As if trauma was not already complicated enough. Multigenerational trauma, also referred to as intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma explains why we may have adverse emotional or behavioral reactions even though we never directly experienced a traumatic event.
A study conducted by scientists at Atlanta University trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by releasing the smell of cherry blossom and then eliciting a shock to the mice. These mice came to fear the smell of cherry blossom and experienced increased heart rate and higher cortisol levels with just the smell alone. These mice mated with female mice who were not conditioned to fear cherry blossom and research shows that the first generation also had the fear response when they smelled cherry blossom, even though they were never exposed to the shock themselves. The fear response was still present in the second generation of mice.
This research shows that trauma and prolonged stressful environments can physically change our DNA and will be passed down to our children and grandchildren.
There is another way trauma can be passed down through generations, too.
Multigenerational trauma can also be passed down through modeling of behavior, relationship dynamic, and attachment bond between parent and child.
Multigenerational trauma can present in several different ways, here is just one example. Diane grew up in the foster care system. She bounced around to several homes and never had the opportunity to form a trusting and loving connection with any parental figure. When Diane became an adult, she left the foster care system and eventually had her own children. Diane lacked boundaries, was heavily involved in her children’s personal lives in ways that were inappropriate for parents, was overprotective, and had a difficult time expressing love or affection towards her children. Her children were not able to form a secure attachment to Diane and they were modeled unhealthy boundaries and relationship dynamics. Her children likely carried these attachment wounds and unhealthy boundaries and relationship dynamics into the relationships with their own children. Diane’s children did not directly experience the trauma, yet they adopted the behaviors that were a result of the trauma through modeling and relationship dynamics with Diane.
A key point to acknowledge is that multigenerational trauma can occur when trauma from previous generations is left untreated. If parents, grandparents, great-grandparents receive help to overcome the trauma, it can stop the transmission to future generations.
You can be the change to stop multigenerational trauma in your family. Please contact me today if you have further questions or want to start the process of healing from your past.