Intergenerational trauma refers to trauma that has been carried from one generation to another. The trauma rides along our genes like an anxious passenger. Wanting truths to be told. Wrongs to be righted. Justice to be served.
It’s a heavy load for each new generation to bear. For when you survive with your ancestors’ trauma inside of you, there’s no escaping it.
Intergenerational trauma doesn’t always show itself—doesn’t always make itself clearly known—but it’s there. Waiting to be acknowledged.
Any kind of trauma has to be acknowledged before you can begin to heal from it. But when intergenerational trauma goes unacknowledged, then the pattern repeats into the next generation. And into the next. And like any pattern, it is repeated until it is acknowledged. Until it is understood. Only then can we begin to let it go.
I’ve been spending the majority of my adult life hunting down the intergenerational trauma that has influenced the things that have happened to me. The things I’ve been a victim of. The things I have survived. They are the same things that my ancestors had to survive. The intergenerational trauma that lives in my genes. That had to be acknowledged in order for me to begin to understand it.
Unacknowledged intergenerational trauma is what I hear Black Americans speaking about right now. In their discussions on social media. In the findings of their research. Their trauma is not acknowledged. And their trauma must be acknowledged. Especially by the country who created it.
Intergenerational trauma doesn’t just need to be acknowledged, it needs to be understood so it can be properly dealt with. This means we need research, training and education about what intergenerational trauma is and how it is affecting current generations. In schools. In public institutions. In the privacy of our own homes.
It means instituting trauma-informed practices and pedagogies. Understanding that what happens to many of us is far beyond our current life circumstances. It is trauma that resides within us. Taking up space. And screaming to be released.
It also means seeing all of the neurological and personality disorders that are a result of it. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and narcissistic personality disorder to name a few. Understanding how trauma has shaped our neurological pathways. Creating a constant fight-or-flight response. Forcing those of us who suffer to live in fear.
It means seeing how it is plaguing our nervous systems. Causing autoimmune diseases and chronic pain. Destroying our digestive systems. Leading to disease and illness. Fear. Anger. And to more trauma.
Each of us who suffers from intergenerational trauma needs access to psychotherapy to unpack the trauma we carry. To occupational therapy to regulate our nervous systems. To healthcare to assist with the havoc intergenerational trauma has wreaked on our bodies. To affordable help.
Now is the time to understand intergenerational trauma.
We need to listen and learn from those whom it is affecting in order to form a collective understanding of what it means. To understand how the lives and circumstances of our ancestors are affecting us. Our minds and our bodies. The way we treat ourselves and others. Our ability to survive. Only then, when intergenerational trauma is acknowledged and understood, can we all begin to heal. And hopefully, finally, be able to let it go.
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This story originally ran on Psych Central on June 13, 2020. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available:
Cover image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay