I was having lunch with a professional acquaintance last week when I mentioned the term "generational trauma," he did not know what I was talking about. This confused me, but now I see, that it shouldn't have.
I often forget that these themes and important constructs are not labeled in common conversations, though we all still play some kind of role in them. Here is an homage to naming and clarifying something we all live out daily.
Picture a family with sexual and physical abuse and the trauma that the children overcome and carry with them. Now imagine these children grow into parents themselves. Their experience with childhood abuse will directly inform their parenting, ability to be loving, present and patient, and their romantic relationships.
Fast forward again, this 3rd generation of children, having been parented by survivors of childhood abuse, will carry the pieces of trauma that have filtered through to them, affecting feelings of love, safety, security, belonging, and connection. They will bring this experience into their romantic relationships as they grow, and into their parenting when they have children.
And so on.
We need to first acknowledge that our experiences inform our parenting.
And then acknowledge that our parenting affects our children quite deeply.
Which our children will then take with them as they parent their own children.
Signs You May Have Generational Trauma
1. Your parents or grandparents close up when asked about certain family members or period of time.
2. Your parents carry extreme worry, anger and fear in reacting to situations that don't warrant the intensity of emotion.
3. You carry extreme worry, anger and fear in situations that don't warrant the intensity of emotion.
4. Your family has been through a traumatic period such as war, poverty, abuse, oppression or addiction.
5. You or your parents have a numbness of emotion in highly stressful situations.
Don't Pass on the Trauma
All good parents can agree that they want the best for their children, though they may disagree on what the best looks like.
Psychotherapists, generally, agree on many points of parenting emotionally healthy and resilient children.
1. Do your own work. - As parents, we have to work on and process our own trauma in psychotherapy. Ignoring or pushing it away doesn't work. It will bubble up in ways we cannot control and this will end up causing damage to our ourselves and to our relationships.
2. Attach securely. - This should be a blog post by itself because the benefits are vast. (It probably will be soon, stay tuned). Giving children a secure attachment to their caregiver will build resilience and give children what they need to have healthier, happier relationships as they grow up and insulate them to better cope with trauma.
3. Allow emotional space. - We do our own work, we are a secure attachment to our children. But, alas, we are not perfect. We will mess up and we will need to repair relationships. Giving ourselves the space to process our mistakes, and giving our children and loved ones the space and validation to feel hurt, angry, sad about what's happened is important to the healing process.
4. Repair relationships. - Find healthy and effective ways to repair close, loving and safe relationships.
5. Shine a light. - Do not sweep trauma under a rug. When you see it, acknowledge it. Put focus on getting help and healing from trauma. Ignoring trauma will ensure it is passed on to others in some way.
6. Process complicated feelings. - With family trauma, there is a complicated dynamic that often occurs. We feel extreme pain, sadness, anger, fear and confusion towards the same people that we feel love, comfort, admiration and responsibility or obligation for. Processing this complex co-existence can help dissolve feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety that surround these relationships.
There is hope in healing.
Imagine a backpack that each generation before you in your family has carried and added a piece of their own trauma to.