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Generational Trauma: The Psychology

If you are an active user of Social Media across platforms, you would likely have seen that healing is trendy. Thousands of Content Creators are focusing on Mental Health, yet recently, I’ve seen this expand even further. Creators are now looking at ways of healing their Generational Trauma. This has gotten me to evaluate both the topic and myself in light of it. 

Let’s take a look at Generational Trauma. 

What is it?

In a simple definition, Generational Trauma is: “trauma passed from a trauma survivor to their descendants. It can also be referred to as transgenerational or multigenerational trauma. People experiencing intergenerational trauma may experience symptoms, reactions, patterns, and emotional and psychological effects from trauma experienced by previous generations.”

While this definition explains what Generational Trauma is in an easy-to-understand way – I cannot help but think there is an equally romantic (word meaning: “of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality”) and harrowing sense that lingers when speaking about it. On the one hand, there is the idea that a deep connection runs through the generations – which gives off a certain sanctity to familial bonds. Yet, on the other hand, there is this looming fear that comes with this connection – the fear of whether Generational Trauma is something that a person simply cannot escape from.

How does it get ‘passed down’?

According to an article by Sandstone Care, epigenetic changes are to be blamed. The report states that Research has shown that DNA has the inherent ability to remember traumatic experiences, which are passed down through generations. “In the same way that a tree “remembers” the cut of an ax as it grows with the cut mark, future generations can carry the scars of generational trauma even if they did not experience it firsthand. The legacy of Trauma may also be passed down culturally. Over the years, family members may learn unhealthy behaviors from their parents or other family members, imitate the behaviors, and eventually teach those behaviors to their children.”

Health adds to this by stating, “… it is hard to pinpoint exactly why certain genes express differently in people who have family members with trauma.” 


According to Talkspace, these are some of the Causes of Generational Trauma:

Oppression – This refers to cases of historical oppression or violence against any particular group. An example would be groups of individuals who were enslaved – they would suffer from Generational Trauma due to the brutal conditions that they faced and the fear of being stripped away from their families. 

Cultural dislocation – This factor occurs when individuals are forced to leave their homeland for various reasons. The ripple effect of this trauma leads to generations of loss and isolation being passed down.

Intergenerational poverty – Trauma can also result from poverty or “difficult life circumstances that make it hard to thrive emotionally, mentally, or financially.”

Other – Other than the above factors or causes, there are many other contributing factors to Generational Trauma – these can include racism, sexism, or even homophobia. 

Signs and Symptoms?

Health has created a list, based on Research, about the signs and symptoms that can be found when a person is affected by Generational Trauma:

1.| Lack of Self-Worth.

2.| A Sense of Anxiety.

3.| Feelings or detachment – from the self and surroundings.

4.| Depression.

5.| Emotional numbness.

6.| An impairment of life skills – such as critical thinking, decision-making, or managing time.

7.| Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – feeling socially isolated, constantly having negative thoughts, or even losing interest in hobbies.

8.| Hypervigilance.

9.| A difficulty with trusting others. 

10.| A fear of Death.

11.| Issues of Substance Abuse.  

Psychology Today gives us a few pointers on how to Break the Cycle of Trauma:

1.| Be open to having conversations with parents about their experiences – how they were challenged, their struggles, and how they coped.

2.| Pay attention to embedded patterns, attitudes, or narratives from your family that appear to live on in you. 

3.| Be willing to talk through problem areas with a friend or family member – or even a therapist to help you cope and assist with communication if necessary.

4.| “Cultivate a sense of empathy and compassion for your family and the struggles they endured. Despite their flaws, many of our ancestors worked hard so that we could have a better life. This, too, should be celebrated and embraced.”

5.| “Recreate a new narrative that you want your children to embody and believe about their family, themselves, and the world.”

Why did this topic resonate with me?

Other than seeing the ‘hype’ of Generational Trauma all over my Instagram explore page – I was drawn to this sense of connection when I read this quote by Arundhati Roy: 

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your significance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty in its lair. Never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget. 

-         Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living.

I come from a long line of individuals who were part of the Indentured Laborers sent from India to South Africa in the 1860s to work on sugarcane plantations. While researching this topic, I have found many little traits in myself which seem to have been passed down through the bloodline. I have moments of not feeling good enough and not feeling like I belong, among other personal triggers. Growing up, my grandparents have told me countless stories of difficult upbringings, from financial, mental, and emotional struggles to feeling foreign in a land that seldomly understands our culture and traditions – these things have shaped me. Still, there have always been underlying feelings of not belonging. 

Therefore, this has made Generational Trauma real for me – the idea that a life lived hundreds of years ago could still affect me now is mystifying and consuming. There are moments where I feel as though I am micro-managing every complex thought simply because I am trying to connect with the people who came before me. 

Generational Trauma runs deep in your blood. It is something that you cannot escape, and once you learn about it, it changes the way you view everything, yourself included. Take a moment to think about it; think about your paths, individual trauma, how you respond to it, and how there may be thoughts and feelings that you cannot explain. Search the topic on the Internet and Social Media – Research, introspect and understand. 

If you’d like to share your stories in the comment section below, please do! Generational Trauma is a cycle that will continue until you break it – heal for yourself and the future bloodline if you wish to continue it. Let us explore the things that haunt us the most - perhaps Content Creators are onto something, that now is the time for us to Heal.


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