Generational Trauma: It Affects Us All
Raising children is the biggest, hardest job any of us will ever have, even in the best of circumstances. It is a privilege to shape the lives of future generations, yet we all do this honored task imperfectly.
We each bring our unique baggage, our pain and vulnerability, and our own brand of prejudice to this work. It all contributes to the way we parent and who our children will turn out to be.
Generational trauma is a critical topic when we talk about parenting. The traumas of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents can manifest in our own depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, obsessive thoughts, and physical illnesses or pain.
More importantly, this trauma can create ripples of behavior and perception that will affect generations of the same family for much longer than family members realize. Culturally, trauma plays a significant role in the way we function and interact in our homes and communities.
And it’s not an isolated problem.
It’s estimated that 2 out of 3 people have experienced at least one ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences before the time we turn 18), with 1 in 8 people experiencing four or more. Most often we defer to ACEs when discussing trauma and abuse, however, generational trauma can also be the result of racial or other systemic oppression. Current research puts the numbers at 50 percent for women and 60 percent for men for enduring at least one traumatic event during their lifetime.
Thanks to contemporary epigenics and neuropsychology research, we know that when someone experiences trauma, their DNA responds by activating genes to help them survive. These genes induce a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response to help us protect ourselves. We then pass this “coding” to our offspring to prepare them for possible threats; it’s survival of the fittest at its finest.
While our bodies are biologically wired to protect us from stress, intense or toxic stress is our bodies’ greatest threat. The higher your ACEs score, the more health risks you are likely to experience in adulthood. These risks range from health issues like irritable bowel syndrome and depression to heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Has your family been impacted by ACEs or generational trauma? There are usually signs of manifestation that include:
- Emotional numbing
- Unresolved grief
- Isolation and withdrawal
- Memory loss
- Anger and irritability
- Inability to connect with others
- Lack of trust in others
- Substance abuse
- Recurring suicidal thoughts
Why do we need to talk about pain from the past? Because without the proper help, many families resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as denial (refusing to acknowledge the trauma happened) and minimization (ignoring the impact of the trauma and making the traumatic experience appear smaller than it really is).
These approaches do not resolve the trauma but instead “pass down” the trauma, impacting the health and wellbeing of the family for generations. But parents can choose to “stop the buck” by engaging in a journey of personal healing. Making change for future generations looks like:
- Identifying the intergenerational trauma patterns that exist within your family
- Recognizing attitudes that may be keeping your family stuck
- Developing compassion for yourself and others
- Engaging in meaningful communication with family members
- Learning about each other’s experiences and coping mechanisms
- Committing to an ongoing relationship with a therapist who can support and guide you through these tasks