trauma

Healing from Intergenerational Trauma

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intergenerational trauma
Photo by Cheryl Winn-Boujnida on Unsplash

By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Can you imagine how your ancestors lived throughout different times in history?

The United States consists of many races and ethnicities, each with unique experiences, perspectives, and reasons for being in America.
We are all intrinsically tied to our families and our society. Imagine the days when we didn’t have social media or even phones. Back then, leaving your home, traveling across oceans to a new land, either by choice or by force, often meant being cut off entirely from your original support system.

“Social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 82). But, when people migrate to a different place, they lose the social support needed to overcome stressful times. When stressors are not handled and processed properly, they can become traumas.

Stories of Holocaust survivors revealed a phenomenon called “intergenerational traumatic transfer,” in which unresolved traumas from parents are passed onto their children who did not experience actual traumas (Cozolino, 2006, p.231). There is a reason for that. More research shows that “psychological trauma disrupts homeostasis and can cause both acute and chronic effect on many organs and biological systems” (Solomon and Heide; as cited in Carey, 2009, p.21).

When people are traumatized, it causes biological changes inside of their bodies, which often causes behavioral changes. Traumatized people pass down their trauma “along through their actions and reactions” (Cozolino, 2006, p.231) to people close to them. When caregivers act based on their reactions to trauma, even if it’s subtle, these actions affect a child’s brain development resulting in learning unhealthy ways of interacting with the outside world. Unhealthy reactions become normal reactions.

Suppose you want to understand your own inherited family trauma. In that case, you could try to trace back your ancestry to find out who went through a traumatic separation from their original society and support system.

Psychotherapy can help individuals and families heal from trauma through a variety of modalities. Finding and nurturing a trusted social system can also help support you through your healing journey.

“Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 81). You can step out from your familiar reaction patterns and start learning how to heal and live a healthier life in your new support group or your new tribe.


References

Carey, L. (Ed.) (2009). Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingley Publishers.

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Duran, E. & Duran, B. (1995). Native American Postcolonial Psychology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

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The Place Where You Stare

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(Picture Credit: Shutterstock)

By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Do you notice you are staring at one spot when you are trying to remember something? Developed by Dr. David Grand, Brainspotting trauma therapy helps you to process your unresolved trauma by finding a spot for your eyes to focus on.

Grand first discovered this phenomenon while performing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for his client. EMDR uses bilateral, dual stimulation to help you store your traumatic memories into the right perspectives in your brain (Shapiro, 2018). In this case, David was guiding his client to move her eyes from side to side.

He realized that “her eyes wobbled dramatically and then locked in place” (Grand, 2013, p. 13) during the process. Intuitively, he felt she wanted to stop and look at a fixed spot, so he let her. After a while, memories she had forgotten came up like it opened the floodgates.

Brainspotting doesn’t require describing traumatic experiences by using your words. Traumas are “largely the result of primitive responses” (Levine, 1997, p.24). Many traumatized individuals were not able to express their feelings because they cannot describe their body sensations (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 100). Moreover, “the rational brain” (p. 47) is incapable of talking “the emotional brain out of its own reality” (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 47).

With your therapist present, you can try to feel your body sensations and bring up emotions attached to your traumatic experiences. Trauma therapy can be overwhelming. It sounds terrifying, but with brainspotting trauma therapy, you get to decide how you want to process your trauma.


References

Grand, D. (2013). Brainspotting. Boulder, CO: Sounds True

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. New York, NY: The Gilford Press

 
Van der Kolk, B (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books

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