A famous Burmese proverb says, “In times of test, family is best.” We have always been taught that family is a bond like no other, passing down thousands of genes that make us look alike and feel a natural affinity with one another.
However, sometimes, our families are plagued by trauma stemming from “traditional” behaviors and beliefs. This is called generational trauma and is something that has been happening for centuries.
But what exactly is generational trauma?
Generational trauma “is a traumatic event that began decades before the current generation and has impacted the way that individuals understand, cope with, and heal from trauma.”
For example, your grandparents may have undergone extreme poverty, political unrest, a World War, or domestic violence. These events changed them forever and inevitably left a mark in your family tree as they were preoccupied with survival and thus never coped.
As a result, your grandparents’ unresolved trauma was passed on to your parents, who had to deal with things such as untreated mental illness, alcoholism, and abuse. Enter the current generation, and we are left with the effects of neglectful parents, mental illness, or abuse, to name a few.
Trauma can leave a mark on people’s genes
A 2015 research study on the children of Holocaust survivors found that “they had epigenetic changes to a gene linked to their levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in the stress response.” This shows that the consequences of such a traumatic event affected previous generations to such an extent that the effects are still being seen many years later.
Does this mean that historical events that happened nearly a century ago and the choices of your ancestors have sealed your fate?
It can be challenging to break the cycle, as it entails a difficult healing journey that can often estrange you from your family.
However, there is hope
With the right help and resources, you can slowly start to take control of your own destiny and, thus, that of your children, grandchildren, and so forth.
Actively go to therapy. Talking about your trauma with a trained professional can help you navigate through all your pain and identify problematic behaviors. This can also help you come to terms with the past and teach you not to allow previous experiences to affect your present and future.
Talk to your family. Have an open conversation with them about their past experiences and how they coped.
Recognize any negative patterns or behaviors and explain how they could still affect them and how they caused them to affect you as well. Of course, if your family is not willing to accept it and continue with toxic behaviors, it is okay to set boundaries.
Remember, it can end with you.