Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma

Young girl dragging teddy bear over dirt roadIntergenerational trauma (also know as generational trauma or transgenerational trauma) is an insidious problem that has been passed down through families and societies for generations. It is the transmission of psychological, emotional, and physical suffering, resulting from traumatic events experienced by one generation to the next. The effects of intergenerational trauma can be deeply damaging, leading to an ongoing cycle of pain and suffering, unless steps are taken to break the cycle. You can be the cycle breaker, and understanding more about intergenerational trauma, is the first step in doing so.

What is intergenerational trauma?

Intergenerational trauma refers to the psychological effects of trauma that are passed down from generation to generation and often includes childhood trauma and abuse. This trauma can manifest in various forms, such as addiction, depression, anxiety, as well as behavioural issues. It is a complex issue that can affect entire families and communities, leading to a vicious cycle of emotional pain and suffering.

Intergenerational trauma is a systemic problem that starts with families that denies that anything is wrong or tries to cover up the problem. In some cases, it can also be traced back to historical events, such as wars, genocide, slavery, and colonisation. These traumatic experiences can have a profound impact on individuals, families, and societies, shaping their worldviews, beliefs, and behaviours.

Moreover, when these traumatic experiences are not properly addressed, they can be internalised and passed down from one generation to another, creating a cycle of emotional pain and suffering. For example, if a child grows up in a household where their parents have experienced trauma, they may develop similar psychological issues as their parents, even if they have not directly experienced trauma themselves. Some people believe that trauma can be passed on through DNA (and so do I), but more often the case is that people who have not dealt with their own trauma continue the behaviours of those who traumatised them. And so the cycle continues until someone decides to break it.

Overall, intergenerational trauma is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires understanding and empathy. By recognising the psychological effects of childhood trauma and the intergenerational cycle of trauma, we can take the necessary steps to break the cycle and create a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

The psychological effects of intergenerational trauma

It’s hard to imagine that trauma experienced by our ancestors can still affect us today. But it’s a reality that we need to confront. Intergenerational trauma is the pain and suffering that’s passed down from one generation to the next. It’s a ripple effect that leaves a deep emotional imprint on us all.

The most devastating effects of intergenerational trauma are felt in childhood. Children who grow up in a family where trauma is present are often left feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and insecure. Childhood trauma can manifest in various ways, such as anxiety, depression, and self-harm. But the worst part is that this trauma is not theirs to bear. It’s not their burden to carry, but they feel it anyway.

Maybe as a child, you might have experienced the effects of intergenerational trauma first-hand. Not understanding why your parents were always so anxious or why they seemed to always be on edge. You didn’t realise that their trauma was spilling over onto you. And you wouldn’t have, not until you got older and started doing your own healing work would you have realised just how deeply that trauma had affected you.

Intergenerational trauma has a way of shaping our sense of self and the way we interact with the world. It can leave us feeling insecure, mistrustful, and disconnected. It’s like a cloud that hangs over us, making it hard to see the sun.

But we don’t have to live under that cloud forever. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma is possible. It requires us to acknowledge the trauma, take responsibility for healing from it, and seek help when needed.

It’s important to understand that healing is a journey. It takes time, patience, and support. But with every step, we move closer to breaking the cycle of trauma and living a more fulfilling life.

So if you’re feeling the weight of intergenerational trauma, know that you’re not alone. It’s time to start healing and reclaiming your life. Together, we can break the cycle and create a brighter future for generations to come.

How to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma

Intergenerational trauma can feel like a never-ending cycle. But it is possible to break it, even if it takes time and effort.

  1. Recognise the Trauma
    One of the first steps to breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma is recognising it. This may involve looking at your family history and understanding how the trauma has been passed down from one generation to another. It may also mean identifying harmful patterns of behaviour that have been passed down, such as unhealthy coping mechanisms or ways of relating to others. Alcoholism, anger and abuse are great examples of harmful patterns of behaviour.

  2. Reconnect with your Anger in a Healthy way
    When dealing with intergenerational trauma it is important to reconnect with your anger in a healthy way. It’s important to note that anger is an important emotion when it comes to identifying and advocating for one’s needs and setting healthy boundaries. However, people with complex trauma, for example growing up with aggressive, violent or abusive parents, often suppress their anger and people-please to avoid conflict. They have no framework work expressing anger in a healthy way and would rather avoid standing up for themselves in any way. Reconnecting with anger can lead to more confidence and balanced relationships – where you know your worth, as well as help individuals to process trauma in a healthy way.

  3. Understand Conflicting Emotions Towards your Parents
    Another aspect to consider when breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma is navigating conflicting emotions towards one’s parents. People with complex trauma may feel anger, resentment, or even guilt towards their parents, yet also crave their love and acceptance. It can be very confusing and difficult to navigate. But the feelings you have does not have to be mutually exclusive, you can love them but know that what they did was not okay at the same time. It is possible to have a healthy relationship with your parents while also acknowledging and processing the trauma they may have caused. Having said that, if the trauma is ongoing it is also okay to not want to have anything to do with a toxic parent.

    Additionally, if you are a parent it is important to understand and meet your child’s needs, providing a nurturing and safe environment to break the cycle of trauma for future generations.

  4. Make Space for all your Feelings
    One way to break intergenerational trauma is to make space for all your feelings. Acknowledge and process the difficult emotions, but also allow yourself to feel joy, love, and other positive emotions. It is possible to live a happy and healthy life even while you are still healing. Feeling your emotions will allow you to process them and eventually let go of the negative ones. If you do not allow yourself to feel what you feel those emotions will always come back in some form, whether it is in the form of a mental health issue like depression, anxiety or PTSD or physiological like stomach pains or headaches emotions won’t go away until you have processed it.

  5. Practise Self-care
    It is also important to practice self-care. This can involve finding healthy ways to cope with stress and process emotions, such as through exercise, meditation, mindfulness or creative outlets. It may also mean setting boundaries with toxic or abusive individuals in your life. The important thing here is to make time for yourself and to do things that you enjoy and that gives you energy.

  6. Seek Support
    Once you have recognised the intergenerational trauma, it is important to seek support. This may include counselling, talking to a trusted friend or family member, or joining a support group. Seeking support can also involve seeking out positive role models and relationships. This can help you learn healthy ways of relating to others and give you a sense of community and belonging. It can be extremely difficult and lonely to confront and process the trauma on your own, therefore having support can make a big difference.

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma may seem overwhelming, but it is possible. With support, self-care, and a commitment to healing, it is possible to create a brighter future for yourself and your family. Remember, breaking the cycle takes time, but it is worth the effort for a happier and healthier life.

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