What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

intergenerational trauma

While any trauma can have long-lasting ramifications, some events are significant enough that future generations feel a ripple effect. You may have grown up with intergenerational trauma if your great-grandparents or grandparents survived World War II, the Holocaust or the Great Depression. Similarly, your children’s children might mature into adulthood touched by the echoes of today’s momentous, life-changing events like global climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understanding Intergenerational Trauma

Our bodies and brains have a built-in response to frightening or life-threatening events. Fight-or-flight mode is a survival mechanism that evolved to protect early humans in dangerous situations, and it was so successful that it persists in us today, even though modern life presents much fewer daily threats than our ancestors faced.

While the fight-or-flight reaction keeps people safe, it also has a downside. Traumatized people don’t return to a calm baseline. Instead, they are always on edge, in a constant state of anticipating the next crisis. Feeling nervous and unable to relax, even in a safe place, can adversely affect your mental and physical well-being.

If your parents or grandparents experienced trauma, the same survival response that helped them get through those events may live on in you today. When you inherit intergenerational trauma, you might experience symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder, including hypervigilance, anxiety and mood dysregulation. However, you will not have flashbacks or intrusive memories about the trauma because you didn’t experience it firsthand.

Parenting With Trauma

Intergenerational trauma can impact your ability to be a present, caring parent. Trauma survivors face many unique life challenges, which can include having trouble bonding to and creating healthy emotional attachments with their children.

Because young children learn by imitating their parents’ behaviors, they may navigate future relationships based on what they see the adults around them doing, forming coping mechanisms based on their efforts to understand their parents’ neglect or emotional unavailability. Hence, intergenerational trauma can persist for multiple generations until someone finally breaks the cycle.

A trauma-informed approach to care can help you manage your body’s physiological response to intergenerational trauma. In therapy, you will learn ways to cope with your symptoms, understand the impact of intergenerational trauma and gain the tools to change deeply embedded patterns and heal for yourself and your children.

Women’s-Only Trauma Treatment

At Rising Roads Recovery, we know trauma affects every woman differently, so we create personalized treatment plans based on each client’s medical history, lifestyle and personal needs. Unpacking and overcoming trauma is an ongoing process, and our therapists and clinicians are here to provide strategies at every step of the way.

Trauma-focused therapy for you and your family will give you the confidence you need to discover a life that is free of the damaging effects of intergenerational trauma. To learn more about our trauma and dual-diagnosis specialists, contact us today.

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