You’ve probably heard of “trauma” before, especially when associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This mental complication usually entails flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, and a set of physical symptoms. According to VeryWell Health, trauma is defined as “a person’s emotional response to a tragic event.” These can include accidents, sexual violence, natural disasters, and more.

While there is only one term to describe it, trauma is different for everyone. There are many subtypes of trauma that can affect individuals and families in varying ways. One of the subtypes is known as “generational trauma.”

What Is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma, which is also sometimes called intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma, is a type of trauma that extends from one generation to the next. Individuals are more likely to experience generational trauma if one of their parents or grandparents has suffered from trauma. They are also at greater risk for both trauma and generation trauma if they have experienced poverty, racism, hate crimes, sexual or physical abuse, or other traumatic events.

Recent studies show that a person’s exposure to trauma might impact later generations. This type of trauma, which can affect any family, can be inherited from generation to generation because of genetic changes that trauma has on DNA. Even though generational trauma is still technically considered a theory, it is widely accepted by mental health professionals.

The Effects of Generational Trauma

Trauma alone can come with potential long-term effects. These effects may include sleep disturbances, substance abuse disorders, numbing and detachment, respiratory symptoms, dermatological symptoms, hyperarousal, intrusive thoughts and memories, flashbacks, self-harm, disassociation, and more. Generational trauma, however, has its own set of symptoms. Someone who suffers from generational trauma may experience or display:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Sense of a shortened future
  • Aloofness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Irritability
  • Fearfulness
  • Mistrust
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Fight-or-flight responses
  • Self-esteem or confidence issues
  • Inability to connect with others

Since generational trauma is not a diagnosable disorder, it may be hard to determine if you or a loved one is going through it. However, there are some ways to find out if your family’s history with trauma might have affected you and your thoughts and/or behaviors. If you think you or a family member might be experiencing generational trauma, a therapist who specializes in trauma can help address deep-seated issues and provide the tools to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Trauma

While there is no way to cure trauma, there are multiple ways to help individuals move on from their trauma and live more contented and peaceful lives.

Someone who is trying to recover from generational trauma must be willing to undergo a holistic, intense intervention. These interventions typically include a variety of treatment methods such as medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, family counseling, and more. It is important for individuals suffering from generational trauma to have support from family members and friends. Different types of support may include financial support, housing support, and positive encouragement.

To learn more about generational trauma, contact our team of mental health treatment professionals by calling 267.209.7312.