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Healing Intergenerational Trauma: Guide to Breaking the Cycle

Healing Intergenerational Trauma: Guide to Breaking the Cycle


If you’ve heard about healing intergenerational trauma but are unsure what it is, this article is for you. Trauma that is passed down through generations is referred to as intergenerational trauma. It starts when a group goes through a traumatic occurrence that produces suffering in the family, culture, and economy. People in that group have physical or psychological problems as a result.

This theory has long provided an explanation for family issues. This practice perpetuates the harmful effects of oppressive or traumatic events in the past on subsequent generations. An example would be a grandmother who learned to survive by “cutting off” her emotions while imprisoned in a concentration camp. As a result, this woman could have emotionally distant interactions with her family, and that is what her children may continue in their future lives and homes. 

Therefore, understanding these traumas is crucial for healing and breaking the cycle. In order to provide you with useful information on how to live your life as you should, we have further investigated generational trauma.


Healing Intergenerational Trauma within the Family

Families that have experienced extreme trauma (such as sexual abuse, murder, etc.) frequently experience intergenerational trauma issues, including oppression. If a therapist or other mental health practitioner brings up the subject, it is very unusual, if ever, that the effects of intergenerational trauma are explored. 

Although it is a crucial subject, many mental health practitioners are either unsure or unaware of how to discuss this process. Investigating how trauma may have harmed previous generations of family members is essential for healing.

For instance, a mother dealing with the sexual abuse of her daughter may also have experienced sexual abuse from her father, who may have experienced sexual abuse from his father. 

Trauma passed down through generations has a big impact. It may be quite challenging for a parent or grandparent to offer emotional assistance to a family member dealing with trauma if they have never fully recovered from or processed it. Tragically, families frequently heal intergenerational trauma by using two harmful coping mechanisms:

  • Denial (refusal to accept that the trauma occurred)
  • Minimization (the act of downplaying the significance of the trauma)

How family members “cope” with intergenerational trauma may influence younger generations. For instance, a grandma who refused to consider the effects of her trauma may have mistakenly or consciously taught her grandchildren to disregard the effects of their trauma. There is a good chance that something will sooner or later provoke the trauma. No matter how hard you try, trauma is not something you can hide from.


Generational Trauma Signs and Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms and signs that someone may be experiencing generational trauma, such as:

  • Lack of self-worth,
  • Anxiety,
  • Feeling detached from yourself and your surroundings,
  • Depression,
  • Feeling numbness when it comes to emotions, 
  • Impaired life skills,
  • PTSD symptoms.

There is some evidence that generational trauma may impact the immune system. A 2021 study examined genes associated with immunological health in the offspring of Holocaust survivors. Some of those genes were less active than usual, the researchers discovered. Therefore, the subjects had poor innate immunity, or immunity present at birth.


Causes of Generational Trauma

Generational trauma begins to form when a group experiences a traumatic event like abuse, prejudice, a natural disaster, racism, or war together. For those who directly experienced those events, PTSD, sadness, and anxiety are potential negative side effects. Following that, those people’s children may continue to experience trauma, and so on. 

One way that trauma is passed down through the generations is through epigenetic modifications. The idea is that trauma changes the way your genes work. Then, your kids inherit those modifications. 


Diagnosing Intergenerational Trauma

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition” (DSM-5) states that there is no particular diagnosis for generational trauma. The DSM-5 is the reference manual that mental health professionals often use to identify mental health problems. However, experts generally agree that the phenomenon exists and that the DSM is a limited medical model with various limitations. 

Inherited, learned beliefs, behaviors, and patterns may also conceal intergenerational trauma.

A healthcare professional can use a mental health screening to check for mental diseases if your family has a history of trauma. However, there is no test to identify generational trauma. A mental health screening includes questions regarding your hunger, sentiments, mood, sleep, and other activities. 

You might answer a questionnaire or discuss your results with a healthcare professional. To effectively assess your problem, you must respond honestly. If you exhibit symptoms of a mental illness, your healthcare practitioner may suggest that you consult a psychologist or psychiatrist who focuses on mental health. To identify mental diseases like anxiety, sadness, or PTSD, a mental healthcare professional may pose additional inquiries.


Generational Trauma Treatment

There is no unique treatment for generational trauma, yet there are certain steps that will probably be part of healing, such as:

  • Accepting the trauma, how it affected your life, and what you can do to manage emotions
  • Understand signs and sensations that may relate to the trauma.
  • Constant retelling of the story with those who are not trained or skilled in empathetic listening, which may only worsen the effects of the trauma.

The consequences of generational trauma can be lessened or eliminated via psychotherapy or talk therapy. You can identify the trauma and how it affects you through talk therapy. 

An expert in mental healthcare might suggest coping mechanisms based on your experiences. For instance, they could suggest breathing techniques and meditation to reduce feelings of anxiety. Personal or family therapy may be used in talk therapy to discuss the systemic implications. Therefore, see an MFT if you need more help with systemic patterns. 


In Final Words

One of the most important strategies for breaking the cycle is educating people about healing intergenerational trauma. It might be easier to process the trauma if you realize that you are not helpless or alone and that there might have been other influences. Breaking the cycle of recurring trauma is essential, and this may require a lot of encouragement and support.

Possible sources of assistance include engaging in cultural practices, reading or watching content that speaks to you, talking with loved ones about your culture, and engaging in traditions.


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