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  • Writer's pictureMitra Bissessar

Can We Really Inherit Trauma And Pass It On?

We can inherit a lot from our caregivers. Values and valuables, beliefs and traditions, physical characteristics and for a lot of us, trauma can be inherited as well. Trauma that is passed through a family’s generations is referred to as Intergenerational Trauma.

Intergenerational trauma isn’t experienced by just one generation, the effects reverberate sometimes two to three generations later. We don’t have to experience the trauma for ourselves. It could have taken place before our time and still can touch us and carry on after us. It can be silent, often creeping into other areas of life, reinforced by those that came before us. The behaviours and symptoms of the trauma recipient is what gets passed along to loved ones if not met with care support.


How Intergenerational Trauma can Impact Parenting

Those being raised by a trauma survivor may describe their caregiver as preoccupied, inconsistent, numb and having difficulty with relationships and healthy coping.




  • Trauma can block secure attachment for both caregivers and their children.

  • Trauma can influence the stories we tell our kids and the activities we do or don't do with our children.

  • Parents affected by trauma may not be able to appropriately respond to their children’s needs which will impact the child’s views about their world and the people around them.

  • New research suggests not only is trauma inherited but can be passed through our DNA. (Yehuda , 2018)

It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of intergenerational trauma. The symptoms may include hypervigilance, a sense of hopelessness, mistrust, depression, high anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, sensitive fight or flight response, and issues with self-esteem and self-confidence. Research continues to learn about the effects on the immune system and brain development.


Intergenerational trauma can look and feel similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can be mistaken for other mental health conditions.


Through support and therapy, we can begin to understand more about the family dynamics that continue to shape us, we can then acknowledge and let go of what we don’t need in our present lives.


Working with a licensed practitioner is key to beginning the healing process. Sharing your past and that of those who came before you can help identify the unhelpful impacts and blocks and develop a trauma informed lens in which to understand your own history.


Modalities such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) and Attachment Therapy are evidenced based treatments to help you along in journey to healing old emotional wounds, shift patterns of thinking in your brain and live a more rich and fulfilling life.

Addressing your family’s trauma history might sound like a daunting process. Finding a therapist who is trauma informed and a good fit for you is one of the first steps.


Author Mark Wolynn states in his book, It Didn’t Start With You that “Ignoring the pain actually deepens it. What is hidden from sight often increases in intensity.” Together you and your practitioner talk about next steps on your healing journey.



Mitra Bissessar

MSW, RSW


 

As a Registered Social Worker and a child of Trinidadian immigrant parents, I know how hard it is to reach out for help, for fears of not being understood and accepted without compromising your essence.

I want to reassure you that I approach my practice from a client centered, holistic approach to meet my clients’ where they are at. I have over fifteen years of front-line experience as a Child and Youth Worker in various community and counselling settings including schools, residential, day treatment, Children’s Aid Society as well as supporting youth and caregivers in their homes.

As a Registered Social Worker, I provide treatment for severe mental health, trauma, anxiety, depression, caregiver/family support, and difficult life transitions. My goal as a therapist is to establish a meaningful, collaborative, and trusting therapeutic relationship in which you feel respected, heard, and safe to explore your concerns.

I am experienced in offering individual and family therapy to various age groups and populations. My practice is trauma-informed where I integrate evidence-based models, including but not limited to emotion focused, attachment, cognitive-behavioural, solution-focused, psychodynamic, and mindfulness-based therapy. I work from a client-focused and culturally-sensitive framework. As an immigrant, person of colour who has overcome battles of my own, I recognize the role that intersectionality plays in our mental well-being.

I understand how daunting it can be to reach out for help and tackle the cultural or faith-based stigmas surrounding therapy. I realize that seeking support can be a difficult step. I am here to help you feel comfortable with your decision in the context of a warm, trusting, professional and accessible service - regardless of complexity.



Suggested Reading:


It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

by Bessel van der Kolk


References:


Yehuda, R., & Lehrner, A. (2018). Intergenerational transmission of trauma effects: putative role of epigenetic mechanisms. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 17(3), 243–257. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20568


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