What is intergenerational trauma ?

“Unhealed trauma can appear to become part of someone’s personality. Overtime, it can get passed on and become a family norm. If transmitted through multiple families and generations, it can look like culture”. – Resmaa Menakem

There has been increased awareness of trauma and its associated impact. Trauma can be anything that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. Trauma can be one experience or a series of experiences. The experience and effects of trauma can vary greatly from one person to the next. Two people can experience the same event and walk away from it differently. Trauma can impact your emotional, mental and physical health. The above quote nicely summarizes the impact of trauma on individuals, families and the larger culture. The effects of trauma can reverberate throughout generations oftentimes unknown to the individuals that it impacts.

Intergenerational trauma

What happens to your parents and/or caregivers, happens to you. We carry people in and with us. Trauma can be passed down generationally through stories.  Stories can become so powerful that they can live on without the person. Trauma and its associated effects can also be learned and modeled by others. Intergenerational trauma is something that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Intergenerational trauma can be a range of emotional and relational factors experienced within the context of one’s family including exposure to violence, abandonment, neglect, abuse and loss. Intergenerational trauma can have an impact on how a person views themselves and others. Everyone in the family may experience the trauma differently despite it being a shared experience.

Breaking generational trauma

If you’re reading this blog post and you or someone in your family has been impacted by trauma, Great job in taking the first step towards healing. Trauma needs to be acknowledged in order for you to work towards breaking generational trauma. Increasing your awareness and giving an experience a name can be the first steps towards healing. Just as trauma can be passed through generations so can healing. Wisdom, gifts and talents can also be passed on and not just trauma. Being the first to try to make a change can be scary and it’s important to validate that feeling. When you are doing something different it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions and feelings. 

I would invite you to validate your feelings without judging them. I would also encourage you to get connected with a licensed professional that can walk alongside you as you navigate breaking generational trauma(s). Doing this work can change the trajectory of trauma. When we can embody our own experience(s) we can begin to understand the reactions of others. When someone is traumatized nothing feels safe even your own body may not feel safe. The first steps in breaking generational trauma is to name it and make a plan for how you will take care of yourself.

Grounding exercise: Grounding helps you to be present and refocus to the here and now. I would invite you to ground yourself in this moment by taking a few deep breaths then bringing awareness to your feet on the ground, just simply notice the ground beneath you. Then bring attention to your body and pay attention to any parts that need attention in this moment. I would invite you to take a couple more deep breaths. Then give yourself this gentle reminder, you are not what happened to you. You are not what happened to your family. You don’t have to do this alone. 

The impacts of trauma can vary from one person to the next. Trauma and trauma reactions can be passed down from one generation to the next. While trauma can be passed on, so can healing. Exploring your history and the ways that trauma has manifested in your life can be the first steps towards trauma recovery. Trauma work may require some exposure to the things that may have been pushed down and avoided. If you or someone in your family has experienced something traumatic, help is available and there are ways to treat trauma that work. If you would like to explore the ways you may have been impacted by intergenerational trauma and work towards healing, reach out to me today.

Be Well,

Ebony Skinner, MA, LPC-S

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be or substitute treatment by a Licensed Professional Counselor.