06 Jun

One of the people I have been recently been working with has made significant progress in relation to her own self growth, developing an improved self awareness, and ways of coping.

During her recent interaction with her family, she observed a strong point of difference between her and her family members as if she had outgrown her “old ways of living” with them not quite matching the progress she has managed to achieve over the years. This has come as a surprise to her and we spent some time discussing the ways she has recovered from her mental health adversities; how  she had shifted towards ways fostering greater healing and self awareness; how she broke away from the  transgenerational patterns of trauma binding previous generations of women in her family. The old pattern that had evolved through the generations of women in her family resulted in passing on narratives and self beliefs not conducive to the individual’s growth. It also resulted in repetition of cycles of abuse and substance use, which further compounded the sense of helplessness and stuckness about their lives.

As noted by Dixon (2024), we understand life as a relational experience fostering our learning, sense of self and others that creates a basis for ourselves as human. Transgenerational trauma refers to a type of trauma that does not end with the individual. Instead, it lingers and gnaws through one generation to the next. Families with a history of unresolved trauma, often experience other co-morbidities incl. mental health and addiction, continuing to pass on maladaptive coping strategies and distrustful views of life onto future generations.

It is important to acknowledge that transgenerational trauma isn't something that can be easily pinpointed. It is often covert, undefined, and subtle, surfacing through family patterns and forms of hyper vigilance, mistrust, anxiety, depression, issues with self-esteem, and other negative coping strategies.

What is important to add is that trauma can also have a significant effect on the immune system and may contribute to the generational curse of autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses.

Trauma itself can contribute to other psychosocial factors such as: poverty, compromised parenting, diminished attachment, chronic stress, and unstable living environments, which can directly impact children and their development.

Transgenerational trauma dwells on an atmosphere of secrecy snowballing and compounding in families that do not speak of their traumatic experiences. Instead they keep their secrets undercover continuing to convey them in indirect or maladaptive ways.

How to overcome the debilitating impact of trauma and breaking away from its transgenerational chains?

Talking about difficult life experiences can be challenging but the risk of keeping the stories as secrets may come at a greater cost by keeping the trauma alive and repeating the same maladaptive patterns. Some simple techniques may include:

  • Open up a conversation with your parents about their lived experiences and how they coped .
  • Notice any embedded patterns, attitudes, or narratives from your family that you continue to portray.
  • Talk through these areas with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist and consider an alternative way of coping or communicating.
  • Cultivate a sense of empathy and compassion for your family and the struggles they endured. Despite their flaws, many our ancestors worked hard so that we could have a better life. This, too, should be celebrated and embraced.
  • Recreate a new narrative that you want your children to embody and believe about their family, themselves, and the world


Dixon Elizabeth, Breaking the Chains of Generational Trauma in: Psychology Today cited on 20/05/2024

Other references

1. DeAngelis, Tori. The Legacy of Trauma: An emerging line of research is exploring how historical and cultural traumas affect survivors’ children for generations to come. American Psychological Association. [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2021 July 3]; 50(2). Available from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/02/legacy-trauma

2. Jawaid, Ali. Roszkowski, Martin. Mansuy, Isabelle. Transgenerational Epigenetics of Traumatic Stress. Volume 158. 2018. Pages 273-298. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187711731830053X

Braga, L. L., Mello, M. F., & Fiks, J. P. (2012). Transgenerational transmission of trauma and resilience: a qualitative study with Brazilian offspring of Holocaust survivors. BMC psychiatry, 12, 134. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-12-134

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