Trauma: The Impact of Inter-generational Trauma

The concept of intergenerational trauma was first recognized in 1966, by Canadian psychiatrist Vivian M. Rakoff, MD, when she discovered high rates of psychological distress among children of Holocaust survivors. Intergenerational trauma is trauma that isn’t just experienced by one person but extends from one generation to the next. Some of the examples are domestic violence, alcohol and drug, refugees, and survivors of combat/war trauma.

Trauma affects genetic processes, possibly by   epigenetic mechanisms affecting DNA function or gene transcription. Furthermore, microglia is the brain’s immune system. When in a constant trauma reactive state, microglia can eat away at the nerve instead of enhancing growth, which then can lead to genetic changes. Researchers have much to discover about its impact and how it looks within certain populations.  

Everyone is susceptible to intergenerational trauma, but there are specific populations that are vulnerable due to their histories. For instance, populations that have been systematically exploited endured continuous abuse, racism, and poverty. Like survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Asia or African Americans in the United States

A wide range of behaviors were observed in the offspring of Holocaust survivors: feelings of over‐identification and fused identity with parents, impaired self‐esteem stemming from minimization of offspring’s own life experiences in comparison to the parental trauma, tendency towards catastrophizing, worry that parental traumas would be repeated, a sense of a shorten future, mistrust and behavioral disturbances such as experiencing anxiety, traumatic nightmares, dysphoria, guilt, hypervigilance and difficulties in interpersonal functioning. Trauma can mask itself through learned beliefs, behaviors, and patterns that can become engrained.

If you or someone you know is seeking therapy for intergenerational trauma, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit

Illustration by therapist Ayan Mukherjee

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