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It Runs in the Family: Exploring Generational Trauma

Alcoholism, poverty, anger…we often hear the saying, “It runs in my family”. From a psychological perspective, what we are often referring to when we make statements like this is, Generational Trauma.


Generational Trauma is, quite simply the inheritance of traumatic experiences and stressors. It travels from a preceding generation to the next. The cycle of trauma passed through generations is made possible by psychological, biological, social (and spiritual, I argue) mechanisms. Quite often, for example, if a young boy witnesses his father physically abuse his mother, unhealed from this trauma, he may in turn grow up and be physically abusive to his wife. The concept of Generational Trauma tells us that the boy's grandfather (and maybe great-grandfather, etc.) may have engaged in the same behavior. Alternatively, if a girl witnesses her mother being victimized by domestic violence, she might also grow up and become a victim of this type of abuse in her future relationships.


What is often absent or silent in the discourse surrounding generational trauma is the role that spirituality plays. While the concept of Generational Trauma has become popularized, we Christians have known the important role that our ancestors play in how we experience trauma – this might be especially true for African Christians who now devote a great deal of time to understanding generational curses as well.


Have you ever watched Mom? This TV series starring Anna Faris does an excellent job of highlighting intergenerational trauma and what it might look like within an American context. The sitcom centers around Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris) and her mother Bonnie Plunkett (Alison Janney) who are both recovering addicts. With a closer look at their family dynamics and ancestral patterns, one can see that the alcohol abuse is evidence of generational trauma and also indicative of the fact that emotional pain, child neglect, and family strife are issues that mothers and daughters have struggled with in the Plunkett family. Evidence for this is present when we meet Christy Plunkett’s grandmother and when the viewers experience Christy's challenges with her daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano) who made Christy a young biological grandmother quite early when she became a teenage mother.


Is Generational Trauma present in your family?

Here are some signs that may indicate there is:


1)     You find yourself drawn to substance abuse/use such as alcohol and drugs to cope with

life and you find this behavior is normalized and modeled by your parents(s) and



2)     Your grandparent(s) and parent(s) were authoritative and often resorted to abuse

(typically physical or emotional) to control behavior. When you asked why this discipline happened in the family, the answer was often along the lines of, “Well, that’s how I was raised, by my father/mother.”


3)     Various medical conditions are prevalent in your family such as strokes, high blood

pressure mental illnesses (anxiety and depression typically) which could quite possibly speak to a lack of emotional regulation and anger.


4)     When thinking about the mentioned signs of generational trauma, you may have

the same experiences as your siblings and your cousins as well.


Generational Trauma is an important consideration in your healing journey. Does this concept and any of its symptoms resonate with you? Not to worry, Generational Trauma is very common, and you can break the cycle for you and the next generation.


If you are seeking a new beginning and you need guidance and support, contact me today about starting a New Chapter in your life!


Kevin Ufoegbune


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