Intergenerational Trauma: How to Break the Cycle
by, MIRIAM NJOKU
“Surviving is important but thriving is elegant” Maya Angelou
In my series of blogs raising awareness on childhood trauma, I will tackle intergenerational trauma. I had scheduled to write and post this some weeks ago but the Coronavirus pandemic sent me into a disregulated and anxious state like many of you. I was reflecting the other day that it is the first time the whole of humanity is facing the same threat, I hope it makes us look inside of us and connect more with ourselves and the people we love.
WHAT IS INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA?
From our families, we inherit genes, foundational life skills, traditions, knowledge, connections, wisdom, identity, resilience, etc. Sometimes we also inherit behaviour patterns, coping strategies of our parents, grandparents who did not process their trauma. Children learn to be by mimicking the adults around them but when these adults are acting from their own trauma, children pick up patterns and behaviours that become their norm. The first victims of intergenerational trauma in families are the most fragile, i.e. children. They might suffer from anxiety or depression as adults without being able to pinpoint its origin, indeed intergenerational trauma in families is not easily recognised or its impact is minimised. Intergenerational trauma in families often happens in an overarching societal context which offers the setting that facilitates trauma to be passed down (poverty, patriarchy, war, colonialism, slavery, genocide, etc).
Intergenerational trauma can affect a family, a community or a people. Some researchers are finding evidence that mass trauma like the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the displacement of American Indians and the enslavement of African-Americans, historical trauma of First Nations of Canada, colonialism have intergenerational impacts that are psychological, familial, social, cultural, neurobiological and possibly even genetic as well. Although epigenetics is still a new field of study, scientists want to uncover the roots of pain so that future generations might not be impacted.
In families with a pattern of trauma, there are many secrets, taboos, things that are not allowed to be talked about. Secrets that are kept but live and manifest themselves as poverty, being trapped in cycles of abuse, violence, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, difficulty in relationships, etc. The individual is born with and into fears and feelings that don’t always belong to them but that shape their life in ways that they are not always conscious of.
Milestones in life can greatly affect a person living with intergenerational trauma (finishing university, starting a new job, having a baby, moving to a new country, being rejected by a new partner and suffering unsurmountable grief, etc.). Intergenerational trauma can also impact our physical health through the nutrition habits we develop and our relationship with food......