What is Generational Trauma: First of all, before we begin I want you to all recognize that we all do the best we can with what we know at any given time. While we did the best we could unfortunately some things were unavoidable in creating generational trauma or living through it. Most people do better once they know how to do better. We are all taught the same patterns, some patterns are a lot more authoritarian than others and while I believe we don’t intentionally try to hurt others, we do so simply by not having sorted through our own traumas, and some we didn’t even often know we had!
Generational Trauma is a type of trauma that is passed down from generation to generation. It can be caused by war, disease, famine, death, natural disaster, and other tragic events. This type of trauma will affect children’s development for life. Many people are affected by something that happened to their family or ancestors. And this can be passed down to the next generation even if they weren’t directly affected. Transgenerational trauma refers to a type of trauma that does not end with the individual. Instead, it lingers and gnaws through one generation to the next. Families with a history of unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, and addiction may continue to pass maladaptive coping strategies and distrustful views of life onto future generations. In this way, one can repeat the same patterns and attitudes of former generations, regardless of whether they are healthy or not.
Transgenerational trauma isn’t something that can be easily pinpointed. It is often covert, undefined, and subtle, surfacing through family patterns and forms of hypervigilance, mistrust, anxiety, depression, issues with self-esteem, and other negative coping strategies. We also know that trauma can have a significant affect on the immune system and may contribute to the generational curse of autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses.
While generational trauma can affect us all, those at the highest risk are in families that have experienced significant forms of abuse, neglect, torture, oppression, and racial disparities. Studies have explored the effects of transgenerational trauma on Holocaust survivors, the Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the displacement of American Indians, and slavery of African Americans, among others. While some results are mixed on how trauma is manifested, many studies uncovered higher rates of anxiety, depression and PTSD in trauma survivors and their children.
Effect on Children
The effect of generational trauma on children can be devastating. They may have trouble trusting people, developing healthy relationships, and feeling safe in the world. They might also struggle with issues such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, and addiction. If you’re a child of trauma, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. You can talk to someone and get the help that you need so that your life doesn’t have to go through what happened in the past.
Generational trauma can also affect parents and their children. Parents who have gone through a tragic event in the past may treat their children with love but also be strict to make sure they don’t go out of control, for example. This could lead them to become overprotective or controlling towards their kids when they get older – which is not necessarily helpful! If this is something you struggle with as a parent it might help to talk about your own experiences with others so that you’re able to move on and heal from what happened in the past before becoming too intimately involved in your child’s life. How do we know if we have been traumatized in our childhood though?
Children thrive in environments where they feel safe, stable, and bonded to their family. Unfortunately, children that are in contact with the child welfare system have experienced negative and often traumatic situations that can have a lasting impact. In order to support the wellbeing of children and families, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) framework identifies discouraging conditions that children may experience, so that prevention strategies can work to reduce the likelihood of their recurrence and mitigate their effects.
What Are ACEs?
ACEs are traumatic events that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect, such as parental substance use, incarceration, and domestic violence. ACEs can also include situations that may cause trauma for a child, such as having a parent with a mental illness or being part of a family going through a divorce. A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance use, and risky behaviors.The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes. By definition, children in the child welfare system have suffered at least one ACE. Recent studies have shown that compared with the general population, these children are far more likely to have experienced at least four ACEs.
Adverse childhood experiences encompass various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction experienced in childhood. ACEs have been linked to premature death as well as to various health conditions, including those considered to be diagnosable mental disorders
There are 10 types of childhood traumas measured in the ACE Study.
- Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.
- Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.
Even though we cannot go back and change what happened to you as a child we can heal form the past and build resiliency now as an adult. A score of 4+ on the above questionnaire indicates that there is enough trauma in your life from childhood that it can significantly impact your daily living now in a variety of ways. All trauma is related to many types of mental, physical and spiritual dis-ease.
You can find the ACES questionnaire on my website (Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire)
What can you do?
The best way you can fight against these feelings is by making sure your children know that you love them unconditionally and accepting them no matter what mistakes they make along the way. Teach them emotional regulation and coping tools when they are emotionally overwhelmed, instead of shaming their behavior or emotions, sit with them just like you would want someone to sit with you if you were overwhelmed, or sad and remind them to breathe deeply.
We all deserve happiness and acceptance even when life gets hard. This should be true for everyone, not just those born into privilege or without struggle in their lives.
Also be sure that you get the support you need to work through any generational issues that are riddled through your family systems, because it is only then that we can stop the patterns from repeating to our children and grandchildren.