Transgenerational trauma is the notion of unhealed issues of prior generations being expressed in current generations. In some cases these unhealed issues can continue for thousand of years. As an example on the communal level, when then President George W. Bush talked about a “crusade” against terrorism, these words opened a huge wound in Arab countries from the crusades of long ago.
Transgenerational trauma often shows itself in repeated patterns (stories) of personal healing issues in each generation. This pattern of repetition of healing needs from generation to generation is what I call the Ancestor Syndrome. Another way to phrase this is those patterns of history that are not healed and learned from are likely to repeat in future generations. These patterns are transmitted through a wide range of psychological, physical, and spiritual mechanisms. Physically, they may be inherited through a process of epigenetics. Epigenetics may be a contributor in the development of certain types of cancer and why healing past generational issues may be a factor in the healing work of individuals who have been diagnosed with certain cancers. Trauma has been shown to create changes in genetic expression that could be passed on to the next generations.
Psychologically, there are 4 primary mechanisms of multigenerational trauma transmission. These are:
- Silence—the conspiracy of silence (society and individual) helps maintain and exacerbate the effects of trauma. It might be an empathetic response to not stir up the issues, or a parent may react with anxiety, extreme rage, or flashback.
- Over disclosure by adults to children of their past traumas—bearing witness to traumatic experiences can challenge even the most firmly held beliefs that the world is a safe place.
- Identification—children tend to feel responsible for parental distress and if only good enough, parents would not be so angry or sad. Children themselves may experience a type of survivor guilt.
- Reenactment—trauma survivors tend to reenact their traumas. For example, a Vietnam vet had joined the military with the belief it was the right war to be fighting. While there the leadership disillusioned him and he left the military embittered by his experience. He was out with his three year old son and was encouraging him to go down a playground slide. The boy didn’t want to, as he was afraid, and he told his son not to worry, he would catch him. The boy went down and the father did not catch him. The boy landed hard on the ground. When asked why he had done this, the veteran said, “I wanted him to learn you can’t count on anybody.”
Spiritually, there a few different factors that come into play including:
- The spirit of the ancestral lands that ancestors were forced to leave because of war, genocide, natural disasters, etc. may be expressed as a healing need through individuals or families. Violence to our ancestral lands can destroy our ability to feel human. We can become lost in a landscape that has no vibration and no way to locate ourselves. Places help us know who we are and help us find meaning in our lives.
- Old family traumas may lead to a form of family disconnection similar to individual soul loss, which requires a reconnection with the ancestral soul.
- Healing the wounds of the ancestors themselves, which have been transmitted through the generations. Many tribal traditions have ceremonies for healing the ancestors and believe the ancestors call out to them for healing help.
Through the use of spiritual mapping of family stories and patterns, understanding of history of places our ancestors emigrated, and other methods of spiritual divination, we can look at what is the healing needed to restore balance, harmony and reconnection for ourselves/our families, the ancestors, and the generations yet to come. Understanding the patterns allows us to create rituals and ceremonies for the treatment and healing of transgenerational trauma. In the larger scheme of things, this process helps bring peace to regions of the world where cultural stories of communal trauma and victim identities inhibit the peace making process.
Contact Myron if you have questions or want assistance in working with these issues. Recommended reading is Anne Ancelin Shutzenberger’s The Ancestor Syndrome: Transgenerational Psychotherapy and the Hidden Links of the Family Tree. Additional reading: Scientific American’s article on how fearful memories are passed down.