Are you interested in learning about how generational trauma may have been passed down in your family and manifested for you? Keep reading!
Generational Trauma, also known as Transgenerational Trauma or Intergenerational Trauma, has lately been the new buzz words. This idea of trauma being passed down from parent to child has captured everyone’s attention around the world. It is still a relatively more recent concept, but research shows how unresolved trauma can interfere with our ability to respond to our environment.
Luckily, there is hope in the idea that if trauma can be passed down, so can healing. As a daughter of an immigrant and a South Asian woman, I deeply find myself trying to understand the impact of inherited trauma & if you are like me, I am sure you are too.
Please keep reading to learn more about transgenerational trauma, epigenetic, and healing techniques that I have been trying to test out as I try to break the cycle.
What is Generational Trauma?
Before we talk about what generational trauma means, it is helpful to understand what trauma means. Trauma is exposure to an experience or series of experiences that cause physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual harm. Generational Trauma, simply put, is this idea that trauma can be transferred from one generation to another. Some examples of it may be-
- Attachment issues.
- Repressed anger.
- Untreated mental illness.
- Families see discussing mental health as a weakness.
- Families not discussing their feelings and emotions.
- Unhealthy relationships & survival behaviors.
- Identity confusion.
- Approval seeking from others.
This list is not comprehensive, but it gives you an idea. When left unaddressed, this continues to affect our lives over many decades & eventually gets passed down. The infographic at the top also gives you an idea of what generational trauma means.
Generational Trauma and Epigenetics
I chose to read about Rachel Yehuda’s work for this post. Her work allowed us to shed light on the reality that just because someone is born with a set of genes does not mean they are in a biological prison due to those genes. The faulty genes do not have to be your fate. Epigenetics gave us the language we needed to unpack this idea that though you have the same DNA, environmental influences play a huge role.
Confused? Let me try to explain- we all inherit DNA from our parents. The genes within our DNA control how our body works. This is Genetics. Our genes play an essential role in our health. However, our environment plays just as important a role. I find it so fascinating that we can also inherit the effects of our parents’ lifestyle and exposure in the form of tags on our DNA, which is called Epigenetics. So while we all have a set of genes, think of it in terms of cards. You still can choose what cards you want to play, alternating your gene expression. Think about your current habits. What types of food are you eating? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you spending enough time with nature?
Research shows that we can reverse some of these negative changes to healthier alternatives. For example, your child will inherit your DNA, the effects of your lifestyle choices, and exposures. They will also be exposed to different environmental exposures, which leads to changes in these epigenetic tags. This is the reason our epigenetics change as we age. An easier way to understand this is by looking at the diagram I created below-
The way we choose to live our life influences our tags and improves our overall health. Epigenetics’ is studying how life factors affect the expression of those genes but it does not do anything to do your DNA. MIND = BLOWN.
Intergenerational Trauma and South Asian Families
Sometimes trauma may skip a generation, just like genetic traits, but that does not mean it is disappeared. It will show up in the next generation. This is why the work we do on ourselves is so important. It got me thinking about the South Asian community. When we look at the Partition of India of 1947 or the Liberation War in Bangladesh, the oppression, domestic violence, extreme poverty, chemical dependency, patriarchy, etc., it has to make one wonder how this affects us today?
At some point, everyone is affected by generational trauma, but having this knowledge about your family history can help you realize that you may be a little more vulnerable. The symptoms of generational trauma may be pretty similar to PTSD. Inability to connect with others, anger, hypervigilance, substance abuse, low self-esteem, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, mistrust, other mental illnesses. (This list is not exhaustive by any means.) In other words, as I continue to read about epigenetics, I have found this new sense of hope that even if my family chooses not to heal, I could make another choice for myself.
Intergenerational Trauma and Dysfunctional Families
For many of us who grew up in dysfunctional families, feeling unsafe, not validated for our experiences, difficulty moving past the family dynamics may have been a common occurrence. You may have started to realize you come from a family with a dysfunctional history and may not know what you need to do next. One of the most significant aspects of mental health and working towards breaking the cycle is the ability to feel safe again. I am not talking about just physical safety, but the security of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences too.
For children to grow up emotionally healthy and happy, they need their basic needs met, fit role modeling, positive parent-child communication, warmth and support, parental involvement in their child’s life, health role models, and family traditions. Remember, early experiences have lifelong impacts. Unfortunately, many of you may not have grown up with that. You may be more familiar with denial, tolerating abusive behaviors, not asking for help, keeping quiet, taking care of everyone else before yourself, appear happy to keep the peace, not having family traditions or positive role models to look up to. When you take a step back and look at the whole picture, you see how these traits have led you to unhealthy survival mechanisms. Until you address the root cause of your problems (family history, behaviors, patterns, history, etc.), true healing does not and cannot take place.
Healing Generational Trauma
Try to look at the whole picture- your environment, family history, patterns, etc. Firstly, have some self-compassion for yourself. You are figuring out a lot on your own, and that deserves a moment to pause and celebrate. One thing to remember, generational trauma often hides behind ingrained patterns, behaviors, and beliefs, which impacts the way we should up in our relationships. This is why I always recommend journaling if therapy is not an option right now. Track your patterns for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months & I promise you will notice a change. Do not underestimate your ability to heal. Minor changes will go a long way. The top 5 things I have been playing around with are below-
- One small change a day
- Spending time in nature
- Do not underestimate the power of sleep, diet, and water.
I hope this was brought some hope to you as you are trying to figure out your journey. The choices you make today, impact your tomorrow and more importantly, the generations to come.
This post was all about Generational Trauma.
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