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Intergenerational Trauma

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

What is Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational trauma refers to a survivor’s responses from traumatic events or experiences that is passed down from a trauma survivor to their children; also referred to as transgenerational or multigenerational trauma. Individuals or families struggling with intergenerational trauma can experience many different symptoms, reactions, patterns, emotional and psychological effects from trauma passed down from previous generations.

What is a Trauma Response?

We have survived for a long time utilizing our ability to adapt to different environments and stressors. If you live with chronic stress or have experienced a traumatic event, certain automatic responses activate in order to help you survive, these are known as trauma responses. These responses tend to be helpful in the short term for helping us to manage stress and to ‘survive’. However, being stuck in ‘survivor mode’ for a long period of time can be harmful to both your physical and mental health. Living in ‘survival mode’ can greatly limit your ability to thrive, because this response is founded and functions based off past experiences of fear/trauma/scarcity. Thriving is possible when there is a developed sense of safety and security, which individuals or families with intergenerational trauma may not have a foundation for.

What does Intergenerational Trauma look like?

Individuals and families impacted by intergenerational trauma might experience symptoms similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], which can include hypervigilance, anxiety, and mood dysregulation. Since intergenerational trauma is passed down and not directly experienced it is unlikely one will experience flashbacks or intrusive memories. If Intergenerational trauma is not recognized it can have direct impacts on your physical health, especially since stress responses are linked to causing more physical health struggles such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or even early death.

What causes Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational trauma occurs when the effects of trauma are passed down between generations. This typically occurs when a parent has experienced abuse as a child or an adverse childhood experience [ACES] and that abuse in turn impacts their parenting. Intergenerational trauma can also be the result of oppression, systemic oppression or racial trauma. Research has shown that the effects of intergenerational trauma can be found in descendants of refugees, residential schools, and even Holocaust survivors, demonstrating just how impactful intergenerational trauma can be.

What Treatment is Available for Intergenerational Trauma?

If you are struggling with intergenerational trauma there is treatment available to you. Trauma-informed interventions and therapy can help you cope with your own symptoms, understand the impact of your familial trauma, and equip you with the skills to help you challenge and change the deeply embedded patterns and heal yourself and generations after you. Recognizing trauma symptoms, even if they are inherited rather and related to a personal experienced trauma, is essential in beginning the journey of healing. By seeking trauma-informed care or therapy you can learn necessary skills to help you manage your body’s responses to intergenerational trauma.


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