Intergenerational Trauma & Healing
Exploring Epigenetics & Trauma
Generally, the physical characteristics, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of living organisms including humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms are shaped by both nature and nurture. Every living being inherits a genetic code carrying various traits from previous generations, but it's often their environment and life experiences that determine which of these traits will be expressed or suppressed. Epigenetics research indicates that traumatic experiences can sometimes be passed down from one generation to another, a concept known as intergenerational trauma.
One of the most poignant examples of intergenerational trauma comes from a 2014 study involving mice. In this study, mice were unfortunately subjected to repeated electrical shocks and exposed to a cherry blossom scent. Over time, the mice developed a traumatic response to the scent, even when the electrical shocks were not present.
When the mice had offspring, the next generation also exhibited a similar traumatic response to the cherry blossom scent, despite never having been exposed to the electrical shocks themselves.
This second generation of mice had their own offspring who were also highly reactive and hyper-vigilant to the cherry blossom scent. Over time, this intergenerational trauma continued to manifest in subsequent generations of mice. Similarly, humans can also inherit trauma from their ancestors, which can manifest in their DNA and impact their physical, emotional, and mental health.
Epigenetics and Healing
It's important to remember that even as an adult, you have the ability to form new neural connections and influence the expression of your genetic code. While it's true that you may have inherited traumas and sensitivities from previous generations, you also have access to beneficial traits and resources from your ancestors. Although you can't alter your DNA directly, you can control how certain genes are expressed by adjusting your internal and external environment.
Addressing intergenerational trauma can completely change your perspective on life. When you heal from traumatic experiences, you're less likely to be triggered by difficult circumstances because you're no longer carrying the weight of unresolved pain from the past. This newfound freedom enables you to connect with the most positive aspects of your genetic inheritance, such as resilience and fortitude, and move forward with greater ease and strength.
How to Heal Intergenerational Trauma
If possible, it's important to research your family history and identify recurring behavioral patterns, relationship challenges, and mental and physical health issues.
Next, assess whether you're experiencing or perpetuating these patterns and take note of which ones you can change.
Reflect on the positive traits from your family's history that you want to cultivate within yourself, such as resilience, love, strength, and fortitude. Then, make a list of ways to practice and embody these qualities in your daily life.
Seek support from a therapist who can help you explore and work through intergenerational trauma and create new neural pathways in your brain.
Stay open to learning new things and having unique experiences to help your brain make new connections.
Focus on cultivating relationships built on trust, compassion, and mutual respect.
Practice mindfulness and meditation techniques to help reduce stress and rewire your brain.
Engage in hobbies and activities that give you energy, increase your sense of optimism, and counteract the impact of stress.
Connect with your ancestors through their songs, artwork, dances, foods, prayers, meditations, and traditions so you can be nourished and inspired by their wisdom.
Consume an anti-inflammatory diet containing nutrient-dense foods.
Improve your sleep hygiene so you can enjoy a high quality of sleep on a regular basis.
Exercise regularly and practice yoga or some form of movement on a consistent basis to reduce stress and increase helpful brain chemicals.
By consistently practicing these lifestyle changes, daily wellness practices, and addressing trauma in therapy, you can mitigate the impact of inherited trauma and find a path toward healing.