Intergenerational Trauma

In honor of Memorial Day weekend I thought I’d dedicate this post to the subject of intergenerational trauma. Frequently when the topic of trauma comes up so much of the thinking and language revolves around the victim of that experience. While that person certainly needs intensive therapeutic services, one thing that is starting to gain more attention in the field of clinical psychology is how one person’s trauma can also affect those around them – their parents, siblings, spouses, children, etc. In this way the trauma spreads like a psychological cancer to their immediate families, communities, and generations to come.

Intergenerational trauma is, in short, the phenomenon of when one traumatic event that happens to one individual goes on to affect future generations to come. Serving in combat, for example, is not only acutely traumatizing to the soldier, but because that person is by nature a social creature the trauma then has the likelihood to affect those in relation to that person in very concrete ways. If left untreated, this painful experience can then affect the traumatized person’s children, which can then affect that person’s children, and so on because these experiences and symptoms go on to affect how each member of that lineage shows up in the world.

In the following video clip, for example, Patrick Stewart describes how his father’s time facing combat went on to directly affect the rest of his family in a number of painfully profound ways.

Whether or not you know someone that has served in the armed forces or not, do your community a favor and take a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the spouses and partners that have had to endure what Mr. Stewart’s mother had to endure; take a moment to acknowledge the children that may never have their mother or father back to their old selves; take a moment to acknowledge that one person’s hurt is our own hurt whether we know it or not. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to heal. Happy Memorial Day.

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