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Intergenerational Trauma: Trauma As A Family Legacy?

Fishtown Wellness Center / Mental Health  / Intergenerational Trauma: Trauma As A Family Legacy?

Intergenerational Trauma: Trauma As A Family Legacy?

By: Ryan Cocron, LMFT, CAADC



What is intergenerational trauma?

Intergenerational trauma is a trend where people who experience trauma often pass down the effects of their trauma through both overt and covert behaviors. Overt behaviors look like perpetuating trauma through violence, aggression, or other behaviors that cause harm to the children or family of these trauma holders. Covert behaviors can be more discrete and often go unnoticed. For example, behaviors that I have often observed in clients look like a family history of anxiety, depression, or addiction. Anxious attachment, trust issues, people pleasing, and codependency are also common traits that I have observed.

Why is learning about trauma important?

Source: Jana Sabeth via Unsplash

Something that I was told in my early work as a therapist is that traumatized people often make traumatized people. Trauma, whether it be “little t trauma” (abandonment, bullying, rejection etc.) or “big T trauma” (abuse, violence, natural disasters etc.) can significantly alter the way a person experiences their world. It can change the way that people think and act. That is, people who experience trauma often go about their lives unconsciously or even consciously trying to prevent the trauma from happening again. Many clients have reported isolating from friends and family when they are experiencing a flashback. Other common behaviors can include: lashing out at others, coping using substances, or self-harm. These behaviors, in the context of a trauma holding parent raising children, are often observed, personalized, and then adopted by their children.

Another reason that intergenerational trauma is significant is that it can lead to a greater understanding of why family (especially parents) may have acted or parented the way that they did. As a millennial therapist, I have noticed this trend in the generations before me. The “Greatest Generation” experienced both The Great Depression and WWII, which were obviously both significantly traumatic and impactful. Thinking about how people adapted to the high stress of both of these events begins to shed light onto ways that their children, “Baby Boomers”, may have been raised.

How it can be used in therapy

Exploring family information is incredibly helpful in the therapeutic process. Understanding the context in which people grew up can shed light onto how they act, think and feel as adults. I use this approach to help myself and the client better understand where the messages, values, and behaviors of their family came from. Understanding family trauma can also help to move people towards acceptance and healing. Interested in exploring intergenerational trauma in your own life? Contact us!


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