Something Deeper: Intergenerational Healing
Posted on September 16, 2016
These posts continue to bring forth some great discussions. Some have felt trapped by their past and fear what they are passing down to their children. Others feel freed, and find that the science behind intergenerational trauma brings insight to struggles that had previously been baffling.
All of these discussions speak to the power of this emerging science, and how it impacts all of us in very meaningful ways. Few of us have families lucky enough to have avoided trauma for three generations. Just thinking of my own family, I start running out of fingers to count how war, death, and relationship struggles have impacted my parents and grandparents.
Many religious traditions speak of the “sins of the father,” “original sin,” and how memories of the past are carried in every cell of our body. I grew up in a faith tradition where the action and resulting trauma of the very first humans is still imprinted on every newborn child. It is ingrained in many of us from a young age that the behaviors of our ancestors impact our ability to find favor with God and to secure our place in the afterlife…no small message.
Intuitively, we have always known that what happened before our birth impacted us in negative and positive ways. Due to this, most faith traditions also have ceremonies and rituals to help us heal from the trauma of our ancestors. From journeying to past lives and baptism to remove original sin, different traditions have all found ways to free their followers from the suffering of the past. My studies of intergenerational trauma have renewed my interest in these practices which heal wounds from the past.
On the flip side, many traditions pray to or even worship their ancestors. There seems to be a power in the spiritual realm that saints and family members can connect us to, that many believe can have real world results. We seem to intuitively know that we can either gain power or pain from our past.
We have taken a look at how intergenerational trauma impacts people, and how the genetic impact of trauma can be passed on to three generations. However, much can be done to help reconcile the pain of past, and heal the wounds and suffering once and for all. The client is not only healing themselves but can help to heal their family’s past, present, and future. In future posts, we’ll discuss modern approaches to assessing and healing intergenerational trauma.
Carrying unreconciled intergenerational trauma is a burden that can often lead to struggles in the present. These struggles can potentially lead to behaviors that increase the likelihood for traumatic events in one’s own lifetime. While this may not erase the “sins of the father,” it can provide forgiveness, and can releases this pain, allowing wisdom and strength to emerge in its place.
As with any trauma, intergenerational trauma has the potential to teach subsequent generations about what to avoid, so the mistakes of the past are not repeated. In many of my conversations around this topic, I’ve had people tell me that they now realize why they struggle so much, and that their struggles to find healing now have a larger context. My hope for them is that this context provides motivation to continue the work, and does not overwhelm them.
Healing in the present breaks the cycles of pain, trauma, and dysfunction. This is clearly important for parents, so they do not continue to reinforce the traumatic genetic expression. We learned that the genes in the father’s sperm can change with the father’s life experience. While the mother’s egg is less impacted by life events, how the child is raised can make even more of a difference on genetic expression than what is simply passed down at birth.
To take intergenerational trauma seriously, one must take a deep look into one’s self and realize that we are all being impacted by our ancestors, for better and worse. Denying this prevents healing and keeps us stuck in harmful patterns. My hope is that if this science makes it into our consciousness, we could open up new avenues of thinking around healing. If you get a free minute this week, take a moment to write down the strengths you get from your ancestors.