Transgenerational Trauma: Is It Inherited From Parents To Children?

Transgenerational trauma: is it inherited from parents to children?

When we think about the education and care of children, it seems that we are facing an unprecedented challenge, which could mark our successors for life. Whether a child receives good care and treatment during his childhood can determine in many ways the direction his development and growth will take.

However, what happens when, not only does he not receive good treatment, but he experiences and carries different emotional traumas?

This is the case of generational trauma, that which is shared from generation to generation. But generational trauma does not have to originate during infancy and childhood. The traumatic episode can happen at any time in your life, but depending on the forms and behaviors of care, in addition to your personal work, it may or may not be transmitted to future generations.

Transgenerational trauma is a serious and curious topic in equal parts. It largely explains why, on many occasions, people who have bad behaviors or behaviors may have learned them based on their family environment. In this article, we will break down this phenomenon, seeking to understand its psychobiological explanations.

What is transgenerational trauma?

Before focusing on the way in which transgenerational trauma is transmitted between grandparents, parents and children, it is important to establish a clear definition of this concept. Generational trauma, in essence, refers to the transfer of traumatic experiences from one generation to another, thus transcending temporal and even spatial barriers. This phenomenon goes beyond the simple narrative or family problem; It is embedded in the roots of psychology and genetics.

Some palpable examples of this traumatic typology are influenced by historical and family events that generate trauma, such as forced displacement, family abuse, episodes of violence, unexpected deaths, and other episodes that leave deep scars in the collective psyche. The essence of generational trauma is not limited exclusively to the verbal narratives passed down from parents to children. Generational trauma is also capable of penetrating the biological and psychological structures of family members, giving rise to specific perceptions and responses derived from the trauma for future generations.

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The complexity of generational trauma lies in the intersection of genetic and environmental factors. Traumatic experiences can leave epigenetic marks on the family, altering gene expression and potentially affecting the mental and physical health of generations to come. This interconnection between the genetic and the experiential raises fascinating questions about the way in which the experiences of our ancestors are able to shape our own reality and the way we perceive it.

How is transgenerational trauma transmitted?

The transmission of generational trauma involves a complex interaction between various biological and psychological mechanisms, as we have already commented. First of all, genetic inheritance plays a fundamental role. Recent research suggests the existence and influence of certain genetic markers that may have been altered by traumatic experiences, affecting the expression of genes relevant to the regulation of stress and emotional responses.

In addition, different approaches have been developed through epigenetics. Epigenetics studies changes in gene activity when there are no changes in the DNA sequence, and has become a crucial field for understanding how trauma is transmitted intergenerationally. It has been observed that stress and the traumas associated with it are capable of modifying epigenetic marks, thus influencing the way in which genes are activated or deactivated in future generations.

Nevertheless, Trauma transmission is not limited to genetic inheritance. Behavior patterns learned in the family environment play an equally crucial role. Children absorb not only their parents’ genetic traits, but also their emotional responses and coping strategies. If parents have experienced unresolved trauma, these patterns are likely to manifest in their child-rearing, creating a cycle that can be perpetuated across generations.

The family environment, therefore, acts as a fertile ground for the transmission of trauma. Family dynamics, parental interactions, and level of emotional support play a significant role in how traumatic experiences are processed and transmitted. When we experience trauma and do not resolve it, its power is capable of impacting the way our DNA is sequenced and having an impact on the education and development of future generations.

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How long does transgenerational trauma last?

The duration of transgenerational trauma is a fundamental question in understanding its long-term effects and across different generations. Research on this phenomenon suggests that its impact extends beyond a single generation, leaving emotional scars that persist for decades, even centuries. The most cutting-edge studies point to the maintenance of transgenerational trauma for seven generations in cases in which resolution and closure is not sought for the traumatic events.

However, different studies reveal the importance of considering diversity and different forms of manifestation between families and between each generation within the same family. Some families may find ways to cope and overcome trauma in simpler ways, while in others, painful traces may linger, affecting mental health. The social, economic, personal and emotional resources of each family also come into play here. It is important to maintain an inclusive and intersectional vision, understanding, for example, that those families with greater economic wealth can more easily resort to psychological treatments compared to impoverished families.

Its impact on mental health

Transgenerational trauma leaves a deep mark on mental health, weaving a complex network of effects that manifest in various ways. The emotional consequences can range from anxiety and depression disorders to dysfunctional behavioral patterns. Successive generations can carry a psychological burden that affects their self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and the way they cope with stress.

Anxiety and depression are frequent companions in those affected by transgenerational trauma. Uncertainty rooted in the traumatic experiences of their ancestors can create a persistent sense of insecurity, affecting these people’s ability to form strong relationships and experience life fully.

Dysfunctional patterns of behavior can also emerge as a manifestation of trauma. The lack of positive role models in childhood, combined with the emotional burden transmitted, can contribute to the repetition of destructive patterns in adult life.

However, it is crucial to highlight that awareness and understanding of this phenomenon can be the first step towards healing. Therapy and psychological support can play a vital role in identifying and addressing the consequences of transgenerational trauma.

Breaking the cycle: overcoming generational trauma

Despite the depth of the impact of generational trauma, there is hope to break the cycle and foster healing. Awareness and understanding of the origin of the trauma are fundamental to this process.

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Taking into account what we have commented in the previous section, each family is different and experiences this trauma adjusting to their situations, resources and coping possibilities. However, we can highlight some common factors on the path to overcoming this traumatic cycle:

1. Psychological therapy

Psychological therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy, has been shown to be effective in addressing emotional sequelae and inherited behavioral patterns. Therapy is useful to face all those problems that we are not fully aware of or that we do not see ourselves capable of facing as may be the case of deep-rooted generational trauma.

2. Education, awareness and communication

Education and dialogue within families also play a crucial role. Opening a space to share experiences and express emotions can be the first step in dismantling emotional barriers that have persisted throughout generations. This can help find common connections between different family members and foster mutual support.

3. Social support

The strength of communities and social support are also key elements. The establishment of support networks with members and groups outside the family It can also provide an environment in which people affected by generational trauma feel supported and understood.

4. Overcoming and resilience

The narrative of overcoming and resilience is a common thread in the stories of those who have managed to break the cycle of trauma. Identifying and changing dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behavior is a gradual process but essential to freeing future generations from the chains of the past.


In the intricate web of generational trauma, we have explored its definition, transmission mechanisms, and its lasting impact on mental health. Although trauma can endure across generations, awareness, support and therapy offer avenues to break the cycle. Human resilience shines as we seek to understand, heal, and forge a path toward a future where the wounds of the past can heal.