Generational Historical Trauma

Generational and Historical Trauma

Updated on September 13, 2022
Written by Alejandro Sandoval

Mannerisms, appearance, and genetics are all inherited from our biological roots. However, they’re not the only things we receive from generations before us. For example, we may also inherit trauma.

This trauma comes in the form of generational or historical trauma, and how we deal with it can affect our choices as we move through childhood to adulthood.

You might not think trauma can happen in your family, but you would be surprised. Studies show that 60% of men and 50% of women have at least one traumatic incident in their lives.

What is Generational Trauma?

On the surface, generational trauma is exactly what it sounds like. It is the trauma that is passed down from generation to generation. But, when you look deeper, it is much more. Like many traumas, you might not realize you’re experiencing it until you are knee-deep in the middle of it, not sure which way to turn. It can be silent, passed on subconsciously, and detrimental to our overall well-being.

Anyone can take on generational trauma, and breaking the cycle can be difficult. Examples include domestic violence, addiction, and abuse/neglect. There are many signs of generational trauma, although they are not always easy to see.

  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anger and irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Inability to trust others
  • Lack of connections
  • Fearfulness

These are just a few signs. There are many more. When discussing generational trauma, many families do not recognize how events from the past shape them. There may be a reluctance to talk about it because they’re embarrassed or don’t want to hurt other family members. Asking for help, or seeking mental health treatment, is not considered as they may not have support from their loved ones.

Is Historical Trauma the Same as Generational Trauma?

Historical trauma is related to a specific group of people, not necessarily a specific family. However, the family unit may feel the impact of historical trauma because of their culture, race, or ethnicity. Historical trauma and generational trauma are not the same, but they may be connected due to underlying issues.

Historical trauma, like generational trauma, can affect your psychological and physical health. It spreads through generations of families and can feel as if it is directly related to the current generation. This means that one can feel the effects of trauma from years past as if it happened as recently as yesterday. This is important to understand as this trauma, and its impact are very real to those suffering from it. Historical trauma, like generational trauma, is multigenerational.

Historical trauma may bring on feelings of unresolved guilt and anger for events that occurred. In addition, feelings of anger, hatred, and aggression may all be present. While generational trauma can occur in any family, groups who commonly feel historical trauma may be families connected with the Holocaust, American Indians, and people of color, to name a few.

How Do You Release Generational or Historical Trauma?

Once you’ve acknowledged the trauma and the need to work through it, you might be curious about the next steps. Breaking the cycle of trauma takes time, care, and patience. Depending on where you are in the line, you may be a parent not wanting to continue old habits or a teen seeing what has happened and not wanting to repeat it. However, there are certain steps you can take towards healing.

  • Talk to your parents about what they’ve been through and how they got through it. This works if you are the child or the parent.
  • Notice if you have ingrained patterns, attitudes, or stories from your family.
  • Talk about these things with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
  • Work on a plan to work through the issues.
  • Be patient with yourself and be patient with your family.
  • Try to understand and care about your family and the hard times they went through.
  • Embrace the positives that came from the trauma. Find the silver lining. Learn from the past in order to do better for the future.
  • Create a new story about your family, yourself, and the world you want your children to live in.

Trauma of any kind is rarely easy to work through. Knowing when you need help and where to turn is essential. Admitting you need help is a significant first step, as we all need help at some point. The important thing is to allow you and your family the grace needed to chart a fresh course. Healthy intentions and open dialogue can change the future for the better.