Generational trauma refers to the emotional and psychological scars that are passed down from one generation to the next. Generational trauma is the trauma that is experienced by individuals within a family or a community and is often related to a historical event or series of events that have left a devastating and lasting impact on the lives of those involved. This trauma, experienced by members of the family or community, then gets passed down by generation. Generational trauma is simply the harmful effects of historical mistreatment or abuse, and the symptoms then get past down generationally. Generational trauma can manifest in many different ways, including depression, anxiety, addiction or substance misuse, and physical health problems. However, there is hope for healing generational trauma, and there are ways to break the cycle of trauma and promote resilience and well-being.

Examples of Generational Trauma and Consequences

Generational trauma is passed down from one generation to the next when families, groups, or communities survive or witness trauma and ultimately do not resolve their pain and the impact that trauma has had on them. Due to the nature of substances, which are highly effective at numbing pain or being used in the avoidance of psychological pain, addiction almost always becomes interwoven into the fabric of a family, group, or communities impacted by generational trauma. Individuals contained within that system that experience generational trauma will often turn to drugs and alcohol since they find no other outlet to manage or overcome the pain of the trauma. And just as generational trauma is passed down from one generation to another, so can addiction begin to be passed down generation to generation. This is why healing generational trauma is so important for the future health of yourself and family.

Some examples of generational trauma are:

  • Sexual abuse, where a parent or individual who abused their child may have also been abused
  • Spousal abuse, where a spouse who witnessed his parent be abused becomes abusive
  • Physical abuse, where an individual who was physically abused becomes the abuser
  • African Americans impacted by slavery
  • Native Americans and Indigenous peoples impacted by slavery, forced relocation, loss of land, spiritual practices, language and overall culture
  • Jewish people impacted by the Holocaust
  • People from Rwanda, Bosnia, Armenia, and Darfur who experienced genocides
  • Japanese Americans with ties to Japanese internment during World War II

The above are just some examples. Some examples of the impact of generational trauma can include:

  • Minimization
  • Denial
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Addiction, Substance Use Disorders, Alcoholism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Eating Disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of trust or difficulty trusting others
  • Irritability
  • Anger and anger management issues
  • Insomnia

Historical Trauma and Generational Trauma

Historical trauma is a term used to describe the traumatic experiences that have been inflicted on a particular group of people throughout history. This trauma can result from major historical events such as genocide, war, slavery, and colonization, and it can have a profound impact on the psychological well-being of the individuals who have been affected by it or experienced it. Historical trauma can also be transmitted from one generation to the next, as the trauma becomes integrated into the psyche of the community and becomes part of the collective memory of the group.

The trauma experienced by Indigenous people as a result of colonization and forced removal from their ancestral lands is a very good example of historical trauma. This trauma had a profound impact on the physical and mental health of Indigenous people, as that collective trauma has been passed down generation by generation ever since. This historical trauma has led to high rates of addiction and alcoholism, depression, and suicide within Indigenous communities, as well as ongoing physical health problems. These issues are often related to the intergenerational transmission of trauma and the community’s loss of cultural identity and connection to their native lands.

The Transmission of Trauma

Trauma can be transmitted from one generation to the next generation in a number of different ways. One of the most common ways that trauma is transmitted generation to generation is through parenting practices. Parents who have experienced trauma themselves will often have difficulty regulating their emotions and may be more likely to engage in negative parenting practices that continue to their children the trauma they experienced as children themselves. Some examples of this are emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. These parenting practices will then often have a negative impact on the psychological well-being of children, and can lead to the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next.

Another way that trauma is often transmitted is through the family or community stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Family stories about traumatic events can have a profound impact on the psychological well-being of individuals or children, especially if those stories are told in a way that emphasizes the negative aspects of the event or events. Those stories can create a sense of hopelessness and despair, and can contribute to the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next.

Healing Generational Trauma

Healing generational trauma is a complex and ongoing process that requires a multi-faceted approach and ongoing therapy and support. One aspect of healing from generational trauma is to address the psychological and emotional needs of individuals who have experienced the trauma. This most often involves individuals engaging in therapy, counseling, or other mental health services to help them process their traumatic experiences and develop healthier coping strategies.

Another important aspect of healing generational trauma is to promote resilience and well-being within impacted individuals and communities. This often involves providing access to education, working to break any stigma associated with the trauma or the impact or behaviors caused by the trauma, as well as other resources like job or vocational training and addressing better ways to communicate. These resources help individuals within the community build the necessary skills and knowledge they need to lead better, healthier, and productive lives. It may also involve promoting safety, cultural identity, and a stronger connection to their history and the positive pieces of history, as these are vital sources of resiliency, strength, and emotional well-being.

Healing from generation trauma also requires a willingness to acknowledge, face, and address the historical and systemic factors that have contributed to the trauma in the first place. This will often involve engaging in  forms of advocacy and activism to help address current issues that may exist, such as discrimination, poverty, and inequality. This can help individuals and communities address the historical trauma, while also helping to take steps to address ongoing issues within the community that can continue to contribute to or transmit trauma. These types of actions help individuals and communities take power back and contributed positively to their current community.

Identifying, addressing, and owning historical trauma helps individuals and communities persevere, build resilience, and create open and loving communication between generations. By doing so, communities and loosen the grip that generational trauma has upon them, their family, and their communities, and place them in a position to work through the pain, hurt or abuse from the past, to heal and create a better future.

Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Addiction Treatment

An important aspect of addiction treatment is not just treating trauma, but honing in on and healing generational trauma. If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual-diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Contact us at (866) 929-4318 or email our team at