Generational Trauma: When Your Trauma is Born Before You

We are all prone to experiencing traumatic events that can cause significant damage to our emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. Regardless how big or small one thinks the event is, trauma is trauma, and no one gets to put a label on what is traumatic or not. And therefore everyone can undergo traumatic experiences that can change their lives forever.

However, even though many are aware of the existence of trauma, not everyone knows that sometimes trauma occurs long before we are born.

Sometimes, trauma can be carried down from one generation to the next in what is known as generational trauma or intergenerational trauma. And the worst part is that it can sometimes go unnoticed, resulting in deep mental and emotional wounds impacting several generations. 

“It can be silent, covert, and undefined, surfacing through nuances and inadvertently taught or implied throughout someone’s life from an early age onward,” – licensed clinical psychologist and parenting evaluator Melanie English, PhD

Generational trauma can hit anyone, however, some people are more vulnerable than others due to their history.  For instance, the enslavement and racism that African Americans have faced over the centuries makes them more prone to experiencing generational trauma. Survivors of the Holocaust and the genocide of Armenians are also another example of people who underwent severe trauma.

People who went through wars, domestic violence or hate crimes are also among those who can be more susceptible to it. Take for instance the continuous war crimes happening in Palestine. A study has shown that Palestinian children have shown signs of mental health problems due to past war traumas that their families have endured. Many of the refugees who fled Syria and Myanmar have horrible experiences with displacement as well. Some Syrian children grew up in camps and have never seen their country.

Trauma tends to come in and rob the safety from underneath us, and that is one of the many reasons why it can be detrimental to our mental health. Without safety, one cannot lead a healthy and normal life.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” ― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The problem with generational trauma is that it is silent and can lurk in the shadows for years before anyone can notice. Not only that but some might even think that only those who have experienced war or displacement are prone to it, but that cannot be any further from the truth.

Growing up in a family dynamic that is unstable, abusive or invalidates you and makes you feel unsafe can in fact result in generational trauma. And that is why it is imperative to shed light on it and how we can support those suffering from it. Being aware that generational trauma exists is the first step in the fight against it.

It is instrumental that we also remind people that they are not alone, and that they did not create the problem nor are they at fault. Showing support and encouraging people to seek professional help is also imperative because processing trauma is not easy, let alone one that has been passed down from one generation to the next and has made a life for itself between us.

Your trauma and experience is valid, and so are you. Seeking professional help and breaking the cycle is necessary to healing and redefining yourself. 

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