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Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational trauma (also known as transgenerational trauma) refers to trauma "that is passed down through generations". Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event.

Unresolved trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms can negatively impact individuals as well as other people. This can further harm entire families and future generations.

To understand intergenerational trauma, it’s necessary to understand what trauma is, how it affects people, and lastly, how to heal from it.

So let's discuss them in detail without any further ado!

Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma
Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma


In This Article


What Is Trauma?

Psychological trauma is the "body’s response to a distressing event". Experiences that may seem insignificant to one person might greatly traumatize another.

Some people witness one traumatic event, while others experience many. Intergenerational trauma can occur:

  1. Specifically within a family and its generations.

  2. Collectively on a larger scale or in a community (this can be because of a present or past occurrence)

Trauma can mentally handicap a person and prevent them from living their life.

Since detecting signs of trauma is hard and often overlooked, it can worsen with age and be harder to overcome when recognized.

Causes of Trauma:

  1. Car Accident

  2. War

  3. Poverty

  4. Rape

  5. Assault

  6. Bullying

  7. Abuse

  8. Neglect

  9. Natural disasters

What Does Intergenerational Trauma Look Like?

Intergenerational Trauma occurs when the effects of a traumatic event are passed on to the next generation.

This can be caused by divorce, sexual assault, a car accident, death, and so on.

Intergenerational trauma can be:

  • Family trauma or,

  • Collective trauma

Family Trauma

Often problems that are experienced by many families aren’t recognized as intergenerational trauma. This includes families that have a history of substance abuse, childhood neglect, and domestic violence.

Families that discriminate between genders and those who force toxic social norms and ideologies on their children (because of society) also come under this term.

Intergenerational trauma can be noted in families that:

  • Don’t express feelings

  • See emotions as a weakness

  • Don’t trust ‘outsiders’

  • Teach children that the world is harsh

Direct Intergenerational trauma can happen in families when children experience their loved ones in dangerous situations.

An instance of this can be families that are victims of hate crimes. A child who has lost a parent to a hate crime will most likely have to carry on the trauma of that experience, even if they have not directly witnessed the event.

Click here to learn: How to heal from family trauma?

Collective Trauma

Collective trauma refers to a traumatic event that a large group of people shares. This can be direct or indirect.

It includes events such as:

  • Natural disasters

  • Ethnic cleansing

  • Racism

  • Islamophobia

  • Residential schools

  • War

  • Slavery

  • Covid-19

How to overcome collective trauma
Collective Trauma

The traumatic effects are more or less the same but on a greater level. It can threaten the well-being of entire communities.

Sometimes the effects are seemingly never-ending–such as with racism. This is because the teachings aren’t addressed or recognized, which makes way for more incidents and traumatic events.

Families of different races and ethnicities who are more vulnerable often face conflict with their history and ancestors' pain.

This includes loss of language, culture, and connections. Many people with collective trauma struggle with their identity and lifestyle.

How Does It Affect Families and Individuals?

Inherited Trauma

Some studies suggest that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which causes it to pass from generation to generation.

This means that a generation that hasn’t experienced that trauma first-hand can still feel the weight of it.

Physical and Emotional Impact

Trauma can have emotional and physical effects on a person and will continue to persist and worsen if a person doesn’t address it.

The effects of trauma can be felt by the next generations directly because of the event, or indirectly through the past generations' reactions to the event.

For instance, parents who experienced child abuse may struggle to show love to their children who in turn experience childhood neglect.

This can cause:

  • Anxiety

  • Dissociation

  • Anger

  • Irritability

  • Nightmares


  • Grief

  • Memory loss

  • Trouble maintaining relationships

Negative Social Effects

It can also cause problems in school-aged children and affect their school life, grades, and mental health. It can also cause rifts between relationships, especially between families.

Psychological Issues and Harmful Behavior

Trauma can also completely change a person’s personality and mindset, making it hard to regulate emotions.

It can cause people to make impulsive decisions and take dangerous risks.

Why Does Trauma Continue in Families?

Emotionally Unavailable

Often parents don’t understand or come to terms with their feelings, and those feelings are then taken out on children who grow up to be adults with the same problems.

Trauma also affects how parents raise their children and what they teach them about the world and its harsh reality.

Lack of Trust

Families with intergenerational trauma often don’t trust each other, can’t talk to each other about their problems, and have very rocky relationships.

This includes hiding things, hypervigilance, dissociation, isolation, and so on.

Development and Growth Issues

Trauma can prevent children from growing and reaching their potential. Children often feel a sense of loss regarding their childhood. This vicious cycle can cripple future generations.

Lack of Awareness

Trauma responses are often mistaken for other illnesses. Many individuals don’t realize the problems or emotions they face because of intergenerational trauma.

For this reason, people going through trauma struggle to understand what’s bothering them.

Overcome Intergenerational Trauma
Overcome Intergenerational Trauma

How to Heal From It?

Acknowledge the Problem

The first step towards healing is to acknowledge that this problem exists. Many cultures don’t recognize the word trauma in itself, which leads to problems being stigmatized and considered as weaknesses. It is often dismissed as something insignificant.

Focus on Self Healing First

Unfortunately, because of this, you might have to accept that you may be on your own. It won’t be easy to make your family recognize this problem.

Families with deep-rooted trauma have lived lifetimes being taught that these problems aren’t real and that seeking help is shameful and a sign of weakness–thus allowing them to be so deeply rooted.

Being the first to take a step towards healing from your trauma can prevent it from harming the next generation.

It may seem frustrating that you can’t change what happened, but coming to terms with it and preventing it from happening again can help you leave the problem in the past.

Be The First

It’s hard to unlearn a certain mindset, especially when it’s been taught for years. Laying blame won’t help either.

By taking the first step, you can open a door to helping your family open up as well. Together, you have to take steps toward understanding what happened and talk it out.

Create Awareness

Another way to avoid passing on intergenerational trauma is to teach your family and kids about it.

Explain to them that problems like these exist so they can recognize them, and be the first to reach out to share your experiences and feelings.

A Short Note for YOU

Trauma can’t be cured easily, and most of the time it never goes away.

But going to therapy and working on healing and coming to terms with it can make it easier to bear with, which can prevent it from being passed on.

It will take time to break this seemingly never-ending cycle, but every small step will lead to small improvements.

Accepting what has happened can also help you heal your inner child.

Understand that it isn’t your fault and that it also might not be your previous generation's fault.

Looking back and understanding your family history, culture and traditions can help you re-bond with who you are and accept you as you.


1. What is the main barrier in interrupting intergenerational trauma?

The most noticed factor that has acted as a barrier in interrupting intergenerational trauma is "not asking for help".Most families that go through it never ask for help and eventually, never get help. This acts as a barrier and the next generations suffer from it.

2. How you can identify intergenerational Trauma?

People with intergenerational trauma are most often depressed, insomniac, self-destructive, and have low self-esteem.

Takeaway from Sheasmother

Therapy is vital in healing from intergenerational trauma and there are many treatments. Get in touch with a therapist and they can discuss what treatment is best for your situation.

Creating a safe environment to discuss your feelings and emotions can help you and your loved ones. Expanding that environment and creating awareness for other families facing the same problems, or other people who aren’t aware of it can help you connect and heal within a community as well.

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