Childhood trauma may crop up later in life. When it does, it needs to be addressed. Unresolved childhood trauma can seriously impair an adult’s relationships, life view, happiness and health. Flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, and relationship problems are just some of the ways that unresolved trauma can manifest.
A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity. Witnessing a traumatic event that threatens life or physical security of a loved one can also be traumatic. This is particularly important for young children as their sense of safety depends on the perceived safety of their attachment figures. Traumatic experiences can initiate strong emotions and physical reactions that can persist long after the event.
Trauma is an emotional response to ANY circumstance where you felt hopeless and overwhelmed. These experiences exceed your capacity to shape your beliefs, identity, spirituality, and coping. It greatly impacts the way you see yourself, others and the world around you. Some (but not all) examples include the following.
• Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and neglect (including trafficking)
• Family or community violence
• Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
• Substance use disorder (personal or familial)
• Serious accidents or life-threatening illness
• Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss or injury)
You may look back at how you were raised and identify other impactful factors such as incarcerated caretaker(s), intense sibling rivalry, adoption, emotional distant caretaker(s), foster care, bullying, absent parent(s), etc. Several factors play into the way YOU experienced these events (nothing is too big-nothing is too small), how they affected you, and what beliefs you formed from them. Said beliefs often go years, decades, and generations without being further examined. Sometimes we must look back at those events with the knowledge, skills, and language developed later in life, and advocate for that kid. We may find that we no longer hold these beliefs, that they no longer make sense, and that they are trauma responses. When you are a child you try to make sense of things the best you can with the knowledge, skills, and language you have at the time. You can imagine how that turns out, especially if you do not have a trusted adult to help you process these events. Not everyone with trauma identifies as having trauma. Individuals commonly seek help for anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, upsetting memories, mood disorders, relationship challenges, addictions, work/career stress, feeling on edge, fatigue, and/or poor concentration. The symptoms mentioned above are just a few examples of the way our minds and bodies naturally respond to trauma.
Much like traditions and secret family recipes get passed down through families, individuals can also inherit trauma. Generational trauma is a cycle of trauma that passes through families. Generational trauma occurs through biological, environmental, psychological, and social means. Some evidence suggests that generational trauma can happen in the uterus as the fetus is exposed to chemicals involved in maternal stress. The perspectives, fears, and behaviors of those before us, are still with us. Prior generations often set the blueprint (knowingly or unknowingly) for how emotions within the family are handled. Do you hide your emotions and act as you are unbothered? Is that perceived as sign of strength in your family? Do you internalize your emotions until you no longer can and then-boom- zero to a hundred?!? There was a time when some of the strategies listed above were required for survival and for that reason they made sense during the time.
Sadly, the trauma continues throughout generations because those who needed help did not have access to it. There is growing scientific evidence that generational trauma can have a profound impact on the lives of the BIPOC community, after experiencing centuries of unaddressed trauma. Decades of oppression leading to more decades of social injustices and discrimination result in feelings of fear and mistrust.
We know that mental health affects the Black community in unique ways, often making it challenging for us to discuss the issues we are facing, let alone seek the treatment that we need. The cultural stigma around mental health results in catastrophic collateral damage. Join the transformation of generational trauma into generational healing.
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