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Home » Blog » The Legacy of Generational Trauma: Breaking Generational Curses and Toxic Patterns

In order to be born you need:

2 Parents

4 Great Grandparents

8 Great-Grandparents

16 Second Great-Grandparents

32 Third Great-Grandparents

64 Fourth Great-Grandparents

128 Fifth Great-Grandparents

256 Sixth Great-Grandparents

512 Seventh Great-Grandparents

1024 Eighth Great-Grandparents

2048 Ninth Great-Grandparents

For you to be born today from 12 previous generations, you needed a total of 4094 ancestors over the last 400 years.

Think for a moment! 

How many struggles?  

How many battles?  

How much ambition and desire?  

How many love stories?  

How many expressions of hope for the future you are living in right now?

How many years spent working to make tomorrow better?

We inherit much more than meets the eye, including our family’s emotional heritage. The concerns, fears, prejudices, phobias, and more of your parents or grandparents are frequently transmitted to you through their behaviours, cultural norms, and even your genes.

Are you still in any doubt about being a product of your ancestors? 

You contain a legacy. You are passed down generations of struggle and stories. Is it possible that you are still generationally cursed?

In this blog, we will chronicle the sensitive subject of generational trauma, psychological toxic behaviors, and patterns, right from their manifestation to breaking the generational curses.

What is Generational Trauma?

An easy way to understand generational trauma is to relate it to the given fact: 

We obviously see the physical characteristics we inherit from previous generations, such as hair or eye colour. 

From birth, the development of a child is deeply influenced by the people around them. Babies learn to smile from the adults who smile at them. Toddlers learn how to handle a problem with guidance from their adults. Teenagers learn about healthy relationships from watching the relationships in their adults’ lives. 

Family and environment form so much of our personality, from our interests and hobbies to our core beliefs. And it’s not just limited to the immediate family such as parents, but influence comes down from grandparents and extended family as well. Each adult passes on their knowledge through their own experiences to the children in their lives. 

It makes sense that we learn from our past, but what can we learn from our family history?

In the same manner that earlier generations transmit genetic traits, research indicates that they also transmit “acquired” or epigenetic traits resulting from emotionally charged and stressful events. It is known as generational trauma (or ancestral trauma), and it can have a significant impact on your life by increasing your susceptibility to a variety of mental health disorders.

Those who have never personally experienced trauma but suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dissociation, hypervigilance, shame, or guilt, may find it incredibly reassuring to discover that ancestral trauma may be the cause.

Generational trauma is also referred to as intergenerational or transgenerational trauma. 

How The Effects of Generational Trauma Are Passed On

The effects of trauma can be passed from one generation to another, including the following:

Dissociation, Anxiety and Other Mental Health Disorders

One reason for how trauma’s effects are passed on to future generations is that a history of trauma increases the likelihood of developing mental health issues. These influence how individuals interact with the world and others. In general, people have the most intense and long-lasting interactions with family members; hence, the consequences of mental health issues are most evident in these relationships.

For instance, individuals who have undergone trauma tend to have elevated anxiety levels. The ability of anxious parents to teach their children to self-soothe is diminished. Intentionally or not, they may also indicate that the world is a dangerous place. Consequently, the youngster may develop anxiousness. This can then lead to harmful coping mechanisms, such as using drugs or alcohol.

Traumatized individuals are also more likely to develop depression, and depressed parents may not be as available to their children as they would like to be. Children may feel neglected if they are required to care for themselves in ways that are not age-appropriate.

The phenomenon of dissociation, a coping mechanism for trauma survivors characterised by the separation or division of mental processes, is a further means through which the effects of trauma might be transmitted. There is a disconnection between thoughts and memories, and individuals may feel numb and detached from their bodies.

Modeling Ancestral Behavior

Generational Trauma effects can be transmitted through conditioned response or learned behaviour. This is especially true about parenting. Due to the lack of an alternate role model, an individual with poor parenting may repeat the same destructive habits. Even when a child has a clear wish to do things differently, parental modelling is extremely influential. Parents teach their children coping techniques, communication styles, and boundary setting, among other skills.

