. The faulty genes do not have to be your fate. Epigenetics gave us the language we needed to unpack this idea that though you have the same DNA, environmental influences play a huge role.
Confused? Let me try to explain- we all inherit DNA from our parents. The genes within our DNA control how our body works. This is Genetics. Our genes play an essential role in our health. However, our environment plays just as important a role. I find it so fascinating that we can also inherit the effects of our parents lifestyle and exposure in the form of tags on our DNA, which is called Epigenetics. So while we all have a set of genes, think of it in terms of cards. You still can choose what cards you want to play, alternating your gene expression. Think about your current habits. What types of food are you eating? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you spending enough time with nature?
The way we choose to live our life influences our tags and improves our overall health. Epigenetics is studying how life factors affect the expression of those genes but it does not do anything to do your DNA. MIND = BLOWN.
Also Check: Pain On Outside Of Heal
Why Does It Happen
The key to understanding intergenerational trauma lies in the nature of trauma responses themselves.
When you experience a traumatic or stressful event, your brain and body work to protect you through one of four main responses:
- fight, or standing up to the threat
- flight, or fleeing from the threat
- freeze, or stopping in your tracks and waiting to determine the best response
- fawn, or attempting to soothe and appease the source of the threat
Repeated or ongoing exposure to trauma whether that means you continue to face the same trauma, or different traumas again and again can leave you stuck in this response. Your body wants you to get through the event safely, so it remains on guard for danger.
But this state of hypervigilance, or constant high alert for possible threats, can have some pretty big consequences. It can have a long lasting impact on your overall physical and mental health and well-being, for one. But it can also affect your very biology by triggering changes in the expression of certain genes.
Talk Openly With Family Members
The next thing you can do is try to open a dialogue between your parents and you about the history of family trauma they experienced . This may be extremely difficult if your parents dont want to go there and relive painful memories. Finding honest communication about these collective traumatic experiences, however, can take away some of the stress and taboo associated with them.
Recommended Reading: Best Foods For Bone Healing
Dealing With Generational Trauma
Subsequent generations can pass down trauma and its outcomes. The same can be said for resiliency. Therefore, it is imperative that you take serious steps to address this debilitating scenario. Here are a few to consider:
- Do the work to identify the intergenerational trauma patterns that exist within your family
- Recognize attitudes that may be keeping your family stuck
- Develop compassion for yourself and others for enduring struggles
- Begin productive conversations with family members
- Learn about their experiences and coping mechanisms
These primary goals help halt the momentum of generational trauma while creating new, positive narratives.
First, cultivate a support system to help make change happen. Recruit family members with whom you get along. Also, remember: plenty of outsiders can be trustworthy and helpful. One such outsider may be a mental health professional.
How To Start Healing From Trauma
Im sure at this point you are asking yourself, But are there ways to heal family wounds and break free of the cycle of transgenerational trauma? The answer is yes!
First, commend yourself for having the insight and strength to move beyond the trauma. Its difficult to admit that you have unhealthy behaviors. And it takes courage to want to work on changing those behaviors.
Related Reading: How to Release Trauma Trapped in the Body
Next, be gentle with yourself and tend to your inner child. Ask yourself the following questions:
- While honoring my survival patterns, what can I as a caring adult now offer my wounded inner child?
- What did I need from my caretaker as a child that I didnt receive?
- How can I re-parent myself to help heal the wounds of the past?
These are meaningful questions that need to be handled delicately, slowly, and ideally while connected with others. Because feeling unsafe is at the center of trauma, it can be very helpful to find a therapist who provides a sense of safety, understanding, and empathy. A safe therapist can help you learn new coping skills to manage complicated feelings, add insight to self-identified problems, encourage self-growth and awareness, and support you through times of emotional dysregulation.
How To Heal Black Generational Trauma According To Experts
From slavery to economic oppression to police brutality, Black people on American soil have endured countless traumas. And so often, these traumas go unhealed and get handed down from one generation to the next.
In a June 1 Twitter Space discussion, Healing Black Generational Trauma, we took a deep dive into what generational trauma looks like in the Black community and how we can heal ourselves and our families.
Our panel included therapists Aaliyah Nurideen, who works to empower Black girls and eradicate racism from social work Brandon Jones, who specializes in adverse childhood experiences and Dr. George James, who counsels people to overcome relationship struggles.
Generational Trauma: How We Can Heal Our Selves Through Our Ancestors
The idea that emotional trauma can be passed from generation to generation has intrigued me for years. Undoubtedly, being the daughter of two Holocaust survivors played a huge role in my lifetime work of helping adults heal from childhood trauma. My parents generation was a stoic one They were neither driven nor inclined to explore the painful experiences of their own early lives. A colleague of mine once suggested that a good portion of my professional journey has been to help others get the insights and respite I was never able to help my parents achieve from their own grim memories.
I worked in the Hispanic community of Southern California as a therapist for years. As part of my dissertation research, I compiled statistics of traumatic experiences that were uncovered during hypnotic age regression sessions. Statistically, the highest percentage of trauma involved sexual abuse . This research also revealed a rather high instance of the affected female subjects reporting that their mothers had also been abused. This further advanced my thought processes around these lines.
