The Unspoken Burden: A Look into Intergenerational Trauma

Feeling the effects of trauma without directly experiencing it is a distinct possibility, often referred to as intergenerational trauma. Recognizing and addressing it is essential for breaking cycles of suffering and promoting healing within families and communities. Here’s what you need to know.

A Glance Into Intergen Trauma
Inherited traits. What do you think of when you hear that word? Probably something like skin, hair, or eye color. But did you know that trauma can be inherited too? This can be defined as intergenerational trauma.

This term refers to trauma that is passed down from a trauma survivor to a decedent. It can be referred to as intergenerational trauma, generational trauma, ancestral trauma—trauma that someone may feel even though they haven’t experienced it first-hand. Often overlooked, this trauma wounds one generation after another, affecting individuals, families, and entire communities.

A Deeper Dive In

Picture this: it’s not just your parents’ or grandparents’ stories that shape you. It’s their pain, fears, and resilience that somehow become part of you too. That’s multigenerational trauma—a legacy of emotions and responses that travel through generations. It’s not just learned behaviors; it’s the silent whispers of past struggles that influence our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Our family’s tough times, whether from wars, injustice, abuse, or difficult situations, end up affecting how we see things, how we feel, and even how we act. It’s like we’re handed an invisible bag of emotions without even knowing it, carrying it everywhere we go.

The Origin

Think about the hardships your ancestors faced. They might have gone through oppression, racial trauma, or other variations of such. Those experiences, even if unspoken, can leave a mark on how we navigate life. The strategies they developed to cope, the things they didn’t say—these patterns can be subconsciously passed on, shaping our own ways of dealing with challenges.

It doesn’t just have to be events that took place generations ago. Ancestral trauma occurs when the effects of trauma are passed down. The more common effects of this phenomenon lie between one generation and another. For example, if a parent was abused or neglected as a child, it can heavily impact their parenting style, starting a chain reaction. This can lead to the parent relaying such behaviors on to their child and so on. On a grander scale, we can look at examples such as racial injustice and how the effects of that are still present in our world today, like dominoes continuing to topple over time.

Can We See It?

Multigenerational trauma isn’t just a concept; it’s tangible, and it shows up in various ways. It can manifest in learned behaviors, maladaptive coping mechanisms, and emotional responses that seem out of proportion. The effects are real and are practically unnoticeable, like a mighty tide washing over and not realizing till it’s too late. If you do happen to experience this kind of trauma, you might experience symptoms that are very closely related to those of PTSD such as hypervigilance, anxiety, mood dysregulation, and more.

However, since you didn’t personally experience these events and trauma, flashbacks, and intrusive memories won’t be present. The trauma and symptoms you have are most likely just responses that didn’t occur to you, rather, something that was inherited genetically. It’s as if the strings of fate have held you down, forcing you to live through a story that isn’t yours to claim.

When experiencing trauma, It can feel like you were handed a cursed family heirloom with no explanation. Unfortunately, Mental health issues are not the only thing you can receive from generational trauma. Stress responses are also closely related to physical health issues, resulting in some developing medical issues such as heart disease, stroke, and early death. Historical trauma being at the bottom represents how trauma following this concept can lead to many mental and physical health issues. Going up the pyramid, it shows the various problems that can be caused by ancestral trauma. It is too common and the effects it has are no joke, as it can leave permanent damage on individuals for generations to come.

Ancestral trauma isn’t just a distant echo; it echoes in our lives too. The effects are wide-ranging and deep. From mental health struggles like anxiety and depression to self-destructive behaviors, we’re held down by the weight of emotional burdens we didn’t choose to carry. This trauma doesn’t just stop with us; it can bleed into our relationships, communities, and even the choices we make.

Healing and Breaking The Cycle

Healing from intergenerational trauma is a journey that requires intention and self-discovery. So how can we move beyond it? There’s no “right” answer, but here are some paths we can explore:

  • Therapeutic Exploration: Professional support like counseling can help us untangle the web of emotions and behaviors we’ve inherited.
  • Cultural Reconnection: Exploring our cultural roots and heritage can help us rediscover our identity, build resilience, and counteract the disconnection caused by trauma.
  • Community Connections: Engaging with support groups or finding like-minded individuals can create a safe space to share experiences and learn from one another.
  • Mindfulness/Self-Care: Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and self-care can help us regulate our emotions and foster self-compassion.
  • Education and Advocacy: Educating ourselves about the historical context of our trauma can help empower us to advocate for change and break the cycle at a larger societal level.

Generational trauma is an intricate tapestry of emotions, woven across time. By understanding its complexities, we’re able to rewrite our narratives. While it may not be an easy journey, recognizing its existence and actively working towards healing can set us on a path of empowerment and growth. As we navigate our inherited pain, we have the power to transform our own lives and contribute to breaking the cycle for generations to come.


Prisha Khona is a high school student located in New Jersey. Her passion for mental health has led her to educate herself and others on various mental health topics, especially those she has experience with. She feels that if she is able to let others know about these uncommon issues, she can help others be aware and understand the challenges they may face.