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What Is Intergenerational Trauma? How Do We Heal From It?

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

Intergenerational Trauma is defined as traumas that get passed down to the following generations. Forms of trauma can include but are not limited to, racial trauma, immigration, drug/alcohol abuse, physical/emotional/mental/spiritual abuse or neglect and historical trauma (slavery, the Holocaust, apartheid, war, relocation, poverty etc.) These forms of trauma will result in long-term effects that can alter the brain chemistry. This often results in the presence of a variety of different mental illnesses present in future generations. Therapy can be an effective way to heal generational trauma to stop the cycle for current and future generations.

Symptoms and struggles associated with intergenerational trauma include:

  • Increased likelihood of poverty, substance abuse and developing Anxiety, Depression or PTSD

  • May feel disconnected from your body/reality for periods

  • May feel disconnected from your body/reality for periods

  • Find it hard to trust others, feel connected or feel emotionally numb

  • Isolate from others

  • Have repeated nightmares

How can therapy help?

Therapy can help with overcoming intergenerational trauma. A therapist can provide an outlet to heal from your experiences, equip you with effective coping techniques and impart insight into your trauma responses and where they come from. Our ancestors had to adapt and survive a variety of traumatic events which may have had an impact on their emotional regulation, coping tools and parenting styles. Our nervous system may also be stuck in survival mode from our direct experiences of trauma resulting from the unhealed wounds of the previous generation. Therapy can be helpful to identify these triggers and unhealthy coping mechanisms we engage in while teaching us healthier coping tools to regulate our nervous system.

As well, therapists should allow a safe space with unbiased support for you to share your trauma narrative. The purpose of discussing intergenerational trauma isn't to shame or blame our parents or previous generations, but to learn how to do better so we can feel better. Extensive research has come out in the last 20 years alone on the impact of trauma on our well-being. With this added knowledge, we can apply tools to better ourselves and as a result, the future generation.

If you're not ready for therapy or would like to know alternative ways to heal from intergenerational trauma you can:

  • Find safe ways to release stress and emotional trauma, such as exercise, yoga or any form of movement.

  • Find effective outlets that offer you peace, purpose or passion. This can be from religion, spirituality, becoming an activist or creating new hobbies such as gardening, painting or music.

  • Find other ways to heal the body such as reiki, massage, healing circles, chiropractor or matrix repatterning.

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