Understanding Generational Trauma and Why it is So Difficult to Overcome

Understanding Generational Trauma and Why it is So Difficult to OvercomeTrauma including generational trauma is everywhere. Nearly everyone on the planet at any given time has either gone through a traumatizing experience themselves, has a close relative that has been through an event like that, or knows someone firsthand that has had to personally deal with the effects of trauma.

Sadly, this is such a common life event that the World Health Organization has reported that over 70% of people will likely go through at least one traumatizing experience over the course of their lives. Others consider that a conservative estimate— especially considering that some people may not ever even know that they have been through a traumatizing event. Then there are other events that are so damaging that an individual's memory can have a type of amnesia which develops in order to protect them.

A fascinating example of how human memory works. It is only years later, often under the influence of therapy, that those events are remembered.

Regardless, it should not come as a surprise to hear such troubling facts. Being that there is regularly so much violence, unrest, and division socially throughout the world between people groups or even family members, the likelihood of being directly involved in or witness to a traumatic event is high. As such, it should not take much imagination to understand why generational trauma is also common.

Interestingly, for as familiar as people have become with the label and idea of trauma, they may be less aware of what generational trauma, let alone understanding why it is so difficult to overcome.

What is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma? is the presentation of behaviors or personality traits in individuals stemming from psychological or physiological factors that have developed due to very strong traumatic events that occurred in previous generations.

There are several types of trauma that can create generational ripples. This article will go into a further discussion of some examples later, but a few for now are things like domestic violence, war, racism, and surviving natural disasters.

The experience of these events can lead to sometimes chronic presentations in both personal and social challenges in a variety of symptoms such as anxiety, PTSD, anger, and low self-esteem to name only a few. Generally speaking, just a single generation struggles because of just one event can lead to a cycle of symptoms generation to generation.

Though there is not a consistent collection of research yet to definitively point to what or how intergenerational trauma is passed down, there is research which demonstrates these effects being passed on genetically. The strength of these traumatic events are such that they develop and are manifested in more than just genetic predispositions.

Additionally, the complexities of human development and interaction mean that, while a person from a second or third generation may not have been directly subject to the initial traumatic event, the resulting behaviors that they are exposed to create their own problems. Each family or community member is going to process and demonstrate the results of that event in different ways. Some people may deal with addictions to cope, others become abusive, or emotionally distant, either way, the symptoms felt by one generation have a direct result on the following.

In events with a much broader effect, such as war, famine, or a natural disaster, trauma can be passed down culturally. Those are just a few reasons as to why generational trauma can be so difficult to overcome.

The Power and Evidence of Trauma

Understanding Generational Trauma and Why it is So Difficult to OvercomeIntergenerational trauma can have intense effects on individuals and groups of people, such a diverse range and combination of symptoms that it is difficult to name even a part of those in this brief summary. However, here is a short list:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Isolation and withdrawal from social situations
  • Various eating disorders
  • Memory loss
  • Anger, domestic violence
  • Substance abuse

Each example of a symptom of trauma is just evidence of the likelihood and power of how traumatic events can spill over for decades to come.

War, genocide, and slavery— a few particularly heinous examples— have such power in the weight of effect and resulting influence on the human psyche and body that it is almost obvious as to why people and their ancestors would have a very difficult time processing such pain.

A single event can create a lifetime of habits that turn into behaviors that affect other people. Until someone in that chain event begins to take healthy action to overcome those symptoms, they, and everyone around them, will continue to struggle with unhealthy behaviors. Being that none of the many symptoms that may arise are quickly overcome, then it only makes sense that a collection of symptoms would take a significant amount of time to heal individually and generationally.


About Lauren

Lauren is the Content & Community Manager for Wellness Force Media. According to Lauren, wellness is about finding gratitude and joy in doing any type of physical or self-care activity that we love. Wellness means providing ourselves with self-love, good nutrition, and the inner peace that our individual minds and bodies need.

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