Trauma and loss in our family is sometimes addressed by also understanding historical trauma/loss that is emotionally handed down (i.e., transgenerational trauma). This is an important part of individual psychotherapy, as it looks squarely at what each of us may carry from our ancestors. It can help understand how the trauma, loss, and oppression that ones’ relatives and grandparents experienced can be passed down, and ultimately show up in daily behavioral responses. In essence, transgenerational family trauma can be understood as pain/loss that is transmitted, spiraling down from generation to generation. It may include themes of “learned helplessness”, where a generation in a family definitively had no choices in culture or religious institutions, leaving chronic shame. Or, it can be themes from a grandparents’ history, where economic productivity was impossible, leaving family overtones of scarcity and fear. As a result, transgenerational trauma can be entrenched, and difficult to confront.
An important first step in healing this type of trauma is mapping out the behavioral patterns that may have become internalized from previous generations. For example, a Genogram which ultimately lays out a physical diagram of behavior patterns of a family over several generations, can be key. This can identify disruptive events or changes, such as divorce, death, suicide, mental illness, disability, or broader cultural oppression, such as neglect, famine, or poverty. From this, a therapist and client can identify goals that based on “swinging the pendulum”. Both supportive psychotherapy, as well as EMDR therapy, can assist clients in this healing process. Diving deep into these transgenerational responses, as well as uncovering renewed beliefs about self, can heal and transform beyond measure.