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Understanding Transgenerational Trauma

Some life events are so difficult and overwhelming that they seem unbearable to the sufferer. That burden is often carried in part by family members, friends, and loved ones. But what about the next generation? Some believe that the effects of trauma can be transferred between generations, such as a parent to a child—even if that child didn’t necessarily experience the traumatic event firsthand.

While scientists are still navigating this terrain, it is clear that there is some weight to the idea of transgenerational trauma. This trauma can be passed through unconscious cues or observed changes in behavior. Anxiety may fall from one generation to the next through stories told, events discussed, and even treatment of a child by a parent or grandparent due to trauma.

The Handing Down of Neurotic Traits

Schools of psychology regularly look at the connection between trauma in a parent and the passing down of neurotic traits. In the post-Holocaust era, the first prominent literature emerged on this topic. Described as the Holocaust syndrome, reports were made on the transmission of trauma from the Holocaust to the second generation. While further development needs to be made in this area, this major event shed more light on the issue.

For example, Israeli soldiers who were second-generation Holocaust survivors were studied closely after the Lebanese war. It was found that this second generation had a more protracted course of PTSD, potentially pointing to a strong vulnerability due to transgenerational trauma.

Studies on this matter were recognized by the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). The Special Interest Area Group on Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma and Resiliency was also founded to further research this potential connection.

Do “Traumatized” Parents Lead to “Traumatized” Children?

Large numbers of clinical practice studies have shown that patients who have suffered PTSD are emotionally limited, preoccupied, or “traumatized,” which can translate to a child’s development. For example, a parent’s symptoms such as traumatic reliving, emotional numbing, and other traumatic responses can limit a child from developing a sense of safety and security, a sense of identity, and even autonomy. The parent’s high levels of anxiety can easily interfere with the child’s own development, causing a sort of generational passing of trauma.

When trauma is transferred from the first generation of “trauma survivors” to the second or third generation, it can be confusing, overwhelming, and difficult for that next generation to navigate. Many individuals may not immediately identify the source of their anxiety or stress disorders, making transgenerational trauma an often frustrating and confusing condition to manage.

Therapeutic Solutions offers behavioral health solutions designed to help patients deal with anxiety, depression, and other transgenerational trauma symptoms. Learn more about our programs through our website or by calling us at (530) 899-3150.