We do not simply just inherit our parents’ skin complexion, eye colour, or height. We can also acquire our parents’ stories, narratives, and perspectives on life. There is a piece of them that lives on in us, whether we are conscious of it or not. While carrying on our family’s tradition is a good thing to do, there may be unaddressed tension and trauma to sift through and tidy up.
WHAT IS GENERATIONAL TRAUMA?
Generational trauma is exactly what the name implies: trauma that is passed down from one generation to the next. It can be subtle, hidden, and ambiguous, emerging via nuances and unwittingly taught or suggested throughout someone’s life from infancy onward.
Families with a record of unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, and addiction can pass on ineffective coping techniques and suspicious views of life to subsequent generations. In this way, one might perpetuate the same behaviours and attitudes of previous generations, even if they’re healthy.
While generational trauma can impact anybody, individuals who have suffered major kinds of abuse, abandonment, torture, discrimination, and racial inequalities are at the greatest risk. Generational trauma has been studied in relation to Holocaust survivors, the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the relocation of American Indians, and the slavery of African Americans, among other things. While the evidence on how trauma manifests itself is varied, several studies have found increased rates of anxiety, sadness, and PTSD among trauma survivors and their offspring.
Trauma can cause poverty, poor parenting, decreased bonding, psychological distress, and insecure living conditions, all of which have a significant influence on children ’s development.
WAYS IN WHICH GENERATIONAL TRAUMA CAN AFFECT FAMILIES
- Emotions could become a point of conflict across generations – Regardless of how the trauma is coped with, elder generations within a family set the tone for how traumatic events must be (and frequently are) dealt with. Unfortunately, the trauma is passed down through generations since those who needed assistance never received it. In some situations, the traumatised family member may even pass on bad feelings to others in the family.
- Trauma can have an impact on the parent-child relationship – Individuals who have not gotten assistance and support for their trauma may establish unhealthy connections with their kid or grandchild. Emotional, psychological, or verbal abuse can all be signs of an unhealthy relationship. Abuse can be sexual or physical in severe situations.
- Unaddressed mental issues could cause relationship conflict – It is well known that older people do not believe in seeking the assistance of mental health specialists. Members of the family suffering from mental health issues (depression, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, etc.) genuinely require assistance because untreated psychiatric symptoms can lead to more trauma and emotional instability within one’s family.
- Younger generations may become “satisfied” with the way things are – If avoiding and denying ,and even embracing, the trauma becomes “normal” for the family, future generations will adopt this manner of “survival” and imitate the behaviours. People who avoid, downplay, or suppress family trauma exacerbate the situation for younger family members. We learn a lot about how to cope with stressful experiences.
HOW TO HEAL FROM GENERATIONAL TRAUMA
Many people do not realize their dysfunctional behavior because they are simply applying what they have learnt in the best way they know how to. The key to change is awareness. There can be no change unless you acknowledge that something is wrong in your family unit.
- The first step is to recognise the patterns. Some are much more visible than others, such as domestic violence, abuse, anxiety, and gender norms.
- The second stage is to become more conscious of what causes you to fall into these established patterns. Is it shouting, contempt, feeling undervalued, physical violence, or witnessing others bully? The list could go on and on.
- The third stage is to become conscious of how you respond to triggers once you are aware of them. Do you shut down, get furious, get aggressive, or yell?
- The fourth stage is to understand how to create constraints in such behaviors. Creating a trigger word or phrase that will assist you detect when you are following a pattern. Creating a support network in order to be held accountable.
- Giving yourself love and time to heal is the fifth stage. These are behaviors which have been ingrained in us for a long time. Generational trauma doesn’t really heal in a day or a week. It takes some time.
In order to enhance these processes, enlisting the assistance of a professional is a wonderful choice. Sometimes when the trauma you experienced is so deeply ingrained in you that you need additional assistance.