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What is Trauma?

Exposure to traumatic events can lead to emotional and psychological distress. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and the ability to regulate emotions. Some people with trauma can feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness, and intense fear. There are three main types of trauma: Acute, Chronic, and Complex.

Acute: A recent single event such as a car accident, natural disaster, violent assault, theft, or witness to a crime. Symptoms can include, panic or extreme anxiety and confusion or irritation. People with acute stress disorder may relive the trauma, have flashbacks or nightmares and may feel numb or detached from themselves. These symptoms cause major distress and problems in their daily lives. 


Chronic: Repeated and prolonged exposure to traumatic events such as domestic violence, ongoing sexual abuse, ongoing child abuse, gang violence, and bullying. Symptoms can include, feelings of shame and guilt, difficulty managing emotions, fatigue, and periods of losing attention and concentration.


Complex:  Complex trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature, and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive such as sexual abuse or incest, ongoing physical and emotional abuse, chronic neglect or abandonment, human trafficking, parentification, or profound neglect. They usually occur early in life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and the formation of a sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Symptoms can include feelings of shame or guilt, difficulty controlling emotions, relationship difficulties, and physical symptoms.


In terms of treatment, individuals should seek treatment from a trauma informed trained professional. Furthermore, clinicians may recommend medication in conjunction to psychotherapy. 

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Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational trauma refers to trauma that is passed from a trauma survivor to their descendants. It can also be referred to as transgenerational or multigenerational trauma. People experiencing intergenerational trauma may experience symptoms, reactions, patterns, and emotional and psychological effects from trauma experienced by previous generations (not limited to just parents or grandparents). For example, someone may have grown up in a household where there were generations of yelling and shouting at their children in anger, stemming from a place of unresolved trauma and pain. 

Individuals develop trauma responses that are helpful for short-term survival, however, being in “survival mode” is harmful to both physical and mental health in the long term. Remaining in "survival mode" can limit one's ability to thrive, as living in survival mode is founded in response to fear/trauma/scarcity.

If your parents or grandparents experienced trauma, their DNA coded itself to have a survival response that helped them get through those events, which then passed down through generations. This “survival mode” remains encoded and passed down for multiple generations in the absence of additional trauma. If you experience intergenerational trauma, trauma-informed interventions and therapy treatment can help you cope with your own symptoms, understand the impact of intergenerational trauma, and equip you with tools to help change deeply embedded patterns and heal yourself and generations after you. A trauma-informed approach can help you establish internal safety, create healthy relationship dynamics, and manage your body’s physiological response to intergenerational trauma.

The following information was sourced from

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