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Family Mental Health: Understanding Generational Trauma

Trauma, unfortunately, affects everyone in some way throughout their lives. Generational trauma has been a hot topic recently with phrases such as “generational curse” being used. People are beginning to make connections between their traumatic experiences and the root of these experiences. And just like family heirlooms, stories, and outlooks on life get passed down, so can trauma.

But what exactly is generational trauma? Generational trauma is unhealed adverse life experiences that are passed down from generation to generation, oftentimes in unspoken ways. Family members exhibit similar emotional and behavioral patterns to the relative or ancestor that directly experienced the traumatic event. One of the most profound instances of generational trauma is the enslavement of African people and the systematic oppression thereafter. Those traumatic events and responses were passed down from generation to generation and affect how someone navigates the world today.

Anyone whose relative experienced a traumatic event can be affected by generational trauma. However, individuals from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities encounter generational trauma at higher rates than the majority population. This is due to the historical trauma that marginalized groups experienced. This includes, but is not limited to descendants of slavery, the Vietnam War, the genocide of Native Americans, and conflicts in the Middle East. Historical trauma goes hand-in-hand with generational trauma as it is sometimes the root of one’s trauma.

There are many ways that trauma can get passed on. Most notably, it can be transmitted in utero, through narratives, cultural patterns, or through the stress of living with someone reliving their trauma. Some experts also believe that trauma gets passed on when parents use their children as a “container” for their pain. Multiple methods can exist simultaneously and impact the way families interact with each other. Some families become emotionally closer, while other families grow apart. This includes disconnection, neglect, minimization of a child’s own trauma compared to the parent’s trauma, estrangement, neglect, and in extreme cases, abuse and violence.

All of these maladaptive familial traits can negatively affect individual family members. Individuals can develop psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or shame/guilt. They can also develop physical problems such as heart disease, chronic pain, diabetes, or poor sleeping patterns. Evidently, moving through life without fully healing from the original traumatic event influences a larger scale of people to develop mental and physical health issues.

Though it may be difficult for your relatives to heal from the trauma, you can still cope and break the cycle in your family. Here are three ways methods to begin healing from generational trauma:

1. Practice mindfulness:

Use methods such as meditation, yoga, reflective journaling, taking a walk, or simply just acknowledging your current emotions.

2. Have a deep conversation with your relatives:

Talk about how the trauma manifests for you, learn about how the trauma manifests for them, create a non-judgmental dialogue and build empathy for one another.

3. Seek therapy:

Talk to a non-judgmental third party to gain more insight into the roots of your trauma. There are many types of trauma-focused psychotherapies that can be effective for you to process generational trauma.

Wellness Tree Counseling Services uses a trauma informed approach when providing therapy to our clients. If you are looking to seek support to heal from traumatic events in your life, remember HEALING IS WITHIN REACH. Request a FREE phone consultation TODAY and allow one of our therapists to support you on your journey to wellness.


Llopiz, S. (2022, April 11). Intergenerational trauma: Be the one who breaks the cycle. Mental Health Association in Delaware. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from

Ryder, G. (2022, April 15). Intergenerational trauma: How it affects families. Psych Central. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from


About the Writer...

Emily Hodgson is a first-generation Latinx student at NYU pursuing her M.A. in Mental Health Counseling with an Advanced Certificate in LGBT Health, Education, and Social Services at NYU. As a Clinical Intern, she hopes to change the narrative and reduce the mental health stigma in the Latinx community. She strives to develop a trusting, collaborative, and empowering counseling relationship through a warm, patient and empathetic atmosphere.

Our mission at Wellness Tree Counseling Services is to promote wellness through a culturally sensitive lens so that individuals, families and communities are encouraged to rise to their full potential and engage life in meaningful ways. To learn more about our services, please visit


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