The idea of trauma being cyclical is not new. In fact, it’s an idea that’s been around for almost as long the study of psychology, itself. Rarely, does a trauma present itself without reason. There is always a root cause responsible for the mental and emotional turmoil that is felt in the present. Transgenerational trauma is an umbrella term that addresses this concept as a whole. It’s the idea that – unless the cycle is broken – behaviours and symptoms will be passed on to the next generation in the family lineage – the victim becoming the abuser who in turn creates yet more victims out of their offspring.
One of the biggest challenges in addressing these generational traumas is that they can be held tightly within the inner sanctum of the family unit – quite often for decades. This can be for a multitude of reasons. It could be that the behaviours have been so normalised that no correlation is made between adverse mental and emotional difficulties and inter-family relations. What may seem traumatic for the unattached observer may be experiencer’s idea of normal, as it is all they’ve ever known. But it could also be that the trauma is of such a sensitive nature that it doesn’t bear talking about in the open. Sexual abuse is one such instance which can bring up a lot of shame that prevents people from seeking outside assistance.
This situation also isn’t helped by a seemingly indifferent attitude of many trained professionals who deal with such cases of trauma-based mental health problems. A recent article by the Independent showed that of 4 systemic trauma-based studies an average of only 0-22% of psychiatric patients were asked a previous history with trauma.
This statistic is as alarming as it is surprising. The first line of inquiry any Therapist would be inclined to explore is to dig down to the root cause of why their client might have arrived at the place they’re at, now. From there, it becomes a lot easier to offer an effective treatment plan that will create will long-lasting and change – and not simply provide the psychological equivalent of a bandage to cover up old wounds.
The issues that can be passed on in this manner of projection and mirrored behaviour aren’t limited to a select grouping of the more unthinkable types of negative behavioural patterns – trauma comes in many guises and is quite often only recognised with the benefit of hindsight. Some of these issues can include:
Negative Styles of Parenting
Substance Abuse Issues
Issues of Emotional Attachment (Adult Absenteeism)
Personality and Moods Disorders
These are just a few examples, and as mentioned above, transgenerational trauma can be difficult to identify due to the idea of what constitutes trauma in the mind of the experiencer. For every person you ask, you’re likely to receive a different response on what trauma means to them. It is very much a subjective line of thought, and if the right – or wrong questions – were asked of someone, it might create the idea within them that they were traumatised when this isn’t, in fact, the case.
But how do you recognise this yourself?
At its heart, transgenerational trauma is a cyclical passing of behaviours from one generation to the generation, which undermines a person’s ability to have successful inter-personal relation and maintain good mental and emotional health. Look inwards towards yourself. Have you found you now exhibit some of the same patterns and behaviours that you once used to view as a negative quality in parents? Are you beginning to share some of the same world-limiting views?