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Inter-generational trauma - Part 1

I have recently been paying more attention to understanding trauma, how trauma is caused, how it can be passed down through generations - inherited trauma / inter-generational trauma, and the available forms of treatment out there. Trauma is about experiences felt and it lives thereafter within our body as a memory of the experience until it has been released - healed. Dr Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in trauma work with PTSD war veterans, wrote an interesting book, "The body keeps the score", which is beneficial for those seeking to understand trauma work and the forms of treatment. There are others in the field such as Peter Levine, who writes about somatic experiencing (SE). Somatic Experiencing helps people move past the place where they might be “stuck” in processing a traumatic event.

In my EFT tapping work I have had the privilege of exposure to trauma work, mainly because tapping usually looks into releasing stress from the triggered emotions which can be traced back to its very beginning when the traumatic experience first began. The best way of experiencing and knowing how it works for me is through self-work. Trauma isn't just about post trauma stress disorder (PTSD) or of major experiences like abuse or assault, it could be abandonment, rejection, guilt, or shame. Please do refer to the past write outs on this. This write out digs deeper into another level on trauma, that which didn't begin with us. I am interested in researching and writing about inherited trauma because there is little awareness around this.

Inherited trauma is a psychological term which asserts that trauma can be transferred between generations; children who are victims of abuse, who’s parents were also victims of abuse, who had parents that were victims of abuse, and so on (The international society for the study of trauma and dissociation, 2007). We have heard of the "vicious cycle", perhaps anther term which I have come across in psychology - schema, of how a memory is processed and learns to recreate what is norm for someone and they then recreate (or marry into) the same environment because they are familiar with that environment. A simple example, a child live to see the parents, who are addicted to alcohol / drug, abuse each other. Possibility for the child to grow and create the same environment as an adult is high, and history repeats itself. Trauma experienced by our parents and grandparents, (and maybe even our great-grandparents), may help explain struggles with depression, anxiety, obsessions, fears, phobias, eating disorders and addiction that is handed down through generations.

I was attending a webinar on food craving by Brittany Watkins, who uses EFT tapping to help solve issues over craving and emotional eating. As I was tapping along on the issue, my tapping work strayed on from emotional eating to working with a past trauma which belonged to my father. I was privileged to observe and facilitate his healing, and it could be that I needed to heal the emotions I was carrying within me for years, which were never mine to begin with, of loss, grieve and abandonment. One of the triggers I had the days preceding this work was while watching "The Windermere Children", children survivors who were traumatized from the Nazi concentration camps. It affected me intensely in a very sad way - as if I was grieving. Unknowingly, I was witnessing what my genes recognized, loss, grief, and abandonment. These children and my father held some similarities - they were orphans, they suffered during and after the war, of loss, grief and abandonment. Perhaps that was why it was easy for me to slip into the moment and facilitate the work. Thankfully, I remembered one painful narrative my father shared with me one quiet afternoon and that helped me to solve one mystery in the present moment. It made sense why I was carrying grief most of my life.

I did some research around inter-generational trauma thereafter and came across Mark Wolynn, on Youtube and looked up this book "It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle". He calls this phenomenon the “residue from traumatic events.” Mark Wolynn states that "our parents’ and grandparents’ pain—their fears, their angers, their grief, their shutdowns—can all unwittingly become ours, a legacy we can perpetuate in our family. And here’s the sad part: Few of us ever make the link between our issues—our unexplained fear, anxiety, and depression—and what happened to our family members in a previous generation".

Point to note, inter-generational trauma can negatively impact families as a result of:

  • Unresolved emotions and thoughts about a traumatic event

  • Negative repeated patterns of behavior including beliefs around parenting

  • Untreated or poorly treated substance abuse or severe mental illness

  • Poor parent-child relationships and emotional attachment

  • Complicated personality traits or personality disorders

  • Content attitude with the ways things are within the family

So how can we break these inherited cycle? Awareness, education, and training. If you hope to break the cycle of inherited trauma in your own family, there are steps that may help:

  • Heal unresolved issues with your own family. Reconciling damaged relationships may prevent the pain from being passed on to your own children.

  • Learn more about your own family and trauma experienced by your parents and grandparents. Be gentle and compassionate; some of them may hesitant to talk about painful episodes. However, it’s important to know so you can determine how you may be affected by past trauma.

  • Seek help if you are struggling with substance use or addiction.

  • Be open with your children about your traumatic past and that of your family, in an age-appropriate manner. Encourage children to talk about their own concerns.

Once the heavy processing involved in trauma work is over, focus on creating a future far removed from the thoughts and feelings of the inter-generational trauma. Know and be consoled that generational chaos can end here; let's stop the trauma cycle and let healing begin, starting with us. Please note that inter-generation work can be intense, do ensure that you are well grounded, aware of your emotions and your body if you are doing this work alone. I would recommend that you find a therapist who is confident in handling trauma work. Usually, we don't know that the issues could be linked to past trauma until a few sessions. Please do leave your thoughts around this topic in the comments box. I would be interested to hear of your ideas.


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