About Generational Trauma
I was born into a family of generational trauma and the subsequent continual crisis that goes with it. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t fear in my life from one traumatic incident after the other. And so went my life, from childhood until my diagnosis of PTSS, anxiety, and depression at the age of 62 when I was finally able to get the therapy I needed that jump-started me on the path to recovery from trauma.
Across the internet, I’ve found many references to this topic and some with different names such as inter-generational trauma, and trans-generational trauma.
Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms. VIA Transgenerational trauma – Wikipedia
How Does it Get Passed Down?
Myron Eshowsky, Shamanic Healer and Author states that,
Trauma has been shown to create changes in genetic expression that could be passed on to the next generations.
Psychologically, there are 4 primary mechanisms of multigenerational trauma transmission. These are:
Silence—the conspiracy of silence (society and individual) helps maintain and exacerbate the effects of trauma. It might be an empathetic response to not stir up the issues, or a parent may react with anxiety, extreme rage, or flashback.
Over disclosure by adults to children of their past traumas—bearing witness to traumatic experiences can challenge even the most firmly held beliefs that the world is a safe place.
Identification—children tend to feel responsible for parental distress and if only good enough, parents would not be so angry or sad. Children themselves may experience a type of survivor guilt.
Reenactment—trauma survivors tend to reenact their traumas. For example, a Vietnam vet had joined the military with the belief it was the right war to be fighting. While there the leadership disillusioned him and he left the military embittered by his experience. He was out with his three year old son and was encouraging him to go down a playground slide. The boy didn’t want to, as he was afraid, and he told his son not to worry, he would catch him. The boy went down and the father did not catch him. The boy landed hard on the ground. When asked why he had done this, the veteran said, “I wanted him to learn you can’t count on anybody.”
My Family Culture
My family, both paternal and maternal are from a pioneering past and an indigenous past. These are two cultures that experienced extreme trauma that must not be taken lightly. The old adage, “it’s in the past so forget about it”, and “these things take care of themselves with time”, are not true and it is a dangerous way to live because it ignores the trauma and the mental health.
After so many generations of culture clash, dangerous circumstances, low self esteem, alcoholism, drug addiction, violence in the home, and the resulting distrust between family members, we must come to the conclusion that these things will NOT take care of themselves with time and they certainly are not gone because they happened in the past!
Once we learn how and why this is passed down from generation to generation, we must individually do our part to acknowledge that it exists, then do whatever we can to work the trauma out of our lives to be able to help others do the same. We lead by example and hope our loved ones will follow suit. But don’t hold your breath. It is entirely possible that the only ‘followers’ we will find are not family-related but are instead, kindred spirits as together we will light the way.
We Constantly Change
The scientific field of study, Epigenetics, gives us new hope for the treatment of generational trauma. I can’t count how many times I hear, “he’ll never change – no one ever changes.” When, the new truth is, our DNA is changing constantly. We are born with inherited DNA and then our DNA continually shifts and changes with our environment and our daily decisions.
Have you heard the phrase, “people, places, and things”? It’s one of those cliquey little phrases that annoy newcomers to the 12-step program. Now that we know our DNA is continually shaped by the people, places, and things with which we surround ourselves, that phrase takes on a new depth of definition.
“Virtually, if we surround ourselves with low energy, we will soon begin to take on the attributes of the low energy around us.” —Susan Daniels
Pass On The Healing
With diligence, by virtue of our own personal healing, we can pass this healing on to those around us. I pass it on with my writing. It is a non-invasive way to present my personal experience to those who are on a path of discovery about their own generational trauma.
“Trans-generational transmissions take on life in our in dreams, in acting out, in “life lessons” given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family. Discovering transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation. It requires close listening to the stories of our parents and grandparents, with special attention to the social and historical milieu in which they lived — especially its military, economic and political turmoil.” — How Trauma Is Carried Across Generations, Molly S. Castelloe Ph.D., Psychology Today
To Thine Own Self Be True
Someone once told me “you can’t divorce your family”. Yes, I can. Today, I am capable of a positive lifestyle to set the example for those who want to find their own healing. However, if I subject myself to large doses of family members who are still hell-bent to prove that I am the “bad person”, while they continue to use me to deflect off their own poor behaviors, then yes, I can “divorce” family members. So can you.
That’s how I do family these days. Plain and simple. What I’ve learned along the way is that they can’t help themselves with me around. Their lifelong patterns wherein they use me to deflect their own thinking errors won’t go away with me present. I have to stay away so they can begin their healing process.
Today, I surround myself with people who love and nurture me and I them. I hang out with people who are aware of the trauma of my past but don’t judge me for it. When I cross paths with those who are harmful to me, I quickly remove myself from the scenario.
This is my heartfelt recommendation to everyone suffering from generational trauma. We strive to be diligent about self-care and self-respect, forgive but not forget, and are cautious about our vulnerability around those who use it to their advantage and our demise. And, most of all, we forgive ourselves, love ourselves, and move forward.