Historical trauma

The trauma of our ancestors and how they experienced life doesn't affect them alone. Some studies indicate trauma can be passed down to future generations through genetics. With each new research, we are discovering more recently about human genetics, the power of our environment, and the effects of trauma.


Will you be the generation to change?

Generational trauma is an established psychological concept that explains the transmission of trauma from one generation to another. It is a result of exposure to traumatic events experienced by ancestors in a family or community, resulting in a chain of physical and psychological issues that can persist for generations. However, with the right resources, support systems, and resilience, this cycle of trauma can be interrupted. By taking a compassionate approach and understanding the complexities of this issue, we can empower individuals and families to heal and prevent the transmission of trauma to future generations.

Research indicates that the impact of trauma is not limited to the individual who experiences it. Trauma experienced by one family member can affect the development and behaviour of other family members as well. For instance, parents who have been exposed to trauma may be fearful for their child's safety, leading the child to develop similar fears. Additionally, if parents use substances to cope with their trauma, children may learn to do the same instead of discussing and addressing their feelings. These dynamics can have long-lasting effects on the family as a whole.

The signs of generational trauma

How can you tell if you are personally impacted by ancestral trauma? Look out for the following symptoms:

  • feeling emotions like anger, guilt, sadness, or shame
  • feeling helpless or numb
  • experiencing anxiety or depression
  • having unexplained physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea, hyperarousal or being easily startled

How do we inherit trauma?

We now know there are many ways in which trauma can be passed down between generations that do not involve biology. Some of these ways include dysfunctional dynamics between family members that result from trauma, such as co-dependency,  attachment styles, or, importantly, parental dissociation.

Family history of traumatic events, memories and photographs, as well as letters or heirlooms, can also contribute to the transmission of trauma across generations. The experiences that a person has during their childhood and how they grow up can profoundly impact their adult life.

Unfortunately, it is essential to address the generational challenges to provide the best possible care and healing for children and adults. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be passed down from one generation to the next, causing a vicious cycle of generational trauma that can be challenging to break.

However, to prevent and treat the root causes of this heartbreaking cycle, it is necessary to have a deep understanding of the issue. This involves recognising the complex interplay between environment, genetics, and behaviour, as well as identifying and addressing the underlying factors that contribute to generational trauma. By doing so, we can help ensure that vulnerable individuals and families receive the support and care they need to break the cycle of generational trauma and lead healthy, fulfilling lives.

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma

As trauma survivors, we have the power to break the cycle and create a new narrative, one that is filled with hope and positivity. By opening up conversations with our parents, noticing any negative patterns, and cultivating empathy and understanding, we can recreate a new story for ourselves and our children. Let's embrace the struggles of our ancestors and celebrate the hard work they did to give us a better life. We can form secure and lasting trusting relationships with determination and love and develop a healthy sense of self-worth.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W6 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Anxiety Specialist
London W6 & E14

David S. Pender is a qualified BACP therapist who provides counselling and psychotherapy services to adults throughout London & the UK. He has extensive experience in dealing with problems related to anxiety, trauma, chronic stress, social anxiety, panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Free discovery calls

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