Trauma bonding

A study about the effects of intergenerational trauma on families describes how trauma bonding can perpetuate unhealthy tendencies. In settings where abusive behaviour alternates with moments of positive attention and caring, trauma bonding frequently occurs.

The steps involved in recognising and breaking traumatic attachments are described in a paper. When confronted with a distressing scenario, our systems are overwhelmed with adrenaline and cortisol, which causes unpleasant tension. Then, we (generally unknowingly) select the response that looks most suitable: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

In situations where there is a power imbalance, such as the parent-child connection, freeze often appears to be the best or only option. You remain in the scenario since there do not appear to be any viable alternatives. Since you feel trapped, you decrease your tension by emphasising the positive aspects of the relationship and downplaying the unfavourable side.


The genes we are born with only account for a portion of our biological inheritance. Additionally, we are affected by epigenetic processes. These are the impacts of factors such as nutrition, aging, and the environment on the activation and repression of our genes. According to the National Institutes of Health, stress can also result in epigenetic alterations. Alterations are not restricted to a single generation. Epigenetic modifications can be transmitted to future generations.

In an essay about healing generational trauma, psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva writes, “trauma impacts genetic pathways, resulting in heightened traumatic sensitivity.” In other words, the more trauma your parents and grandparents experienced, the more likely you are to react negatively to stress.

Trauma can also impact microglia, the cells in the brain and central nervous system that compose the majority of the immune system. During periods of trauma, the microglia in the brain go haywire, causing sadness, anxiety, and dementia, according to her. This can result in genetic alterations that can be transmitted to future generations.

The Encanto Example: Understanding Generational Trauma For Gen-Z

Encanto has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews, and it appears to be a hit with both children and adults alike. People of various ages and backgrounds are responding to the message of generational trauma in their families.

Pedro Madrigal, the patriarch of the Madrigal family, is killed in the family’s attempt to flee their Colombian homeland. A lovely and plentiful magical environment has been created for his family to live in because of his devotion. It also gives each of his offspring extraordinary powers that can be used to help the surviving residents of the town they escaped from. A matriarchal role like Alma’s puts a strain on her children and grandchildren to uphold the legacy they have been given.

Encanto is a powerful piece of art because of the combination of institutional trauma and generational trauma, the pressure to live up to unattainable expectations, and the realisation that the characters are worth more than their gifts.

Massive celebrations are held by the Madrigals around each child’s and grandchild’s fifth birthday, as that is when their gift is revealed. When the gift is received, it is put to good use.

This is most clearly demonstrated by Louisa’s incredible strength. Throughout the film, she is shown transporting livestock, erecting buildings, and even bringing a piano into any area where the other characters happen to be gathered.

Her strength and willingness to help are admirable at first, but she soon shows signs of fatigue and exhaustion. One of the more grounded characters, she tends to be the voice of reason when everyone else is getting a little crazy.

However, her song “Surface Pressure” reveals the full extent of her mental illness. Louisa is the first to show indications of weakness despite being the program’s physically strongest heroine. She’s exhausted. And she doesn’t think she’s worth anything other than what she can do for others. What’s the source of this?

Despite the fact that this hierarchy may alter and change over time and with changing circumstances, the constant need for affection and affirmation is a hallmark of toxic families.

Bruno is the family’s really nefarious character. It’s not uncommon for those who play the position of truth-teller in dysfunctional families to be branded as “the black sheep” because of their willingness to see things as they are. Prior to the audience’s introduction to Bruno, he is depicted as an evil, dark wizard. Because of the guilt, he felt for harming his family, he started to hide in the walls and steal arepas for food. When it comes to toxic families, even the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” relates to the tendency to avoid dealing with problems rather than confronting them head-on. The perfectionist’s façade is fragile, and it would all come tumbling down if just one flaw were corrected.

