Generational Trauma: The Unseen Something Inherited Through Generations
Of all the things that we could possibly inherit from our families, generational trauma is unfortunately something that could be one of them. When we think of trauma, we think of negative experiences that may occur during, but not exclusive to, our childhood. These traumatic events have lasting effects on the ways in which we develop into typical functioning adults. The first things that usually come to mind are neglect, as well as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. However, trauma can take shape in many other subtle forms that aren’t really seen, especially within families of color.
The Subtleties Of Generational Trauma
Some of the very subtle things that can be identified as contributing to childhood trauma, include: not being seen or heard, a lack of boundaries, or having parents who live their lives vicariously through their children. These are things that both children and adults of colour know about all too well. Usually these subtleties are masked under the guise of common cultural habits, behaviours, and practices, which are then also shared through language, communication, and common belief systems.
The reason why these patterns continue to go largely unseen is because the people that took care of us are typically not conscious of the damaging effects that these behaviours have on us as children. From their perspective, their parents did the same to them, and they were just raising us based on what they observed from their parents, not knowing the damage it could cause us. We in turn are also typically unaware of how it later affects us in adulthood. Without being mindful of this, however, we may unfortunately set up to pass those same patterns down to our own children, continuing this cycle of trauma. Soon, a generation of unhealed trauma is born from a lack of awareness of its presence, it’s origin, and how to break free from that cycle.
As people of colour, when we are children, its ‘normal’ for us to accept physical abuse, emotional abuse, and conditional love from our caregivers. It became ‘normal’ to be constantly talked down to and treated as if our thoughts and opinions don’t matter. Its ‘normal’ for us to be exposed to violent events that are inherently traumatic and eventually affect our development into adulthood. On a cultural level, this has become a societal norm, that is reinforced by the people around us in our communities. They do the same things to ‘toughen us up’ and give us ‘thick skin’, prepare us for the real world if you will. These are examples of the belief systems that are absorbed into the young minds of our children, which can ultimately result in low self worth, self esteem, and bad coping mechanisms when they grow up to become adults.
How Trauma Affects Us Into Adulthood
Many of us don’t typically realize the magnitude of the damage that is done to us, until after we’ve already come face to face with a variety of mental health issues, including behavioural and personality disorders that may disrupt our daily lives as adults. Generally, people of colour have the idea that the word ‘trauma’ is reserved for sets of events of a catastrophic and deeply traumatic nature. However, living with toxic familial relationships, while being molded and conditioned as a child influenced by parents’ unhealed trauma also has its lasting and damaging effects.
Therein lies the problem of how to go about addressing these issues. How can we as people of colour become fully aware of these problems if we continue to brush over the ‘subtle’ things? As children, we learn how to navigate the world from what our caregivers teach us, and we create meaning from the events that we witness in our environment. From dealing with these events, trauma shapes the brain, distorts our thinking and the ways in which we view the world. We also learn coping mechanisms that help ease the stress surrounding those traumatic events. If our viewpoint of the world doesn’t change with us as we grow up, then it may cause issues when we try to behave as functional adults. We create a false self of identity and bury our emotions, thinking that they’re unimportant, and become very passive about the ways in which we are treated.
How Can We Break The Cycle, Healing Generational Trauma?
Luckily for us, due to widespread technological advancement and increased social interactions with people who share the same traumas all across the world, we are now open to a plethora of useful information, and online self help. This increased social interaction helps us to become more aware of ourselves, and our communities. This then puts us in a position to teach ourselves how to heal, free our families from cycles of generational trauma, and move our communities forward.
It starts with us, to become conscious and aware of how we were raised. It is up to us to connect with our inner child and to heal from whatever traumatic events had occurred, whether they were catastrophic or subtle. It is up to us to challenge the programs and belief systems that have been set in place to ensure the previous generations’ survival, as they may not currently suit you. To want more for yourself, your community, and the generations to come, even if that means having to cut out people who aren’t serving you positively from your life and reparent yourself with a much more holistic approach.
Healing can sometimes take a very long time. It is also in no way linear or easy, and we have to forgive ourselves for that. Maybe we can, however, learn to forgive our caregivers for unconsciously passing down those behaviours and outdated ways of thinking to us. It’s important for us to cultivate a strong awareness of self, and of the people around us, to influence each other positively. It is important to correct our patterns of thinking so that we may influence the generations to come, and to be a generation where they don’t have to learn how to just survive their childhood.
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