Transgenerational trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma, refers to the transmission of traumatic experiences and their effects from one generation to the next. It occurs when the trauma experienced by an individual or a community continues to influence the well-being and mental health of subsequent generations. This transmission can happen through various mechanisms, such as unresolved emotions, maladaptive coping strategies, and disrupted family dynamics.
A specific form of transgenerational trauma is what is often referred to as collective trauma, when a traumatic event or process becomes the shared experience of a larger community, e.g. whole nations, ethnic or religious communities, survivors of wars, dictatorships, crimes, natural catastrophes, accidents, etc. Such collective experiences also have a tendency to be passed on from generation to generation.
Effects of Transgenerational and Collective Trauma
Transgenerational trauma and collective trauma can have profound impacts on individuals and families, manifesting in various ways.
Trauma and traumatic patterns can be repeated and passed down through learned behaviors, coping mechanisms, and numerous social, psychological and biological channels . Unresolved trauma may lead to patterns of dysfunction, such as addiction, abusive behaviors, complex PTSD, self-sabotaging behaviors, medical and mental health problems across generations.
Emotional pain and unresolved trauma can be transmitted through family systems, or any other human system/community with a history of shared experiences, influencing the emotional well-being, relationships, and identity formation of subsequent generations.
Transgenerational and collective trauma can also be influenced by social, historical, political, economic or cultural traumas, such as war, genocide, holocaust, slavery, forced displacement, dictatorship, etc. which can affect entire communities or ethnic groups.
Recent research suggests that transgenerational and collective trauma can leave marks on our genes, potentially altering gene expression (epigenetics) and affecting the physical and mental health of future generations.
Breaking the Cycle
Breaking the cycle of transgenerational or collective trauma is a very complex process.
Understanding the impact of transgenerational trauma and recognizing its presence in our life is a crucial first step. Education about trauma, therapy, and support can help us gain insight and develop tools for healing.
Engaging in individual psychotherapy, prioritizing self-care and resilience, engaging in activities that promote well-being as well as in cultural and community healing practices, and connecting with supportive networks can provide a sense of belonging, connection, and healing across generations.
Originally, the technique of Systemic Family Constellation Therapy was developed precisely for its unique potential to reveal and heal transgenerational traumas, family secrets, unconscious bonds and entanglements in our extended families and larger communities. Systemic Constellation Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that looks at any psychological – mental, emotional, relational, behavioral – issue as a systemic phenomenon over several generations. It is a uniquely effective technique to understand not only the deeper dynamics of an individual person, but also those of couples, families, various different communities, collectives, organizations and businesses as well.
Systemic Family Constellations Therapy can reveal unconscious family dynamics, transgenerational influences, and other ’systemic’ entanglements with a unique plasticity and an unprecedented emotional impact.