Do you think you may have experienced inter-generational trauma in your family?
Do you think it made a lasting impact on your behaviors, perceptions, and level of motivation in life?
If so, you are certainly not alone.
In this article (and webinar), I will be discussing what this looks like and the various ways it negatively impacts your development throughout the lifespan. It doesn’t just stop the moment you become an adult. Inter-generational trauma is a “lifespan” issue.
Having worked with a lot of individuals and families who have experienced inter-generational trauma, I can say that there are a few negative thoughts that tend to rotate in the minds of these individuals.
Inter-generational trauma is a difficult term to define and due to a lack of research in this area, most experts and laypeople define inter-generational trauma differently. For the purposes of our discussion here, I am defining inter-generational trauma as:
psychological/emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and/or cultural trauma that began years prior to your current generation and was never appropriately dealt with.
This could include a family lineage of sexual abuse and secrecy or generations of child sexual abuse victims within the Catholic Church. Inter-generational trauma negatively impacts your mind which starts with negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is often involved in rumination or obsessive thinking. Some of the most unhelpful thoughts engaged in by individuals in families with inter-generational include but are not limited to the following:
- “What’s the point in trying?…” Learned helplessness is the idea that you “learn” to be helpless and you give up because there is no reason to push forward in life. Individuals who struggle with depression often feel this learned helplessness which evolves into rumination (obsessive thought patterns that are negative), low motivation, and low self-esteem.
- “No one ever made it so why should I try?” Most of us look to the adults that went before us to find inspiration and motivation to strive toward positive things in life. Some people, however, have experienced such hardship as a child that they have decided to push forward no matter what. But most people struggle with this and decide to give it. You “resolve it within yourself” that you will have to be content with where you are in life.
- “Why can’t I just have a break in life?” This is something I think we all have said at some point in our lives. This statement is typically made when we realize life doesn’t go as we would like it to. Coming to this realization is healthy. But if we hold on too long to this attitude we may find that we are never accepting of our reality and tend to take the “victim” attitude/role.
- “Despite my trauma history, I’m going to make the best of it!” There are some individuals who will become overly positive in life in order to cope but this positivity is unnatural. It can also be unhealthy. Sometimes an overly positive attitude can lead to impulsive and angry reactions small annoyances in life. Pinned up anger and resentment that is not being expressed is likely to come out somewhere. It’s certainly okay to forgive and move forward in faith, but trying to force your emotions to be “positive” can backfire.
- “Nothing hurts me. I’m strong. I don’t cry.” Never allowing yourself to cry is like trying to stop a water fountain from flowing. It’s unnatural and eventually, you are likely to “explode” with emotions. Fear, pinned up anger, resentment, jealousy/envy, internalized pain or hurt, etc. needs to be expressed in a healthy fashion. Hiding these emotions will backfire.
- “I don’t see any problem with what they are doing. Everyone for themselves.” This kind of attitude is often representative of individuals who don’t feel they have the right to judge or make statements that are objective about the behaviors of others. While I agree none of us should judge each other, it’s okay to have an opinion or a perspective about others around you. That’s normal. But in a complicated family dynamic, you may have been told to “shut up and go along.” This is unhealthy.
- “I don’t react because I learned a long time ago this always turns out bad.” This kind of attitude is an attitude I have seen among many of my young clients who have been severely abused and neglected by close relatives. They are too afraid to say anything or react to anything. They are literally “frozen” in their lives because of all of the negative reactions they have observed in people close to them. The best way to avoid negative reactions is to avoid saying anything.
I talk further about these concepts in my most recent webinar with PsychCentral below:
As always, I wish you all the best.