What families should know about Intergenerational Trauma

Mind Over Matter Mental Health

You may not have ever heard of Intergenerational Trauma, but it could affect your family.

Intergenerational Trauma is a condition that occurs after years of traumatic experiences within a family that lead to the passing down of the negative effects of the trauma to future generations.

“Individuals who experience trauma or loss or have a history of abuse in childhood can pass this along to the next generation,” said Lori DiRicco, Family Psychiatric Specialist from Mind Over Matter Mental Health in Spokane. “Trauma changes our physiology and this can be passed to our children and grandchildren.”

Intergenerational Trauma may occur in families that have experienced severe trauma like domestic abuse, rape, or other tragic loss. The trauma may affect how family members bond and communicate.

“For example, if you have a parent who has post traumatic stress syndrome, they may be less able to connect with their family members, they may have issues with anger management,” DiRicco said. “When a pregnant woman is exposed to domestic violence it can raise her stress chemicals, known as cortisol, which is very damaging to her unborn baby’s brain. Or if you have a youth who has experienced abuse in childhood they can experience challenging behaviors and eventually they become parents and they are less able to care for their infant with this background of trauma.”

Intergenerational Trauma has been the subject of studies among Holocaust survivors.

“They have studied Holocaust survivors’ children and grandchildren and they have a higher level of mental and physical illness, even though they have not been exposed to the same trauma that their parent or grandparent experienced,” DiRicco said.

How families deal with trauma can set an important precedent for generations to come and the consequences should be discussed with a therapist or mental health professional familiar with the condition who can help explore how the trauma can affect the rest of the family.

“The first step is to be aware and recognize there is a change in behavior or a change in eating patterns and to seek out a mental health professional who can provide appropriate treatment,” DiRicco advised. “Trauma lives in the right side of brain and with treatment it can enable a person to process the experience and allow the left brain to put it to bed so to speak. The trauma will never be forgotten, but then the people won’t have to relive it.”

The impact of Intergenerational Trauma can be significant. If a parent or grandparent never heals from their own trauma, they may not be able to help their own children and grandchildren at times of stress or trauma. To learn more visit mindovermatterspokane.com.