As psychologists take to social media to share their knowledge about our emotional health, we’ve seen an increase in the usage of psychological terms that might have previously remained within textbooks. Concepts like the inner child and intergenerational trauma can seem opaque and difficult to extract value from for our daily lives. However, with a little help from our snappy break down of this crucial psychological concept, you can use the knowledge about what intergenerational trauma could mean for your emotional health.
We know the acute trauma means trauma one has suffered in the exact moment it occurred. If you were the victim of a robbery or a major car accident, that trauma would be acute, as it happened in that single instant. Chronic trauma is repetitive and occurs over time, such as verbal abuse from a spouse. This kind of trauma is drawn out through the recurrence of the traumatizing act, whereas a car accident happened once.
We can think intergenerational trauma of as chronic trauma that acts on a more subconscious level. There is no single instant one can point to when they were saddled with intergenerational trauma. Instead, this form of trauma occurs over time but is specifically enacted through the previous generation unto the subsequent generation — it is how the traumas that happened to a member of the previous generation are passed down through maladaptive coping mechanisms and repressed trauma unto the next generation.
For an example of intergenerational trauma and its impact on emotional health, consider a mother who has experienced a civil war in her home country moved to a new peaceful country and gave birth and raised a child there. Though the child has never experienced the war and lives in a peaceful country, her mother still has the lasting traumatic effects of living in fear of spontaneous violence and experiencing the tragic deaths of loved ones. The child’s mother may be unduly protective of the child and display highly anxious behavior in response to loud sounds or even leaving home. Though the child never experienced the cause of the mother’s traumatized behavior, they learn to avoid the same things that the mother avoids and to develop suspicion or fear for the same things as young children modeling their parents’ behavior.
In this way, intergenerational trauma is an important concern for our emotional health. Intergenerational trauma can come from any traumatic event experienced by a close person from a previous generation that impacts us as a child. Consider the ways your own family members from the generation before you may still carry the weight of unaddressed trauma and how this may shape your behavior now. Self-awareness is the best treatment for undoing unhealthy patterns of behavior. As with any mental health difficulty, always look for advice from a doctor or therapist.