Although the emotional aftermath of trauma is unique to each person, similar symptoms do exist from one person to the next.

In fact, it’s even possible to transfer trauma symptoms to the next generation.

This phenomenon is a lot like passing the baton in a relay race. Or, passing the torch in the Olympic games. Only, this isn’t a baton or torch that anyone would willingly grasp.

What’s even more profound is that the human body stores traumatic memories even when the mind pushes them away. And the “handoff” usually occurs unknowingly.

In many cases, people are unsure why they function in a certain way. For that reason, consider these keys to understanding the hidden scars of intergenerational trauma.

How to Understand Intergenerational Trauma

As mentioned, intergenerational trauma is like a handoff in a relay race. From one generation to the next, a coded message is sent. Neither the giver nor the receiver typically knows what’s happening. Yet, the exchange takes place, nonetheless.

More often than not, the trauma is unique to one family. And you can trace back the source to a parent or grandparent who experienced some type of trauma. Frequently, it’s a significantly devastating event.

However, it’s different than simply watching history repeat itself. The expressions can shift and become twisted.

For example, grandparents who nearly starved as children may pass along that trauma. But the outcome isn’t more hungry children. It’s the opposite—gluttonous adult children.

Essentially, the family line continues to experience the trauma in some way.

How to Know If You’re Affected

Identifying intergenerational trauma requires purposeful observation. This means paying attention to what you dream and listening to common sayings or advice passed down throughout your family.

All of these things are clues to what’s really going on under the surface.

Most people who struggle with trauma tend to lack a sense of self or security. Additionally, hope may run on fumes, and you may feel as though you always draw the short straw.

Pay attention to these little signs. Intergenerational trauma tells a bigger story. It’s a narrative from past generations, interweaving itself in your life simply because of your bloodlines.

Your parents or grandparents may be telling the story already. Listen closely to what they say to identify possible family turmoil that may have existed.

How to Recover from Intergenerational Trauma

It may seem incredibly unfair, dealing with the trauma that isn’t exactly yours. Consider the child survivors of mass genocide—attempting to live life after such a tragedy is nothing but unfair.

Even within your own family, recovering from intergenerational trauma may almost seem like an identity crisis. Once you effectively break the chains of trauma, something you’ve always known is suddenly gone.

It can be both a positive and challenging experience at the same time. And it begins by spotting negative patterns in your family and in your own life. When you identify these ongoing issues, you can work to change the future—healing future generations in the meantime.

Take the first step…

If you suspect intergenerational trauma is impacting your life, and you’re ready to take the next step in resolving those issues, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT