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  • Amelia Gillis, LMHC

The Flow of Trauma


Amber, is a 26 year old African American, who has taken notice that she has always been distrustful of others. She has tried to build friendships with others but couldn't understand why she could never trust who they wanted to be in her life. This caused her symptoms of anxiety, hypervigilance, and panic attacks when ever she would be around others.


Amber began therapy because she believed she was the problem. After a few sessions of exploring her therapist begin to understand how the roots of her distrust had nothing to do with Amber directly but how the impact of her mother's trauma of being raped and racially targted impacted Amber's mothers thoughts on she should parent Amber. This abuse and racial impact was also evident in Amber's grandmother. The impact of the trauma was never addressed and therefore shaped a generational pattern of personality and beliefs about trust. Amber was indirectly impacted by generational trauma.


Indirectly Set Up

Many times we are presented with a problem that we don't know is a problem.

To dig further, we sometimes live with a problem that we aren't aware is there.

We may become triggered and not know the root of the trigger. This is what happens many times beyond an individual's awareness. Each family may be presented with a condition, habit, or addiction that travels through out the bloodline of that family.


The Flow of Trauma

Many things get passed down through families, like birthright, genetic conditions, and physical characteristics. In many cases, trauma can be inherited, too.


Generational trauma is a traumatic event that began decades prior to the current generation and has impacted the way that individuals understand, cope with, and heal from trauma.


Generational trauma is trauma that isn’t just experienced by one person but extends from one generation to the next. It is quite often hidden, perptual, and undefined. It is inadvertently taught or implied throughout someone's life starting at an early age.

This can begin to shape patterns in an individual life and cause them to be confused as to why they have unhealthy patterns of thoughts and behaviors. The reality is that many are unaware therefore it continues to spread like a wild fire from legacy to legacy.


Generational Patterns Look Like

These are some examples of those conditions or problems that become generational trauma.


One family might seem more emotionally numb or have strong hesitancies about discussing their feelings. Another family might perceive discussing feelings as a sign of weakness. Another family might have trust issues with “outsiders” and may always deal with conflictual relationships. It can also show up in unhealthy relationship boundaries and families subconsciously learning unhealthy survival behaviors.


Building Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is about learning how to better understand your own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It is about recognizing why you behave in a particular matter.

Once you begin to understand this then you will have the opportunity and freedom to change things about yourself that will enable you to create a life that you want.


Therefore, it is important to identify the history within your family to determine what problems have been evident within the bloodline and how it has shown up as symptoms within the family structure.


The symptoms of generational trauma may include depression, panic attacks, mistrust, a sense of a shortened future, insomnia, issues with self-esteem and self-confidence, etc. It can also mask itself through learned behaviors, beliefs, and patterns that become engrained in a generation. These symptoms impacts personalities, relationships, parenting, communication, and views of the world.


Breaking the Patterns

With generational trauma, it’s important to learn how to identify the problem that you born into as well the history of your group. Everyone is susceptible to generational trauma. There are also specific populations that are vulnerable due to their histories, such as refugees, domestic violence victims/survivors, those that have experienced substance misuse across generations, enduring repeated and continual abuse, racism, and poverty are all traumatic enough to cause genetic changes.


Although, an individual may not be the cause of the problem they can be the one to break the pattern of generational attachments.


Generational trauma can be resolved with an intense intervention like individual therapy or family therapy. Therapy allows for an individual the opportunity to process and understand thoughts and patterns, as well as find healthy coping mechanisms to support healing and change.