Written by Marissa Halstead
Most all of us grow up in the context of a family. Our family teaches us how to be in the world and helps shape our values, character, and interests. In addition to all the good our families pass on to us, they also teach us unhealthy patterns of behavior that get passed on through the generations. Some call these patterns a generational curse, but for the sake of this blog, I will use the language of intergenerational trauma.
What is Intergenerational Trauma?
Intergenerational trauma is the pattern of difficulties that gets passed down through the generations of a family. The pattern might manifest itself as alcoholism, mental illness, or even abuse. You might notice more obvious patterns like these, but patterns can also appear in deeper struggles, like fear and control. Mark Wolynn, author of It Didn’t Start With You states, “What I’ve learned from my own experience, training, and clinical practice is that the answer may not lie within our own story as much as in the stories of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents.” Intergenerational trauma feels like a web that we get trapped in with no way out. Feeling trapped, we learn to deny and/or minimize its effects on our lives. How we learn to cope with intergenerational trauma can have long-term consequences.
Who is Affected?
While anyone can be shaped by intergenerational trauma, it especially touches those who are from more marginalized communities. Families who have experienced war, violence, discrimination, and/or those in lower socioeconomic classes tend to have more noticeable experiences. For example, Jewish people who survived the Holocaust and those who descended from them may (understandably) have a pattern of hiding their ethnicity.
Pain is often inherited down from the generations if it is not dealt with or processed. The negative effects on individuals with intergenerational trauma can range from poor sleep, heart disease, and other disorders all the way to anxiety, depression, and suicidality.
You might be asking yourself, “Is it even possible to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma?” Thankfully the answer is yes, though it is an ongoing process. You can find a way to live with your story instead of pushing it down. Being in tune with your body is extremely important so that you can take better care of yourself; to take care of yourself means that you need to know what your needs are.
If intergenerational trauma resonates with you, you are not alone. There may be many in your family who felt similar to you, but did not have the access or ability to address the patterns they fell into. Therapy is a great way to gain insight so that you can heal parts of your story (and your family’s story). I would love to help you discover new ways to relate to your pain so that you can live a more fulfilling life.
We are here for you – call today to get on the schedule!