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Understanding Generational Trauma

Understanding Generational Trauma

Have you ever felt like some of your struggles aren’t yours? If you’re not sure why you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it could be generational trauma.

Generational Trauma (or legacy trauma) is when traumatic experiences pass from one generation to the next. Trauma occurs when individuals experience trauma, witness violence, or live under constant threat. If any of this sounds familiar to you, know you’re not alone. There is hope for healing and growth, and we can explore it together.

Some circumstances that may set the stage for trauma to pass to the next generation include:

  • Growing up in a household where a parent or caregiver experienced trauma
  • Historical events such as slavery, genocide, and forced displacement
  • Cultural trauma from societal upheaval, war, and other conflicts
  • Oppression and systemic inequalities

Generational Trauma -vs- Individual Trauma

Generational trauma and individual trauma share some similarities, but also some differences. Individual trauma is typically the result of an event, but generational trauma passes down through other’s. This can look like persistent feelings of fear, anxiety, and shame that seem to have no clear source.

Generational trauma can be more complex and difficult to identify than individual trauma. It often involves a web of experiences and emotions that can be difficult to unravel. Additionally, generational trauma can affect entire communities, not just individuals. This can create a sense of collective pain and suffering that can be difficult to address.

Historical Events That Can Lead to Generational Trauma

Historical trauma is the legacy of traumatic events experienced by a group of people. Examples of historical events that have led to generational trauma are many.

A couple examples include:

The atrocities committed during the Holocaust

The terror created from the events of 9/11

As recent as both of these examples are, we can still witness the far-reaching effects today.

There are countless smaller-scale traumas that can accumulate and contribute to generational trauma. These may include experiences of discrimination, poverty, violence, and marginalization. Trauma experiences within the home can include sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. These traumas can pass down and shape the experiences of individuals for years to come.

How Trauma is Passed From One Generation to the Next

Behaviors and Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms and behaviors can pass to the next generation from parents and caregivers to children. Coping mechanisms that have kept the parent alive as a child may still be in use as adults. (Read about the effects of narcissistic relationships on coping.)


  • If a parent had survived by staying out of the way as a child, he may be distant to his own children.
  • If a parent survived by people pleasing as a child, she may be resentful for the needs of her own children

Children may learn to respond to stress in the home in a similar manner as their parents. The parents’ survival and the children’s survival act to continue the cycle of trauma.


Epigenetics is a growing area of scientific research. It is shedding light on how trauma can passes down from generation to generation. While genetics refers to the DNA we inherit, epigenetics refers to changes in the expression of genes.

Gene expression is the process where genetic information changes to create proteins. This process happens when DNA turns into RNA, which is then turned into proteins. This process determines how genes work, how they link to disease, and how they influence behaviors.

Environmental factors can change how genes are expressed. All this happens while the underlying DNA is unaltered. Creating positive environments can go a long way in reversing generational trauma.

Effects of Generational Trauma

Trauma may lead to low self-esteem, difficulty trusting, as well as disconnection from others. You may feel unable to relate to others who have not had similar experiences.

The stress and anxiety associated with trauma can have a negative impact on physical health. Trauma has shown to be a factor in chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Trauma may also lead to behaviors such as substance abuse or self-harm as a coping mechanism. Even those coping mechanisms are in place for survival, they often impact our physical health and wellbeing.

Healing from Generational Trauma

When we experience trauma, our bodies and minds become stuck in a state of fear and anxiety. Healing from generational trauma difficult and complex journey. But the journey can be incredibly rewarding.

Healing from generational trauma requires an understanding of the process.

The process:

  1. Recognize the ways in trauma has affected you
  2. Develope healthy coping mechanisms and building resilience.

Approach the healing process with empathy and compassion. recognize It may take time and effort to move towards a place of healing.

Seek out support and guidance as you work towards healing. Working with a therapist or joining a support group may help with the work. Groups may expecially help because you will be with others who have had similar experiences. By connecting with others, a sense of community and support can develop and be helpful on your healing journey.

Tips for Self-Care and Building Resilience

When it comes to healing from generational trauma, self-care and building resilience are key components of the journey. Here are some tips to help you take care of yourself and build resilience as you work towards healing:

  • Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and recognize that healing is a journey that may take time and effort. It’s okay to take breaks and give yourself permission to rest and recharge when you need it.
  • Engage in activities that bring you joy. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones, reading a good book, or practicing a hobby, taking time to engage in activities that bring you joy can help you build resilience and feel more positive about life.
  • Connect with others. Building connections with others who understand your experiences can be incredibly helpful on your healing journey. Consider joining a support group or reaching out to trusted friends or family members who can provide a listening ear and a source of support.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices such as meditation or deep breathing can help you connect with your body and emotions, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. This can be especially helpful in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Take care of your physical health. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise can all help support your physical and emotional well-being. Additionally, avoiding drugs and alcohol can help you stay focused on your healing journey and avoid potential triggers.

Self-care and building resilience are ongoing processes that require effort and attention. By prioritizing self-care and focusing on building resilience, you can move towards a more positive and fulfilling life, even in the face of generational trauma. (Check out this post about healing through Self-Reparenting.)

You Got This

Healing from generational trauma is not a linear process, and there may be ups and downs along the way. However, by practicing self-care, building resilience, and staying focused on your healing journey, you can begin to break free from the patterns of trauma and move towards a more positive and fulfilling life.

You deserve love, healing, and compassion. You are not defined by your trauma and there is hope.

If this article resonates with you and you would like to talk to someone about generational trauma, please feel free to contact Dr. Guess. She is here to support you on your healing journey.

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