What is Generational Trauma?
Trauma within families doesn’t go away; if unchecked, it passes down to the next generation. As Black people, we have endured countless forms of generational trauma and it’s time to heal. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), intergenerational trauma, also known as generational, historical, multigenerational, and secondary trauma, is expressed when family members who didn’t directly experience a traumatic event are still subject to its effects generations later. Scientists found the tie between genes and generational trauma, epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and environments can affect the way genes work. Scientific studies have shown that parents who’ve experienced trauma can impact not only their child’s DNA but also their behavior.
Find The Root Cause
Finding the root to trauma is essential to understanding how to heal from it. In our case, historical eras like slavery, Jim Crow, The Great Migration, and the Civil Rights Movement represent traumatic experiences we’ve had to face. Especially when considering the context of our grandparents’ experiences, many of them still recall their own traumatic experiences prior to the 21st century. In a medical review by Dr. Dakari Quimby, he found most of their children experienced abandonment, domestic violence, PTSD, and low self esteem as result of their parents trauma. Today, we experience this same trauma but through:
- Financial Insecurity
- Physical touch struggles
- Lack of trust in authority
- Lack basic trust in others
- Over working
- Eating disorders
How many of us remember our mothers infamous lines, “Do you have McDonald’s money?” That’s a perfect example of generational trauma; Never wanting to spend money because, “There’s food at home.” Many of us don’t believe we have trauma but our lifestyle practices suggest otherwise; The way we spend money, take care of our homes, treat our friends, and treat ourselves are all results of trauma. These behaviors stem from our ancestors yet, we still have our own subjective experience with them. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Joy DeGruy with a doctorate in social work research founded the “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome’ Theory and suggests the past still affects our practices, beliefs, and behaviors today.
Finding the source of trauma allows us to bring awareness to the behavior. All is takes is one experience for generational trauma to occur. It’s important to learn how this impacts our lives in order to unlearn it. The sooner we pin a root cause of our trauma, the sooner we can acknowledge it.
How to Heal:
1) Acknowledging Generational Trauma
Acknowledging trauma is by far the most important step to healing. Disregarding our toxic experiences and leaving unaddressed trauma can be detrimental to our well-being as Black people. However, acknowledgement will provide clarity and foster a deeper understanding of our behaviors and struggles. It’s important to understand this does not mean glorifying trauma but instead recognize it’s existence without judgement. Allow different emotions to come and go without dwelling on them. Sometimes we aren’t ready completely resolve our trauma so simple acknowledgment is a big step towards healing. Understanding what we’re feeling can make it easier to recognize unhealthy behavioral patterns and communicate with those around us.
2) Doing the Inner Work
Facing this trauma can be fearful or confusing. Once we’ve acknowledged our trauma, many of us struggle with making sense of it or applying it to our current lives. We flood our minds with thoughts of ‘why’: Why am I like this? Why is my life like this? Why me? During this time, focusing on ourselves allows us to reconnect with our own thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors by confronting trauma we didn’t endure. This could mean finding outlets for stress or creative expression such as:
- Deep Breathing Techniques
- Joining a club or organization
- Reframing negative thoughts
3) Asking for Help
Once we’ve acknowledged our trauma, we can reach out to those around us for support. We understand what we’re facing and now we can seek proper support. This could mean confiding in close friends, family, or even a therapist. Our people have been conditioned into thinking that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s 2023, we have Black therapist now who specialize in generational trauma. There is nothing wrong with admitting struggle and needing help. Unlearning these stigmas about receiving help in the Black community are by far the most difficult, but as equally important.
The path to heal generational trauma is difficult but necessary to ensure trauma from our past doesn’t embrace future generations.