What is intergenerational trauma?

Understanding Intergenerational & Racial Trauma: What Are the Effects?

Black History Month is a celebration of Black people and Black people’s achievements, and a time for recognizing Black people’s central role in the history of the United States. During this period of celebration, it is also essential to acknowledge the trauma that Black people have and still endure in America. This trauma is often referred to as intergenerational trauma or racial trauma. As we look to the past and examine the present, it is vital to discuss healing this trauma for a better and more just future. 

What is intergenerational trauma?

What is Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational trauma (also referred to as transgenerational trauma and multigenerational trauma) refers to past trauma(s) that are passed down from generation to generation and exists across generations. The transmission of intergenerational trauma is often found in families who have gone through severe trauma (e.g. slavery, discrimination, sexual abuse, incest, concentration camps, etc.).


Intergenerational trauma also has potential biological effects and various mental health effects. Research has shown that trauma may be passed down genetically, resulting in health issues in later generations.


For example, living under such oppressive circumstances such as slavery and racism can lead to parents creating fear-based survival techniques that they pass down to their children and grandchildren and so on. Parents may have had to protect their children by instilling this fear about the world they lived in to keep their family together.


However, the child does not understand why their parent acted in this way until later in their life. In the meantime, their mental health and self-esteem may also suffer. While these techniques may have helped people survive in the past, they are unhelpful and harmful today.

Intergenerational trauma refers to past trauma(s) that are passed down from generation to generation and exists across generations

What is Racial Trauma?

Racial trauma is a form of race-based stress and the experience of repeated exposure to racism that has caused a person to develop negative mental health and physical health issues. Racial trauma refers to People of Color’s reactions to real and perceived experiences of racial discrimination and dangerous events. Although racial trauma is similar to PTSD, racial trauma is unique because it involves ongoing individual and collective injuries and exposure to trauma on personal and systematic levels.

Some causes of racial trauma include:

  • Racism
  • Harassment
  • Profiling
  • Stereotyping
  • Microaggressions
  • Violence in the media
  • Discrimination
  • Intergenerational trauma

The effects of racial trauma are similar to the symptoms of PTSD, which includes:

  • Hypervigilance to threat
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance
  • Suspiciousness
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
What are some steps you can take to start healing from intergenerational trauma? Acknowledge the symptoms, Self-care, social support (i.e. healing circles), therapeutic treatment, support systematic change

Steps That Can be Taken Towards Healing

First, it is essential to acknowledge that the trauma is real and that it exists. Addressing the past traumas of slavery, Jim-crow, and racism and the present racism and racist power structure that still exist is vital in helping new generations heal.


Self-care is also an important component of healing from trauma. Self-care can take many forms. It may look like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, physical activity (walking, dancing, running), and gardening.


Social support is also vital. Social support could include healing circles or other support groups focusing on intergenerational and racial trauma.


Therapeutic treatment can also be helpful. Treatment of intergenerational trauma is relatively similar to any other trauma-informed practice, although progress may be slower. Also, providers must get trained to be more culturally competent and sensitive.


Finally, systematic changes need to be made to create a more equitable society and prevent further traumatization of Black people. 


Intergenerational trauma is an important topic to discuss because we often forget to consider how it affects an individuals’ mental health and experience in the world. If you suffer from intergenerational trauma, remember to be gentle with yourself and reach out for help when you need it. 

Share the love!
Scroll to Top