Generational trauma is a psychological term that asserts the fact that trauma can be transferred between generations. A growing body of research suggests that trauma (like from extreme stress or starvation, among many other things) can be passed from one generation to the next. This term can be used interchangeably with intergenerational trauma, ancestral trauma, generational curses, and transgenerational trauma.
On the simplest level, the concept of generational trauma acknowledges that exposure to extremely adverse events that impact individuals to such a great extent that their offspring find themselves grappling with their parents’ post‐traumatic state.
On a more scientific level, trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which can then be passed down to future generations. Trauma is divided into three main types: acute, chronic, and complex.
After the first generation of survivors experiences trauma, they can transfer their trauma to their children and further generations of offspring via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms. This field of research is relatively young but has expanded in recent years.
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.
Think about it this way, for you to be born, you would need:
8 great grandparents
16 second great grandparents
32 third great grandparents
64 fourth great grandparents
128 fifth great grandparents
256 sixth great grandparents
512 seventh great grandparents
1,024 eight great grandparents
2,048 ninth great grandparents
For you to be born today from 12 previous generations, you would need a total of 4,094 ancestors over the last 400 years. Think of how many struggles, difficulties, sadness, love stories, and hopes for the future – did your ancestors have to undergo for you to exist in this present moment. That’s a lot of weight we’re all carrying around.
Not only are we dealing with past trauma that’s inherent within us, but we are also picking up harmful behaviors from our parents and/or grandparents because we’re able to witness how they’re coping with trauma. On top of that, we also have the weight of our own mindset, emotions, and feelings within all of this as well. This is how trauma amplifies and multiplies itself.
Putting it into perspective, if my dad beats me because he’s frustrated at himself due to how disappointed my grandpa is at him and my grandpa has used physical abuse to discipline his children because that’s what my grandpa’s father did and so on and so forth – then we’re only teaching, directly or indirectly, what we know. However, if my grandpa recognized and healed his trauma, he would have had more patience to discipline my dad, then my dad would have passed down healthier mindsets and roots to me.
This means to break the cycle, we need to be aware, educated and understand the way that our trauma, past or present, affects our families. Not only do we need to heal so that we can find a better response to our traumatic behaviors, but we also need to be available to educate and help our kids as they’re witnessing our behaviors, ready to mimic us.
Rewriting mindset, reaction, and behaviors to respond to trauma and encourage our future generations to deal with their responses healthily will break the cycle and end suffering.
If negative responses that are passed down from our ancestors’ trauma can leave a chemical mark on our genes, then we can flip this by changing the negative to a positive response and thus having the same trickling effect but building healthier human traits.
Don’t just focus on the problems. Make free time to be together and relax, or else the stress will not subside. Ensure that you’re communicated with one another so that there is a sense of growth and understanding within your family.
Lastly, when healing generational trauma, it’s inevitable to come to a fork along your road where you’ll have to decide on the present generation or the past generation. This is where your self-discovery is the best form of healing, as it’s your compass to help you navigate. Personally, I’ve found that it’s hard to rewrite the past, especially in my Asian family, where past generations have a sense of entitlement and ego in how they operate. I suppose it’s filial piety that gives them this righteous mentality, and it makes healing mental health harder for them. I also see that real deep change is already hard for most people, let alone for those who feel entitled to be set in their ways. So more often than not, I choose to change the future because this is more within my control. I’m not struggling with conflicting mindsets because as I’m healing myself, I’m also at peace within the present moment to actively educate my kids too.
7 Ways to Heal Your ChildhoodTrauma
- 1. Acknowledge and recognize the trauma for what it is.
- 2. Identify and reclaim control of your behaviors.
- 3. Seek support and don’t isolate yourself. Talk about it.
- 4. Take care of your health, search for better ways of working through what you’re feeling.
- 5. Learn the true meaning of acceptance and letting go.
- 6. Replace bad habits with good ones.
- 7. Be patient with yourself.