healing generational trauma

What is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma (or intergenerational trauma) refers to the emotional, psychological, and cultural wounds that are passed down from one generation to the next, often as a result of historical events, cultural suppression, or family dynamics (Dekel and Goldblatt, 2008; Sangalang and Vang, 2017; American Psychological Association, 2023). This type of trauma, believed to be transmitted epigenetically, can affect individuals, families, and communities – perpetuating cycles of suffering and disadvantage for years to come (American Psychological Association, 2023; DeAngelis, 2019).

Relationship skills, personal behavior, and attitudes/beliefs of the traumatized group serve as the mechanisms for intergenerational trauma to affect future generations. Trauma reactions across generations vary but commonly include shame, elevated anxiety, guilt, depression, helplessness, low self-esteem, depression, substance use, suicidality, difficulty with relationships and attachment, aggression, and extreme reactivity to stress (American Psychological Association, 2023).

How trauma is passed down through generations?

Recent studies have shown that trauma can leave a mark not only on those who directly experience it but also on future generations. Trauma can be passed down by genetic adaptations, memory, cultural messages and conditioning, dominant family wounding, in utero, (micro)aggressions, normalization of hatred, cruelty, and dehumanization toward others, cultural norms, and others (Ryder and White, 2020). A parent’s communication of the traumatic event(s) and general family dynamics play a key role in the transmission of trauma (American Psychological Association, 2023; DeAngelis, 2019).

How Does General Trauma Manifest?

Recognizing the signs of generational trauma is the first step towards healing. These signs can vary widely but often include patterns of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships. Many individuals may not even be aware that their challenges stem from the traumas experienced by their ancestors, making awareness and education on this topic vital:

  • Cultural disconnection:
    Loss of traditional practices, language, and identity.
  • Historical grief:
    Unresolved collective sorrow from past events.
  • Epigenetic changes:
    Biological changes passed down through DNA.
  • Family dynamics:
    Dysfunctional patterns repeated across generations.
  • Community disintegration:
    Breakdown of social structures and support networks.
  • Chronic stress:
    Ongoing anxiety and fear perpetuated through generations.
  • Mental health issues:
    Increased risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
  • Collective memory:
    Shared experiences and stories that shape group identity.
  • Lack of resilience:
    Difficulty coping with adversity due to historical trauma.
  • Systemic inequality:
    Ongoing discrimination and marginalization.

(Smallwood, et al., 2020; Ryder and White, 2020; Franco, 2021)

approach to treating generational trauma

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Trauma

There are many ways to treat and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, including:

  • Cultural revitalization and reclamation.
  • Community-based support and programs.
  • Traditional healing practices, if applicable.
  • Mental health services to work through the trauma and have emotionally corrective experiences
  • Education and awareness of how trauma can affect biology, cognition, and human behavior
  • Policy changes to address systemic barriers to healing
  • Intergenerational dialogue and storytelling.
  • Collective grieving and memorialization.
  • Fostering resilience and post-traumatic growth.

Understanding the concept of generational trauma and recognizing its signs can empower individuals to seek help and support others. If you’re interested in confronting and healing intergenerational trauma, you should consider seeking professional counseling. PCI’s clinicians help can provide you with the tools to understand your trauma, develop coping strategies, and begin the healing process. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and family therapy have shown effectiveness in treating trauma. PCI offers both individual and family sessions to explore and deal with trauma in the family system. We also offer a free Family Education Night for the family and friends of client to ask questions to our clinical and medical directors, select Tuesdays at 7:00 pm. These meetings offer support and belonging for those to share experiences and healing strategies.


1. American Psychological Association. (2023, November 15). Intergenerational Trauma. APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/intergenerational-trauma

2. DeAngelis, T. (2019). The legacy of trauma. The Legacy of Trauma: An Emerging Line of Research Is Exploring How Historical and Cultural Traumas Affect Survivors’ Children for Generations to Come, 50(2).

3. Franco, F. (2021, January 8). Understanding intergenerational trauma: An introduction for clinicians. GoodTherapy Blog. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/Understanding_Intergenerational_Trauma

4. Rachel Dekel, & Goldblatt, H. (2008). Is there intergenerational transmission of trauma? The case of combat veterans’ children. Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(3), 281-9.

5. Sangalang, C. C., & Vang, C. (2016). Intergenerational trauma in refugee families: A systematic review. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 19(3), 745–754.

6. Smallwood, R., Woods, C., Power, T., & Usher, K. (2020). Understanding the impact of historical trauma due to colonization on the health and well-being of Indigenous Young Peoples: A systematic scoping review. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 32(1), 59–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043659620935955

7. Ryder, G. & White, T. (2022, April 15). How intergenerational trauma affects families. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-intergenerational-trauma-impacts-families#how-its-passed-down