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Introduction to Intergenerational Trauma

Posted on August 11, 2016

Over the next few weeks, I want to spend some time examining the phenomenon of intergenerational trauma. As the trauma informed movement and research began to grow, people started to notice how trauma seemed to be passed from parents to children. Because of this, the child was left in a traumatized state, even though no traumatic experience could be identified as having happened to the child. In addition to seeing this “transmission” in family systems, many also started to see the impact of trauma spread generationally throughout entire groups or populations.

iStock_000014711274XSmallIn recent years, the science has caught up with these observations and, through a combination of human and animal studies, we can put the psychological, biological, social, and genetic pieces together to bring more understanding to these observations. To understand the entire puzzle, we’ll have to go into detail about each of the pieces. In this post, I want to start by thinking about how intergenerational trauma could be impacting our clients.

So many of the people we work with face many difficult challenges. Addiction, poverty, past trauma, unemployment, discrimination, homelessness, health issues, and many other challenges can keep clients stuck in their pain and suffering for years or decades. It seems unfair, on top of everything else, to add traumatic pain that occurred years, if not centuries, before their conception. Can life really be so cruel?

As is the case with most aspects of the trauma movement, the same science that can easily depress us can also offer us and our clients hope, and a pathway out of suffering. Overcoming trauma is a transformational process, leading to the strength and wisdom of post-traumatic growth. This becomes even more important when we consider that unresolved trauma will likely be passed from the traumatized person to their children in a very real and measurable way.

We’ll tackle some pretty big issues in the coming weeks. How do we assess for intergenerational trauma? How does a client identify intergenerational trauma when they were never told about the trauma by their parents or caregivers? How does one resolve intergenerational trauma? How can intergenerational trauma impact our choice of career and our level of self-care? A tough but worthwhile journey!

My question for you this week is whether anyone is currently thinking about, accessing, or working to help heal intergenerational trauma? Love to hear about it in the comment section.

3 responses to “Introduction to Intergenerational Trauma”

  1. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Truth is a remedy. Writing is to expound truth. Writing, and reading, then, heals. Some who suffer need to know why. Learning why soothes and eases the pain of trauma. That is a premise with which I work.

  2. Norma Quiroz says:

    Hi Matt,
    I constantly explore family dynamics with patients. One of the things I come across is that oftentimes, a lot of the patients are cut off from their family of origins due to trauma. In this cut off, a lot of the history is lost, most patients do not see or think of the importance of learning about their ancestor’s exposure to trauma.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Such an important point. Here is where I think intergenerational trauma has its greatest impact. A wound of unknown origin. I’m curious how you handle these situations.

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