Intergenerational Trauma: Acting Before Reacting

When you talk about intergenerational trauma, first you have to define what trauma is. In my first year of my master’s degree, Dr. S asked, “What’s trauma?” It may come as a surprise, but no one could answer. We mentioned the symptoms, the effects, and how it is formed, but no one knew what its definition is. Trauma is when someone feels extremely helpless to protect himself/herself, activating their survival mode (Fromm, 2011). As a result, people store these traumatic memories in their brains and use them as filters to navigate their experiences.

However, it doesn’t end here. Trauma can invisibly transfer via the environment and/or genes, to the next generation (Isobel, Goodyear, Furness, & Foster, 2019). According to epigenetic studies, trauma acts as an external factor that modifies the way our cells translate genes, influencing our behavior (Issa, & Just, 2011). For instance, if a mother is traumatized, her behavior may alter how she treats her children, and/or the behavioral traits of the child, inherited from the mother can transform the child into being less resilient.

Acting like a virus, trauma is increasingly gaining tremendous power. Ironically enough, people are the ones who fester this virus by acting as if it never happened. Just think of the children whose parents were traumatized, vividly narrating stories of what their experience was. It gets more solidified when the magnitude of the trauma is national, racial, and/or global.

The children’s assumptions become verified by the history classes in school and their environment. As a result, they develop a filter of attention where she/he collects the parts where their family was unfairly treated. By the end of their adolescence, they have already collected the pieces of a puzzle illustrating depression, sadness, guilt; and negative feelings culled from something they never actively experienced. What’s the result of it? Cultivating a society of the young generation where we teach them how to fight ghosts. What are some possible consequences? Having these youngsters consume their energy to be resentful of something they cannot change, creates a vicious cycle and has no manual to break it (Connolly, 2011).

Doubtlessly, the year 2020 forced us to adapt to unprecedented living conditions and surfaced turbulence of events that have been brewing for a while. Do not underestimate the trauma that has been caused by comparing yourself to the worst. We’re living in an era where there is accessible information to examine past consequences and track the formation of intergenerational trauma. We should actively use history as a reference to learn from it, instead of passively reacting to its residual effects. Be brave enough to be active and ask for help. 


Connolly, A. (2011). Healing the wounds of our fathers: Intergenerational trauma, memory, symbolization, and narrative. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 56(5).

Fromm, G. (2011). Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations. London: Routledge. Retrieved from

Issa, J. P., & Just, W. (2011). Epigenetics. Febs Letters, 585(13), 1993–1993.

Isobel, S., Goodyear, M., Furness, T., & Foster, K. (2019). Preventing intergenerational trauma transmission: A critical interpretive synthesis. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 28(7-8), 1100-1113. doi:10.1111/jocn.14735