Topic(s)
Mental Health

Intergenerational Trauma & Healing

DHTI

For some of us who struggle with mental health challenges - the root of the problem may not be in our immediate life experiences, but in the lives and experiences of our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents.  Trauma that is passed down through generations is called intergenerational trauma. Sometimes, intergenerational trauma begins with one individual family member's traumatic experience (for example, a specific event like a serious car accident). Other times, it can involve collective trauma affecting a larger community, cultural or ethnic group (for example, racism, poverty, war, immigration, etc.)

 

Traumatic events can affect the way we feel and behave. When left unresolved, traumas, like genes, can be passed on from generation to generation. Even if we don't know much about our parents' or grandparents' past, the lives they lived and the traumas they experienced can affect us. These past traumas can lead to behaviors that deeply affect family dynamics. For example, when my mother was growing up a revolution happened in her home country. She was separated from her family and was forced to move to leave her home. Being alone as a young woman in a new country, she struggled with adjusting to a new culture and dealt with depression and anxiety . When I was growing up she had to manage a lot of stress from working multiple jobs which led to chaos at home. This made our relationship pretty difficult and affected things like my sense of identity and confidence . While I didn't experience the war that my mother did, the effects of the war continue to have effects on my own mental health and wellbeing.

 

One reason a lot of us suffer from the effects of intergenerational trauma and don't even know it is because it's difficult for our parents to talk about what they have survived. Some of them fear of seeking help because of the belief that there's shame  around being vulnerable and going to therapy or seeking other forms of support. For others, the traumas they have endured are too painful to talk about. In a way, our parents expression of love is protecting us from trauma by not sharing it. Unfortunately, when trauma goes untreated it can ripple out and harm others.

 

But healing is possible. And like trauma, healing also has ripple effects. When we heal and grow, we heal for ourselves and for so much more. It is not only our lives that change but also the lives of our families, children, friends, and communities.

 

Healing generational trauma may include

  • learning what parents went through to change how we see them

  • talking to family members about the past with compassion and understanding

  • breaking cycles of silence, denial and neglect

  • asking questions and having difficult conversations

  • asking for and accepting help

  • going to therapy

  • educating yourself and others about intergenerational trauma

  • learning healthy skills ie. setting boundaries, healthy communication skills, healthy coping skills

  • practicing self-care, love, and compassion

  • practicing community care by participating in activism or finding ways to care for other community members

To learn more about intergenerational trauma:

  • Listen:

  • Read:

    • My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem

    • What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey

    • It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn