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Generational Trauma

Family holidays are in full-swing, and for many of us that brings positive connotations — memories of warm family gatherings, time spent catching up with relatives around food games, etc. For others of us, this time of year might be a reminder of the dysfunction of years gone by — high conflict, severed relationships, and negative generational patterns. The holidays can be a time that people look forward to with anticipation, with a sense of dread, or even a little of both because of their past experiences. Understanding those experiences, and the experiences of those who came before us can be a key factor in healing generational trauma.

The author JD Vance, in his autobiography entitled Hillbilly Elegy” gives a firsthand account of the cycles of trauma that shaped at least three generations of his family. The author explores the dysfunction in his grandparents marriage and the implications that it held for their children. He looks at the scars they carried into the next generation and the implications that they had for him growing up and moving from a rural setting into the city.

One of the ways we measure the impact of those generational scars is the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) questionnaire. It is a tool that measures instances of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as well as household dysfunction levels. For more information on ACE’s, see our post on the ACE’s Assessment

In Hillbilly Elegy,  major thread is resiliency. Time and again, we see people coping (often in less-than-ideal ways) and attempting to make the best of it and do the best that they can considering the circumstances. Growing up in a poor Appalachian community before moving to a more urban environment, the author is able to see generations of his family impacted by factors including substance use, physical violence, attitudes toward education, and socioeconomics.   

Those who break generational cycles like the ones mentioned above are often referred to as transitional characters” – a term coined by Carlfred Broderick of the University of Southern California. These are individuals in a family tree who, within their generation, changed the cycle to the degree that those who came after them lived differently than they did — Sometimes changing the entire course of the family tree.    

Doing that involves confronting the past, realizing how our experiences have shaped us, healing past wounds, and acquiring the tools we need to live differently moving forward. It’s one thing to say, I’ll never do those things”, but it’s another thing to recognize our own maladaptive patterns of living and take practical steps to ensure that the cycle really does end. Our team of therapists at Peace Family Counseling is ready to join you in that journey. You can read our bios here, as well as our approach to counseling here. If you decide we are a good fit, our intake form is available at the bottom of every page on this website in the section labeled let’s talk”.   

Family holidays can be a wonderful time of reunion. They can also be a difficult time of remembering. But change is possible, and trauma can be healed. JD Vance and many others in the world today share similar stories of hope and resilience against all odds — proving that healing and change for the future is possible.  

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