10 Symptoms or Behaviors That May Be Intergenerational Trauma Coping Mechanisms

Your family history has a big influence on shaping who you are in many ways, like eye color, hair type, and even how you express emotions or communicate. While there are positive traits passed down through generations, it’s also possible for the effects of trauma experienced in your family history to impact your current emotional and mental health.

Intergenerational trauma can be powerful, whether it happened recently or goes back for many years. Recognizing its impact on you and younger generations in your family isn’t always easy. People often develop ways to cope with trauma, even if it’s not their own.

We’ll talk about what intergenerational trauma is, the coping mechanisms people develop, and what to do when you recognize these symptoms.

What it means to have intergenerational trauma

Trauma is when something happens that causes physical, emotional or mental distress. It could be an experience you went through, witnessed or heard about from someone else. 

Intergenerational trauma, also called generational or transgenerational trauma, means there has been trauma in your family’s history that still affects the emotional, mental and behavioral patterns of your family today. It could be from trauma that one family member went through or something that affected multiple generations.

There are many types of experiences that can cause generational trauma, including:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Murder
  • Natural disasters
  • Substance use
  • Systemic racism
  • Discrimination
  • Poverty
  • Slavery
  • Abandonment
  • Untreated physical or mental illness

Generational trauma is frequently found in communities that have endured significant historical traumatic events. This is evident in survivors of concentration camps during the Holocaust, as well as individuals who experienced internment camps during World War II and the Vietnam War.

10 symptoms or behaviors that are used as coping mechanisms for intergenerational trauma

Dealing with tough situations affects mental health, and coping mechanisms are a big part of that. They are ways to lessen the emotional and mental stress from a situation. However, not all coping mechanisms are good for you. Coping mechanisms for intergenerational trauma often involve unhealthy behaviors and emotional patterns that can get in the way of personal growth and relationships.

You might not even realize you have coping mechanisms for generational trauma because these behaviors seem normal to you and your family.

Here are 10 symptoms or behaviors that may be generational trauma coping mechanisms:

  1. Self-destructive behaviors, such as substance use
  2. Hypervigilance of surroundings
  3. Difficulty trusting others
  4. Memory loss
  5. Extremely overprotective feelings toward other generations
  6. Dismissing feelings as “weaknesses”
  7. Disciplinary issues in school
  8. Lack of response to extreme events
  9. Social isolation or withdrawal
  10. Suicidality

These symptoms and behaviors can often be signs of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

How to adjust your unhealthy coping mechanisms for intergenerational trauma

As a college student, you’re figuring out who you are and how you want others to see you. This means taking pride in your strengths and recognizing areas for improvement, like unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If there is intergenerational trauma in your family history, it’s crucial to break the cycle. This not only enhances your mental and emotional well-being, but also stops the trauma from affecting the next generation. 

Dealing with and changing coping mechanisms linked to trauma involves talking to your family and a mental health professional. Start by being open with your family about your struggles and asking about theirs. Having honest conversations about how intergenerational trauma has affected you and your loved ones can help build a support system for healing and adjusting unhealthy coping mechanisms.

A licensed clinical therapist can significantly contribute to improving your mental, emotional and behavioral health affected by intergenerational trauma. They can assist in reducing symptoms and behaviors resulting from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. Psychotherapy helps you develop tools and skills to cope with trauma, teaching self-care strategies and ways to handle triggers.

Lightfully U can help students adjust coping mechanisms for intergenerational trauma

When it comes to aspects of ourselves that have been passed down from previous generations, it’s easy to just brush them off. You might believe these traits are unchangeable. However, no matter how difficult an experience was in your family’s history, it’s always possible to stop the cycle of trauma.

We have a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program through Lightfully U that will help you work through the anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress that comes from intergenerational trauma by developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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