How to Stop Intergenerational Trauma - Breaking the Cycle
Intergenerational trauma (sometimes referred to as trans- or multigenerational trauma) is defined as trauma that gets passed down from those who directly experience an incident to subsequent generations. The cycle of intergenerational trauma is a difficult one to break. In this blog, we're looking at how to stop intergenerational trauma.
Intergenerational trauma can show up in your life in many different ways. Often, the stigma of receiving help for mental health reasons keeps the cycle of intergenerational trauma going because it can be difficult for family members to seek help. This is particularly true for older generations.
Think about the descendants of Holocaust survivors. The trauma that their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents experienced gets passed down to them, particularly if it's unprocessed trauma. You may not have been there, but you feel the generational trauma, even if you're three, four, or even five times removed.
Another example of intergenerational trauma is the experience of someone whose ancestor was a slave. That trauma will never go away, just like the trauma of Holocaust survivors. Breaking generational trauma isn't easy. We feel the legacy of our ancestors' trauma through the behaviours they teach us or simply a felt sense of their experiences.
Breaking Generational Trauma
Trauma that our family members experienced, when gone untreated or unprocessed, can get passed down to us. Some examples of intergenerational trauma are war, sexual abuse, domestic violence, psychological abuse, death, and natural disasters.
Sometimes survivors of abuse become abusers themselves. If that happens, the cycle of intergenerational trauma gets passed down directly. Breaking generational trauma isn't easy, particularly if the unprocessed trauma of your family members directly impacts you.
One way to break generational trauma is for the people in your life to seek out psychotherapy for their own traumatic experiences. If your dad is a war veteran and never processed his experiences in the war, it's possible that his trauma can be felt by you. You end up taking on the traumatic experience of his time in the war, even though you weren't there. It's still palpable and real to you.
It's also a burden for children to take on their parents' or ancestors' trauma. This is why breaking generational trauma is so important. Trauma disrupts your life, causes distress, and makes you feel as if you've done something wrong. It can feel like you're being punished for something. Because shame and guilt are products of trauma, it can be easy for you to feel your ancestors' trauma and feel helpless and ashamed that you couldn't do anything about it.
The Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma
Intergenerational trauma transmission occurs when children of parents who have experienced trauma develop unhelpful behavioural patterns and trauma symptoms. This phenomenon is common for children of trauma survivors. They are more likely to exhibit trauma symptoms and have disrupted developmental patterns.
One way to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma is for the trauma survivors (the parents) to receive therapy. Clinical interventions such as creating an authentic therapeutic relationship that feels safe and using a strengths-based approach to therapy. This means that the therapist approaches helping through the lens of the survivor's strengths rather than presenting problems. Trauma therapy attends to the whole person and takes into account all of their life experiences, not just the trauma they endured.
Parents with a history of trauma struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviours. This in turn gets modelled for the child. There is a lack of coregulation between the parent and the child, which negatively and directly affects the child's development. It can also be hard for parents to build a trusting relationship with their children if they've experienced adverse childhood trauma. Thus begins the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
Breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma isn't just necessary for the family, but for society. Intergenerational trauma is a social justice issue. This is because traumatic experiences decrease life opportunities across generations. This takes away from society's ability to move families through a system of hierarchy. This shows up in people of lower socioeconomic status and among ethnic groups.
How to Stop Intergenerational Trauma
So, how to stop intergenerational trauma you might ask? There are several ways to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. These include communication, a willingness to work through family trauma, and psychotherapy.
Open communication is important for families in which adverse childhood experiences have occurred. Whether that's just the parents' experiences or a direct experience of the children as well, communication can help families heal and become more resilient in the face of adversity.
When parents pass down the effects of their trauma to their children, it decreases a sense of safety for the children. Learning how to stop intergenerational trauma is difficult. So there needs to be a willingness from both the parents and the children to work through the family trauma together.
That work often happens in psychology. Specifically in trauma therapy. If you are a parent who has experienced trauma, it's important that you have your own therapist who specializes in trauma. But it's also a good idea for your children to be in therapy, either individually or in family therapy with you.
Trauma therapy is specifically designed to help trauma survivors heal from adverse traumatic experiences. This can be done through culturally-informed treatment, stopping unhealthy communication patterns in the family, and giving the family a vocabulary so that trauma has a voice within the family.
By exploring our histories and thinking about how they shape us, we can bring awareness to our root patterns and start to break the cycles. Therapy can help you learn how to stop intergenerational trauma and process your experience.
If you have experienced intergenerational trauma and haven't found the right sort of therapy to process what happened, we at Taproot Psychology are here to help. We offer both talking therapy and EMDR therapy for trauma. Contact us to set up a free consultation to see how trauma therapy at Taproot Psychology could be right for you.