What is intergenerational trauma?
Intergenerational trauma refers to the trauma experienced by one generation getting passed on to the next generation, affecting their emotional, social and physical well-being.
How is it possible for last generation trauma to be passed on?
In Danieli’s work (Danieli et al., 2015a), she wrote about the adaptive styles of survivors of Holocaust which includes the “victim” style which has difficulty moving on from the trauma and presents with emotion volatility and overprotectiveness; the “numb” style which is emotionally detached and intolerant of any weakness, happiness or catastrophe and the “fighter” style which put a lot of value on justice and preserving their Jewish identity.
Among the different adaptive styles, children of those parents with “victim” adaptive styles seemed to compensate the most to help to repair the worlds of their parents. The children of the “victim” style parents learned to make up for the insecurity in their parents’ world by doing the exact same things that their parents engaged in-by trying to always be “right” and in control, striving to achieve success yet being mindful to not outshine the parents. The children could not establish an emotional and social world independent of their parents as it would mean deserting their vulnerable parents behind (Danieli, 1985). These children grew up both insecure about the world around them as well as their own competence against the world (Danieli et al., 2015b).
For children of the parents with “numb” adaptive styles, they learned to take care of their parents’ emotional needs by also “numbing” themselves- to not express any emotions so as not to trigger their parents. They grew up isolated, alone and rarely felt they were of importance (Danieli, 1985).
The application to present and hope for the future
Intergeneration trauma is not only limited to massive historical events that threatens survival and safety. It is also applicable to wider sociocultural factors like poverty, racism, gender inequality that can have its effects trickling down to an individual in different forms that would still threaten the safety and survival of an individual, making them develop different adaptive styles.
It is with hope that with greater awareness of our own history and trauma that we brought from the past generation, we can heal in this generation and put a stop to this legacy.
Danieli, Y. (1985). The treatment and prevention of long-term effects and intergenerational transmission of victimization: A lesson from Holocaust survivors and their children. Trauma and its wake, 1, 295-313.
Danieli, Y., Norris, F. H., Lindert, J., Paisner, V., Engdahl, B., & Richter, J. (2015a). The Danieli Inventory of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, Part I: Survivors’ posttrauma adaptational styles in their children’s eyes. Journal of psychiatric research, 68, 167-175.
Danieli, Y., Norris, F. H., Lindert, J., Paisner, V., Kronenberg, S., Engdahl, B., & Richter, J. (2015b). The Danieli Inventory of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, Part II: Reparative Adaptational Impacts. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(3), 229.