Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding the Legacy of Trauma Across Generations

Trauma can come in many different forms. Someone may experience it first-hand, or it may be passed down to them from a relative who experienced it first. Trauma may have been caused by a wide-scale historical event or by exposure to abuse or other harmful experiences. Whatever the cause, recognizing intergenerational trauma is critical to treating everyone who is impacted by such events. Healing Foundations Center is committed to treating people affected by all types of traumas, including intergenerational traumas. As we take a closer look at how trauma can span generations and its symptoms, we’ll also provide ways you can help break the cycle of trauma and how Healing Foundations Center can help provide treatment.

What is Intergenerational Trauma?

When you hear someone talk about intergenerational trauma, they are referring to a trauma that is passed from a trauma survivor to their descendants.[1] Intergenerational trauma can start with one traumatic event that impacts a person or a collective trauma that affects a larger community.

Causes of Intergenerational Trauma

A study by the World Health Organization found that more than 70% of people will experience some type of traumatic event in their lives.[2] When specifically referring to intergenerational trauma, causes can include:


If someone grew up amid conflict, they may be more prone to experience different types of traumas than those who did not. The impact of war can have many damaging effects.

Natural Disasters

Experiencing a major natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado can lead to long-term mental health problems.

Racism & Genocide

Racism and genocide can also lead to intergenerational trauma. People who experience both of these can also develop trauma that can be passed down through the generations.


Poverty can also be traumatic if someone does not have the basic life necessities to survive. Being homeless or not knowing where your next meal will come from can be a traumatic experience that can have lifelong implications.

Other examples of intergenerational trauma include historical events such as the Holocaust, as well as domestic violence, imprisonment, and persecution.

How is Trauma Passed Down?

There is growing research to show that trauma can be passed down through generations genetically.[3] Some researchers believe that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes that can be passed down. While it doesn’t cause a genetic mutation, it can impact how the gene is expressed.

It’s also important to note that people impacted by trauma can struggle to manage their emotions and their responses to crises. This can lead to their children having the same difficulties and being left to deal with the same traumas.[4]

Symptoms of Intergenerational Trauma

The signs that someone is dealing with intergenerational trauma can vary greatly and are similar to those experienced by others who have gone through different types of traumas. They include:

People experiencing intergenerational trauma may also become withdrawn from their friends and family and, in extreme cases, may also have suicidal thoughts. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to not only recognize but also treat intergenerational trauma.

How to Break the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma can include receiving treatment for current symptoms and creating an environment where additional trauma can not occur for future generations. Talking about your family history to a professional can also help to break the cycle. They can recognize symptoms to ensure you get the necessary help.

Many people don’t realize they are victims of intergenerational trauma, which is why it can continue for decades. Raising awareness is one of the pillars of ensuring people receive the treatment they need.

Coping with and Treating Intergenerational Trauma

If you are experiencing intergenerational trauma, there are several ways you can cope with the condition and treat it effectively.

Accept the Trauma

Learning to accept the trauma that happened to your ancestors does not mean that you approve of it. Instead, it means that you will no longer deny how it is impacting your life. This allows for the healing process to begin.

Allow Yourself to Mourn

If your trauma is due to a loss of any kind, allow yourself to mourn that loss. By allowing yourself to grieve, you recognize what happened, giving you the strength to move forward.

Educate Yourself About Your Family History

Knowing about your family history can help to explain some of the feelings you may be having and some of the things you’re going through. If your family members are not open about your past, be sure to ask questions so that you have a clear picture.

Identify the Effects of Past Traumas

Identifying the effects past traumas are currently having is also vital to coping with what you are experiencing and seeking the proper treatment.

Connecting With Others

Finding support groups and connecting with others is essential to moving forward. Support groups are available for a variety of traumas. A mental health professional can help to connect you with the proper resources.

Family Therapy

Since intergenerational trauma is passed down through family members, family therapy can also be an integral part of the healing process. Here, family members can get the complete picture of what transpired that led to the trauma that everyone may be experiencing.


Self-care is an essential part of the healing process. By taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, you can help yourself better cope with your emotions and everything else. Exercise, relaxation techniques, and a healthy diet are all important aspects of self-care.

Work on Healthy Attachments with Your Children

Building healthy attachments with your children can help to stop the cycle of intergenerational trauma. This can allow them to have healthy relationships and learn to deal with their emotions.

Seek Trauma Treatment at Healing Foundations Center

Healing Foundations Center has a team of experienced professionals trained to help people deal with various traumas. Our trauma treatment includes multiple techniques, including somatic experiencing, eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing. The team at Healing Foundations Center will develop a customized treatment plan aimed at helping you achieve the best outcome. We understand that not all treatments work for everyone, which is why we tailor each plan to the individual’s needs.

Contact us today to learn more about how trauma treatment at Healing Foundations Center can help you.