The concept that emotional trauma can be handed down from our parents in a similar way one inherits their eye color, is not without scientific support. In a study by the University of Zurich, researchers discovered not only can extreme and traumatic events change a person, but they can also impact their children, a generation or two later, through RNA strands.
Healing Your Relationship With A Parent
- Exercises you can do at home on your own to help you heal a relationship with a parent before working with them on it in real life.
- The importance of attunement beginning in the uterus and how to make that bond stronger throughout your life with compassion.
- What to do if a family member is refusing to work with you to heal your broken relationship.
- How we can do the work to heal the relationship without taking it so personally but looking beyond at your parent’s history.
- What significant health issues can happen if you have a broken relationship with a parent.
- Inner work practices to decipher whether what you’re feeling is true or how to take advice from other people.
- What it means to actually do the work for the right vs wrong reasons.
- How to feel the sensations of the inner practice both physically and viscerally instead of attaching ourselves to the outcome of the work.
- What he did to actually heal his own vision by healing his relationship with his mom.
Effect Of Generational Trauma On Parents
Generational trauma can also affect parents and their children. Parents who have gone through a tragic event in the past may treat their children with love but also be strict to make sure they dont go out of control, for example. This could lead them to become overprotective or controlling towards their kids when they get older which is not necessarily helpful! If this is something you struggle with as a parent it might help to talk about your own experiences with others so that youre able to move on and heal from what happened in the past before becoming too intimately involved in your childs life.
The passing of the traditional family structure has created a wave of problems for parents and children worldwide. One of the most overlooked problems is what its like to be a child in a family with mental illness or substance abuse. If you are, you can have bad effects on your life when you grow up. This includes trauma and even genetic diseases.
Generational trauma is when people suffer tragedies by things like abuse, war, addiction, etc. These wounds then affect the people who come after them. And those new people then do these things to their kids. These include abusive parenting practices, poor communication skills, and being emotionally unavailable due to their own trauma. Whatever the behavior is, its not good for children to have parents with mental disorders or drug problems in their backgrounds. They are in no way responsible, but they are the victims.
Can You Avoid Passing It On
Once you begin to recognize the signs of intergenerational trauma in your own life and behavior, you might wonder what steps you can take to keep history from repeating itself.
Acknowledging the signs and symptoms is an important place to start. Once you name and accept these experiences, you can begin addressing them.
Its crucial to tend to emotional ailments just as you would a physical wound. The task can be daunting, but the outcome can offer a tremendous amount of relief, Torres says.
If youre working through intergenerational trauma, connecting with a mental health professional can have benefit.
A trauma-informed therapist can help you begin to heal by:
- listening to your experiences
Therapy that doesnt address intergenerational trauma directly can still teach helpful skills, including strategies for communicating, processing emotions, and navigating relationship challenges. But when therapy doesnt explore your personal history, it may not prove as effective for healing trauma.
A trauma-informed and resilience lens is crucial, Tran emphasizes. Its moving from, Whats wrong with you? to What happened to you? to How have you learned to survive? and eventually What can we do to support your healing moving forward?’
How Generational Trauma Presents
The symptoms of generational trauma may include hypervigilance, a sense of a shortened future, mistrust, aloofness, high anxiety, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, a sensitive fight or flight response, and issues with self-esteem and self-confidence, says Dr. DeSilva.
Experts are learning more about how trauma affects the immune system. It may lead to a dysfunctional immune systemone thats either too active or not active enough, Dr. DeSilva notes. This can result in more autoimmune diseases or a greater propensity for illness.
Trauma also influences the microglia, the brains immune system. When in a high trauma reactive state, the microglia eat away at nerve endings instead of enhancing growth and getting rid of damage, Dr. DeSilva explains. The microglia go haywire in the brain and cause depression, anxiety, and dementia. This can translate into genetic changes, which can be passed down to further generations.
What Does Intergenerational Trauma Look Like
However, because the individual did not directly experience the trauma themselves, they will not experience flashbacks or intrusive memories. They experience trauma symptoms and trauma responses from events that did not occur to them rather, the response is inherited genetically.
Because stress responses are linked to more physical health issues, intergenerational trauma can also manifest as medical issues including heart disease, stroke, or early death.
What Are The Symptoms And Signs
Whats more, the signs and symptoms of trauma can also vary widely from person to person and family to family.
Some people become so accustomed to living with the impact of generational trauma in a family that accepts it as normal, the trauma becomes normalized and symptoms appear normal to them, says Canh Tran, LICSW, a trauma therapist in Seattle, WA.
Our families, society, and culture shape our environment, so this is key, says Tran. He goes on to explain that this normalization of trauma symptoms can lead you to begin accepting it as normal yourself.
Some common signs and symptoms might include:
- dissociation and depersonalization, or a sense of disconnection and detachment from your body and feelings
- emotional numbness, or difficulty experiencing and expressing emotions
- difficulty connecting with others, establishing trust, and forming relationships
- feelings of isolation and withdrawal
- feelings of shame, guilt, or low self-esteem
- a sense of helplessness or vulnerability
- difficulty establishing personal identity
Signs of traumatization can also show up for the members of your family who lived through the initial trauma. They might:
These patterns can appear in your own behavior, though you might not always consciously recognize these effects.