The majority of the movie is spent with Mirabel being an outsider to her own family, despite the fact that she has a great deal of pride in them, and despite the fact that she controls her own envy and insecurity in a way that is far beyond her years. Truth-tellers Bruno and Mirabel interrupt the destructive cycle and transform it into a healthier and more honest one. This is a powerful example of the power of the truth.

Every one of these millennials is aware that overcoming generational trauma takes time and effort on the part of everyone involved. It’s impossible to say how long it takes to heal from generational trauma because so many variables come into play, such as what the triggers were and where you can get support. One of the most effective ways to deal with trauma is to fight to overcome stigma and take responsibility for one’s emotional well-being.

Her family’s ability to cope with difficult times has been aided by openly discussing mental health in the group. The only way to bring this issue to the attention of families is to speak up.

Acceptance and tolerance can also teach future generations to take care of themselves and their minds by fostering an environment of acceptance and tolerance. In order to be there for the next generation, we need to address our own emotional difficulties in order to model healthy conduct for them. In addition to younger generations, this approach should be extended to populations who are excluded and impoverished.

We should have regular discussions about mental health and the effects of generational trauma. However, the real work begins when everyone has free and universal access to mental health services.

There is still more work to be done, as you can see. Gen Zers’ efforts to normalise therapy, have painful talks with family members, and advocate for universal access to mental health care are critical to raising awareness and eliminating harmful cycles.

Because of the dearth of information and social stigma surrounding generational trauma, many people who are affected by it are unaware that their mental health issues may be connected to those of previous generations. Many Gen Zers are taking the initiative to learn how to deal with their mental health issues because they’re growing up in a period where access to mental wellness is more readily available than ever before.

How Trauma Manifests From the Past

We all have a family history, something that binds us to not only our immediate family unit but our greater family tree. This connection is the reason we have brown eyes or why we practise the traditions we do, but there are often more disturbing aspects that are carried down via families as well. Researchers are researching what happens in a family when one generation encounters trauma and then passes it down to the next.

Could it be feasible that descendants can be influenced by trauma that their parents or even grandparents witnessed?

Several studies have shown that generational trauma can be passed down from one generation to the next. It is possible for the trauma experienced by the first generation of survivors to be passed down through multiple generations via mechanisms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For those who haven’t had to face the traumas of previous generations, it’s possible that the next generation will be trapped in “survival mode” since they’ve been taught how to avoid those hazards in the future. A desire to educate the next generation and keep them safe motivates me to share this information. If you’re not careful, you could end up harming yourself or your loved ones. In some cases, this could entail behaviours including risky health behaviours, anxiety, shame, overeating, food hoarding and authoritarian parenting approaches as well as distrust of the community.

In the brain and body, trauma can manifest up as tension, anxiety, fight-or-flight responses, and other systems that are on high alert, but intergenerational trauma can also be hidden by deeply ingrained acquired beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of behaviour. When it comes to healing from trauma, youngsters may benefit from looking back at their past and their environment. 

As they delve further into the reasons behind their actions, they may become more self-aware. In the case of generational trauma, you women need to move from thinking that this is an issue that you have made for yourselves, to one that you were born into.

Because there isn’t a single way trauma manifests itself, it’s difficult to grasp how it affects successive generations. Since it’s a new line of study, there isn’t a lot of scientific information out there. 

When it comes to developing countries like India, this is critical. We’ve been colonised by the British, and we’ve been through communal uprisings as a result of that colonisation. 

The impacts of caste-based trauma can be readily evident. One must recall Baba Saheb’s Mahad Satyagraha in 1927. You can learn more about caste-based trauma by visiting this episode from history.

As we’ve already discussed, the Partition of India was a shared experience for our grandparents. The 84 Sikh Genocide, the Babri Masjid Riots, and Taj Attack, all have occurred since then.

Our history of ongoing collective distress means that this suffering is often “forgotten” to us. Trauma often goes unrecognised because it is suppressed and projected onto children. We’ve passed it down through the years like a family heirloom. As a result, mental illness is on the rise. It’s not, or shouldn’t be our legacy. 

