Generational Trauma: A Threat to the Future of Mental HealthMay 01, 2023
Mental health struggles have long been a cause of concern for people of all ages, but younger generations in particular. Now more than ever, young people are at high risk of developing mental illness, with data from 2022 demonstrating that one in every eight people worldwide live with one.
Anyone who can relate to that will understand how debilitating it can be to live with poor mental health, feeling worried, stressed, panicked, tired, and overlooked. These feelings are all amplified by mental health disorders and it can sometimes feel like there is no way out.
Depression and anxiety are two of the leading mental health disorders to impact young people, often brought on by high levels of stress due to school, social responsibilities, and the pressures of growing up and developing an identity.
However, there is one threat to the future of mental health that is often overlooked: generational trauma. And the longer it goes unnoticed, the more dangerous generational trauma becomes to each subsequent generation born.
Learning about how trauma impacts the psyche benefits us all and will help you to reconcile yourself with your own traumas and start moving towards overcoming them.
What Is Generational Trauma?
Also called intergenerational trauma' or transgenerational trauma', generational trauma is the transmission of emotional and psychological stressors from one generation to the next. These stressors are caused by traumatic experiences that were not resolved at the time, thus allowing them to impact successive generations second-hand.
The concept of generational trauma was generated in the 1960s by Trauma Studies scholarship in response to the horrific long-term impacts of trauma caused by the Holocaust. Research pioneered by Vivian Rakoff found that the children of Holocaust survivors were psychologically traumatized by the horrors that their parents were forced to live through, especially when compared to children whose parents had not experienced genocide.
Research on generational trauma has expanded since then, maintaining a strong focus on how it compromises the mental health of generations who may not even have been born when the original traumatic event took place. Some theories argue that trauma can be passed down genetically, though there is not enough evidence to prove this yet.
The psychological transmission of trauma is better studied, with dysfunctional familial situations, the sharing of traumatic stories, and an obsession with family histories all contributing to the impacted mental health of future generations. The original traumatic event acts as the catalyst for a cycle of trauma that spans generations. The mental health of older family members, particularly parents, alters how children emotionally and socially develop, so any negative experiences have the potential to deteriorate their mental health as they grow up.
What Are The Effects of Generational Trauma?
Generational trauma challenges everyone within a family or community when there is no way for the traumatized individual or group to heal from what happened to them. The future of mental health is threatened by anything that makes it difficult to psychologically or emotionally heal yourself, and the longer generational trauma continues, the harder it becomes to face. The effects of generational trauma are vaster than you might think, and they can manifest in many different behaviors.
Familial relationships are crucial to a child's development, so dysfunctional family settings are a breeding ground for mental health disorders. Struggling to connect with your parents directly correlates with difficulty developing relationships as an adult. It is also harder for older generations to provide emotional comfort and support to younger generations if they themselves are struggling with trauma.
Generational traumas are tricky for younger generations to understand because they themselves were not present at the time of the initial traumatic event. As a result, it's easy to become angry and frustrated due to feeling impacted by trauma that they are physically detached from. Some individuals with poor mental health retreat into themselves, but others react angrily and take their emotions out on other people.
Feelings of Hopelessness
When you are grieving a significant trauma, everything can feel bleak. Depression is particularly insidious when it comes to promoting hopelessness because it causes a persistent low mood, causing depressed people to despair. The chance of suicide is higher in people with depression because they feel hopeless and alone, unable to see a better future.
Low self-esteem is one of the most common effects of poor mental health, and it can also manifest as a result of generational trauma. When people become preoccupied with traumas that they struggle to connect with due to not being there at the time, they often forget to care for and love themselves. They might never feel good enough and suffer with negative thoughts.
Panic attacks are unfortunately high in individuals suffering from generational trauma because of how worried it can make you. Anybody could pose a potential threat, especially if the traumatic event was large-scale, so it becomes easier to mistrust other people than to develop meaningful relationships and risk getting hurt.
Development of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the leading mental health disorders brought on by generational trauma. The symptoms of PTSD can develop in a unique way in future generations because, despite not being present, they absorb all the stressors passed down psychologically by their predecessors.
The first step towards gaining help for poor mental health is to ask for it. Traumatized individuals often struggle to put their pain into words because it is so difficult and upsetting to think about and because they fear being judged. As a result, they may feel like there is no point in trying to get help at all and continue to live with their trauma, which can cause it to be passed down generationally.
How can generational trauma be addressed?
This is why generational trauma must be addressed. Talking is the first step, and it is an unbelievably freeing one. Being able to openly share your pain and have someone listen helps demonstrate that your feelings are valid. This is especially important for cases of generational trauma because so many generations have struggled with and ultimately not been able to heal from that initial trauma.
Talking to other people who have also been affected by the same trauma can help develop a sense of mutual understanding and support. Talking to a therapist is also highly recommended because therapy provides a safe environment free from judgment where you can get to know yourself and work with a professional to find solutions to your problems.
Some people also find it beneficial to share their stories further, such as on public forums or in other media. This helps raise awareness and inspire others to come forward and address their own traumas. My podcast It's Your Story to Tell was developed to be part of the solution, offering a platform for trauma transformation with a core focus on personal development.
Traumatic pasts impact our ability to live prosperous futures. They also destroy the mental health of multiple generations because of the emotions and memories that they pass down. A lack of resources available is one reason why people hesitate to reach out for help, but I have developed a coaching practice and trauma transformation community to provide these resources and help people take that first step toward reclaiming their own lives.
What is the future of mental health with generational trauma?
Nobody can 100% anticipate the future of mental health because it is so unpredictable, but there are things that everybody can do to improve the situation in relation to generational trauma. Even those who don't suffer from generational trauma can help by listening to the stories of those who do and maintaining a safe and supportive platform for them.
Greater awareness and more open discussions of mental health, particularly for young people, are doing so much to destigmatize trauma in our current society, and we must continue to move down this path. Patience is also key because everyone is different. Some people are burdened with trauma their entire lives, whereas others may go years or even decades without truly realizing how much trauma has impacted them.
To improve the future, we must first address the present. Coaching and therapy are two of the most recommended ways to seek help for trauma, but self-care and support groups are just as valid. Everybody heals in their own way and at their own pace, and no journey is less valid than any other. It's essential that we, as a society, seek to eradicate the feelings of shame or embarrassment that have plagued mental health discussions for far too long.
A future where mental health is less debilitating, less ignored, and less deadly is one that we should all strive for. We have the opportunity to make things better for future generations and transform the societies that they will live in. To do this, we must start with ourselves. It's time to reclaim your life and break free from the hold that generational trauma has over you.
There is a purpose after pain and a life after trauma. Let trauma transformation coaching guide you to discovery using the power of curiosity, community, and connection.
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