Most people understand the basics of trauma. But, they view it as something extreme you have to witness or experience. It could be an event that impacts many people. Or, it could be something very personal, like child neglect or domestic abuse.
But, there are different types of trauma to consider that aren’t always as obvious or “extreme” in nature—including generational trauma.
Generational trauma tends to be a mindset caused by a prolonged period of trauma. In families, that can include years of domestic violence or any kind of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
Generational trauma can also be caused by life events. For example, experiences like war, natural disasters, or racism that impacted one generation years ago can have a trickle-down effect, impacting the families of those people today.
So, how does generational trauma affect you, and what can you do about it?
What Does Generational Trauma Feel Like?
One of the biggest issues with generational trauma is that you might not realize you have it. That’s especially true if your inner circle tends to be made up of other people dealing with it, too.
So, it’s important to recognize some of the common signs. While generational trauma can impact everyone differently, you’ll likely feel and experience things like:
- Low self-esteem
- Chronic pain
You might even be more susceptible to things like eating disorders and substance abuse. It’s not uncommon for people with generational trauma to seek out unhealthy ways of coping or different ways to “numb” the memories or experiences they’ve had to deal with.
It’s also not uncommon for family members who have experienced generational trauma to be generally untrusting. They might deal with codependency issues and unhealthy attachment styles. If generational trauma is impacting your family, look for symptoms in others, as well as yourself, to determine how to move forward.
How Does Generational Trauma Get Passed Down?
How can someone else’s trauma get passed down from generation to generation? Why can you feel the effects of a traumatic experience even if you didn’t directly go through it?
Some research has suggested that trauma can impact a person’s DNA. Those biological changes can be passed down to multiple generations. But, it’s more likely that your generational trauma comes from learned behaviors and the overall collective experience of your family.
For example, your parents might’ve learned unhealthy behaviors from their parents, who actually went through a traumatic event.
Trauma tends to impact people’s decisions and the way they handle relationships. Those characteristics are easy to pass down without realizing until they become the “norm” for certain families.
How to Break the Cycle
It’s possible to break generational trauma, but not without time and effort. The best thing you can do is to be willing to practice open communication with your family. That includes older generations as well as your own children. It’s not easy to take that first step to break the cycle, but it’s necessary.
Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you have generational trauma, it’s up to you to change the patterns that have been passed on for years.
You don’t have to do it alone. Talking to a therapist who specializes in trauma can help in a variety of ways. First, they’ll walk with you to uncover the source of your trauma, no matter how far back it goes. Learning where it began can help you develop a starting point for your healing journey.
A therapist can also help you with healthy coping mechanisms. Letting go of unhealthy habits and learning how to move forward will set an example, especially for the younger generations in your family, so they won’t have to carry the burden of trauma any longer. Feel free to reach out for a free 20-minute phone consultation, to hear more about how we can be of support.