Blog

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.

14 responses to “Something Deeper: Intergenerational Healing”

  1. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Faith and learning are common traits from both sides of my family. These play with dysfunction, so the solutions are there for the discovering. The negative and positive are intertwined, and our new experiences help navigate the obstacle course. Travel widens the experience. A Biblical faith offers rejuvenation, “a renewing of the mind.” God cleanses “from all unrighteousness.” We need not be tethered to the “sins of the fathers.” An emphasis on these may be misguided. The Faith is liberation. We are “made new.” The enemies of the Faith dilute this teaching. Darkness is turned to light, and the light is within. “You are the light of the world,” we are told.

  2. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Faith and learning are common traits from both sides of my family. These play with dysfunction, so the solutions are there for the discovering. The negative and positive are intertwined, and our new experiences help navigate the obstacle course. Travel widens the experience. A Biblical faith offers rejuvenation, “a renewing of the mind.” God cleanses “from all unrighteousness.” We need not be tethered to the “sins of the fathers.” An emphasis on these may be misguided. The Faith is liberation. We are “made new.” The enemies of the Faith dilute this teaching. Darkness is turned to light, and the light is within. “You are the light of the world,” we are told.

  3. Sara Carrillo says:

    I am one of 8 children and have watched the effects of intergenerational trauma in our lives – in fact, I wrote a college paper in 1971 about how I feared my siblings’ lives would be affected by our upbringing. In many ways, I am happy to see that 7 of us broke the cycle of violence and emotional abuse, while only 1 continued that with his family. What I have noticed, though, is how many of my siblings ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, a pattern that has continued in their children. My personal addiction of choice has always been books, so alcohol and tobacco have never been an issue for me, but addictive behavior, in whatever form, is a major trend in my family. How much of this is fueled by intergenerational trauma is something I’ve been thinking about since this series started. On a more positive note, we’ve also inherited many intergenerational strengths, and they have added to our overall resiliency. Being too stubborn to quit trying can be a strength!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Our inheritance is a mix of strengths and challenges. It so important, from an early age, to recognize this and build upon the strength we pull from our history. I’m starting to see a family tree as a longer generational journey. Adding or subtracting momentum to certain characteristics and behavioral/thought patterns. It sounds like your family has done an amazing job with taking a big step forward even though the challenges still haunt the present is different ways. Thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience!

    • A stunning card and I love the gorgeous colours you have used and all your embellies. Thanks for the chance to win the gorgeous corner die.Hugs Sarahxx

  4. Sara Carrillo says:

    I am one of 8 children and have watched the effects of intergenerational trauma in our lives – in fact, I wrote a college paper in 1971 about how I feared my siblings’ lives would be affected by our upbringing. In many ways, I am happy to see that 7 of us broke the cycle of violence and emotional abuse, while only 1 continued that with his family. What I have noticed, though, is how many of my siblings ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, a pattern that has continued in their children. My personal addiction of choice has always been books, so alcohol and tobacco have never been an issue for me, but addictive behavior, in whatever form, is a major trend in my family. How much of this is fueled by intergenerational trauma is something I’ve been thinking about since this series started. On a more positive note, we’ve also inherited many intergenerational strengths, and they have added to our overall resiliency. Being too stubborn to quit trying can be a strength!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Our inheritance is a mix of strengths and challenges. It so important, from an early age, to recognize this and build upon the strength we pull from our history. I’m starting to see a family tree as a longer generational journey. Adding or subtracting momentum to certain characteristics and behavioral/thought patterns. It sounds like your family has done an amazing job with taking a big step forward even though the challenges still haunt the present is different ways. Thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience!

    • A stunning card and I love the gorgeous colours you have used and all your embellies. Thanks for the chance to win the gorgeous corner die.Hugs Sarahxx

  5. Patsi Maroney says:

    Such an interesting series of columns, very enlightening! The good news is that it can help with self-forgiveness (“no wonder I’m doing these crazy things”) as well as forgiving others (being able to see your parents as wounded children doing the best they could at the time). Powerful stuff!!! Thanks so much for your work.

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Thanks Patsi! There is so much hope here and it is amazing to me as a student of psychology how far we have come in such a short time. I’m hoping that understanding the science helps us acknowledge the problem and get people the help they need to heal and grow.

  6. Patsi Maroney says:

    Such an interesting series of columns, very enlightening! The good news is that it can help with self-forgiveness (“no wonder I’m doing these crazy things”) as well as forgiving others (being able to see your parents as wounded children doing the best they could at the time). Powerful stuff!!! Thanks so much for your work.

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Thanks Patsi! There is so much hope here and it is amazing to me as a student of psychology how far we have come in such a short time. I’m hoping that understanding the science helps us acknowledge the problem and get people the help they need to heal and grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Welcome to My Website

Get my new book, Heart Rate Variability: Using Biometrics to Improve Outcomes in Trauma-Informed Organizations for free!

Sign up for my email list and also receive updates on Optimal HRV, Trauma-Informed Lens Podcast, blogs, and other updates.