Recently, the phrase intergenerational trauma has begun appearing in major news headlines, and many people wonder if their family has experienced it. When learning about this type of trauma, it’s important to understand what the term really means, how it can affect your life, and where you can seek treatment for it.
What is Intergenerational Trauma?
According to the National Library of Medicine, a number of studies show that children are impacted by traumatic events that occurred to their parents before they were born. Originally, the widespread scientific theory was that children are simply affected by how parents treat them as a result of the experiences they endured. However, more recent research suggests that the biological effects of severe trauma can be passed genetically from parent to child.
Causes of Intergenerational Trauma
Dr. Vivian Rakoff, the pioneering psychiatrist who first introduced this concept in 1966, studied a group of patients whose parents were all Holocaust survivors. According to Rakoff, “[the survivors’] children, all of whom were born after the Holocaust, display severe psychiatric symptomatology.”
Further studies found that children of Holocaust survivors were at a greater risk for having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suggesting the trauma their parents endured was passed to them through altered genetic characteristics. This article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that stress hormones from traumatic events can create genetic changes in mothers’ DNA. These are passed to children after conception. This could be the explanation for the increased risk for PTSD symptoms in children of trauma survivors.
Symptoms that descendants of trauma survivors are at heightened risk of experiencing include:
- Depression & suicidal ideation
- Trouble sleeping
- Heart disease
- Substance use disorders (SUDs)
Another way intergenerational trauma can appear is through the behavior of families as a result of the stressful events parents endured. This is not a genetic transfer of parental trauma, but it can affect the descendants of survivors in very similar ways. Behavior patterns families might exhibit often include:
- Disconnectedness as a family
- Parental detachment
- Child neglect
- Child abuse
- Domestic violence
Recognizing Conditions Stemming from Intergenerational Trauma
Intergenerational trauma can result in problems like substance use disorderthat can take over your life or a loved one’s if left untreated. This shows the importance of recognizing intergenerational trauma as a possible cause of many mental health disorders, so you can seek out effective treatment from a professional.
Trauma Treatment in Southern California
Whether you suffer from intergenerational trauma or other types of adverse circumstances in life, there is help available to get relief from mental illness and substance use disorder. If you or a loved one could benefit from accredited, person-first care, contact us to speak to our knowledgeable admissions team.