TRIGGER WARNING: Transgenerational Trauma and Can Trauma get Passed Down in the DNA?
There is a new body of research which is talking about how trauma can be passed down generationally (including through biology).
I first learned about this over the last several years in specializing trauma and noticing that my clients often had parents or caregivers with significant trauma histories.
I began to do my own informal research through completing genograms (a family tree that indicates relationships, health, etc), having conversations with colleagues, and eventually being led to the research that showed this very phenomenon.
So… does trauma get passed down in the DNA?
What does Transgenerational Trauma Mean?
Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is inherited from generation to generation.
There is no doubt in my mind as a relational and systems therapist that trauma can be inherited.
From what I know about families and relationships, it is clear that nurture certainly plays a role in how we see ourselves and experience the world and people around us.
If we were raised in abusive or toxic circumstances, it is clear that as children we would pick up on some of those patterns of behavior and then use those patterns of behavior or “habits” in future relationships in that way as well.
For example: a child who was raised in a household where their parents engaged in excessive drinking, drug use, and violence would likely be traumatized by that.
As they grew up, they may learn to engage in some of those same behaviors or strategies to manage emotions or conflict. Say this individual then begins has children and as a parent engages in strategies that engage in emotional numbing and explosions of conflict.
These behaviors may not be the same exact things as drugs and violence, yet now they are parenting utilizing the same addictive strategies (gambling, eating disorders, drug use, sex, fights, shaming, blaming, etc.), and you can see how the pattern continues as unconsciously as the environment continues to utilize various strategies to maintain until it is brought to consciousness and the system works to change.
In the example of transgenerational trauma above, you may see how the environment creates trauma and continues from one generation to the next, as those who experienced high levels of trauma parented and continued to parent within the context and knowledge of what they knew.
As children, we learn from our environment and how that translates into the future can depend on a variety of factors outside our control as well as some that are within our control.
This made sense to me. I get this and believe that what we learn from our relationships throughout our lives impacts us on a conscious and unconscious basis.
We can consider finding ways to become more conscious and aware of these impacts so we can shift the pattern.
Inherited Transgenerational Trauma and Biology
There seems to be some research indicating that this may not just be true just through nurture, yet through nature as well.
What I found was that it was not just something that was being researched relationally within the family, yet also being studied genetically and biologically. This was OVERWHELMING to consider.
People who experience trauma are possibly passing down these patterns via their relationships and dynamics with others AND through their biological genes as well!
Much of what I read focused specifically on survivors of genocide (such as the Holocaust).
Some research focused specifically on tests run on animals. It seems that the evidence has begun to show how adverse experiences of children at early ages (and throughout life) can change someone’s brain and perhaps even the way trauma is passed down genetically across generations.
To me, this is a fascinating area and concept to consider especially as a way to place more value on preventative measures to help with trauma generally speaking (especially in childhood).
As this body of research continues to grow my hope is that there will be more resources placed to help treat trauma (and it’s many forms) and ways to prevent it.
In some states (like California), they look at the “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs) as a public health issue (which it is!) and focus on ways to work with children and families to help prevent and intervene as soon as possible to reduce the long term impacts.
We are here to help at LCAT, we have various therapists who have training and understanding in all the A/a’s. Please join us on your healing journey!
YouTube page where Amanda Pasciucco, Founder of LCAT provides free information at The Sex Healer.
If you know someone that would benefit from this information, feel free to share it.
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