So how can we break the cycle of generational trauma?

Breaking Generational Trauma

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma begins with identifying and tracing its roots. Generational trauma occurs when the effects of a traumatic experience are passed down from one generation to the next. It’s possible that you didn’t witness the original trauma, but you’re still dealing with the aftereffects of it if you’re suffering from generational trauma.

Groups that have been targeted or oppressed historically, through genocide, enslavement, or language bans, may suffer from the effects of historical trauma. It is not unusual for people to be affected by both past and present trauma. When many traumatic experiences occur at the same time and are compounded by one other, both types might have a detrimental influence on one another.

Recovery Post Breaking Generational Trauma and Toxic Patterns

Mistrust is a major obstacle to resolving generational trauma. In an article titled Breaking the Chains of Generational Trauma, a trauma psychologist explains that when people are oppressed, they can develop “survival messages” such as the belief that it’s harmful to seek assistance. A skeptical attitude can be carried down from generation to generation if these messages are heeded in the present. Patients must feel safe and protected, heard and understood by counsellors who work hard to create trust.

Depending on the conditions, the effects of generational trauma can differ. Trauma often leaves victims feeling distrustful, anxious, depressed, and prone to having panic attacks, nightmares, and other forms of hypervigilance. Generational trauma survivors may also have a sense of futility, a conviction that their fate is sealed and that nothing will ever change.

Untreated trauma can lead to dysfunctional methods of bonding and coping, which may appear to be normal. When multiple generations are harmed, this is even more true. When it comes to your personal life, you may not realise how generational trauma has impacted you because you’ve only ever known how your family interacts with the world and each other. It takes time and perseverance to heal the wounds of past generations.

Addressing Generational Trauma in Family

Feeling safe is a basic need according to Maslow’s hierarchy. We can’t meet our psychological or self-fulfillment demands if we don’t have our basic security needs addressed. Families that place an emphasis on previous trauma or have difficulty moving past it might produce emotionally turbulent and overprotective members, or, on the other extreme, emotionally numb or disconnected members. Think of inherited traumas as something we were born with, rather than something we’ve produced ourselves.

In order to get with generational trauma and the underlying causes of feeling unsafe, working with both individual and family therapy is recommended. A “code of silence” is often developed in both parents and children as a result of the trauma they have experienced. As a result, trauma survivors may be afraid to talk about the trauma because they perceive it as a risky area to be vulnerable. Working with an expert or family coach can help families break through the skepticism and reach a new level of trust and openness.

Trauma-related symptoms and their triggers can also be identified by a therapist. These therapies could be able to assist in establishing a solid base for future growth and development.

In Conclusion

Have you witnessed or experienced tragic events as a member of an affected community? As a matter of fact, you probably have. This tension, if left unaddressed, can be passed down down the generations.

We owe a duty to ourselves and the following generation. There has to be a point at which the traumatising chain comes to an end, and we are at that point. A more knowledgeable generation has emerged. When it comes to the world around us and our own mental health, we’re more aware than ever before. You are the beginning of the end of the cycle.

This is not your legacy. You can be the first one in your family to break this cycle. The generational trauma heals right here, with you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is generational trauma?

Generational trauma is also referred to as intergenerational or transgenerational trauma. It is passed down from generation to generation.

How can we break generational trauma?

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma begins with identifying and tracing its roots. Generational trauma occurs when the effects of a traumatic experience are passed down from one generation to the next.

How does generational trauma manifest in generations?

Generational Trauma can manifest up as tension, anxiety, fight-or-flight responses, and other systems that are on high alert, but intergenerational trauma can also be hidden by deeply ingrained acquired beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of behaviour.

How can we address generational trauma in families?

In order to address generational trauma and the underlying causes of feeling unsafe, working with both individual and family therapy is recommended.

What is Epigenetics?

The epigenetic processes impact factors such as nutrition, aging, and the environment on the activation and repression of our genes.