Trauma: Recognizing Inherited Trauma

Trauma: Recognizing Inherited Trauma

The media is starting to portray more traumatized characters, and society is starting to understand its negative impact on individuals and families. Trauma can cause the brain to develop adaptations in order to cope with frightening things that happened in the past in an attempt to increase their chances of survival. Those living with trauma often feel helpless, powerless, and may be unable to cope. It’s a frightening experience.

Inherited traumas are a little different. These aren’t always things you experience directly. Instead, they are traumas passed down from parents and caregivers to children.

You may have experienced this yourself. For example, your parents might have been traumatized by something and then passed this pain onto you. There is research to prove that generations can acquire the unfinished psychological tasks of their parents and from previous generations.

How Do You Recognize Inherited Traumas?

Recognizing inherited traumas is possible, but it requires paying close attention to both body and mind. If you have unexplained memories or body sensations, or you recall things like they are memories without ever having actually experienced them, you may have inherited trauma.

Sometimes inherited trauma can work its way into our biology in the form of genetic pain and suffering which gets passed on. Experiences may rewrite DNA, sending signals to the next generation to be aware of a particular threat in the environment. However, it may also be entirely psychological, with no genetic component, which is observed when parents are not able to control their emotional reactions to stressful events which may cause the child to feel unsafe.

Here are some symptoms of trauma which can also be past down to future generations:

Difficulty Concentrating

You might find it hard to focus on tasks in front of you, or even follow the plot of a movie. This may hamper relationships, work and your social life.


You might also experience bouts of insomnia or nightmares. Getting to sleep might be difficult if you are thinking about your trauma.

Racing Heart

Those with inherited traumas may experience racing heart syndrome. Because of the intensity of the traumatic experience, the brain changes the heart rate to prepare the body for escaping danger, even when there is no direct threat.

Feeling Sad And Hopeless

Sadness and hopelessness are other common symptoms that you might experience if you have inherited trauma. It’s hard to feel good about life when threats seem overwhelming.

Feeling Numb Or Disconnected

Lastly, you may feel numb or disconnected. This is a way for your brain to protect you against the direct experience of the trauma. If it is too painful, you’ll feel cut off from your fears, and the rest of the world.

Examples Of Inherited Trauma

SAMHSA estimates that around two-thirds of children experience some form of inherited trauma during the formative years of their life.

Here are some examples that might affect your life:


You might not have been abused yourself, but your parents or caregivers might have been. For instance, your mother may have had an abusive partner who caused her emotional distress. Signs of inherited trauma may be having moments where you experience the same feelings and sensations your Mother felt during the traumatic event. In the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. he shares a study on mice where they inflicted trauma on mice through inflicting fear and then let off a cherry blossom scent. They discovered that future generations exhibited trauma symptoms when provided with a cherry blossom scent, although the new generation of mice had never experienced trauma.

Natural Disasters

You may also have inherited traumas from natural disasters that affected your parents during their lives. Hurricanes, for instance, might have destroyed their home. In the book “It Didn’t Start With You,” by Mark Wolynn, they share a story of a 19 year old male who suddenly began feeling cold at night, not being able to sleep, and an increase in trauma symptoms for no identifiable reason. After some family research, they discovered he had an uncle that was working on a power line, got electrocuted, and froze to death at the age of 19. Concluding that this person had inherited his uncles trauma.

Severe Illness

Parents and caregivers might have also experienced severe illness, which can be past down genetically in addition to the trauma symptoms that stemmed from the trauma of having severe illness.

How To Work Through Inherited Trauma

Inherited trauma can cause unwanted side effects, including emotional problems, a detachment from thoughts, behaviors and memories, and sleep problems. It can also lead to intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, dissociation and self-harm.

Treatment primarily involves working with a therapist. The first step is to understand that the problem is inherited, not something that occurred to you directly. This means looking at your parents’ lives and the stories that they told you when you were young. Therapists will work with you to explore your family history and obtain an understanding of the root of the trauma through trauma therapy.

Then the next step is to complete work through the emotional scarring. This requires processing the traumas your parents faced. For instance, your therapist might guide you to complete your parents’ grief and unfinished psychological tasks.

The goal is to find ways to tackle the inherited traumas. Once a therapist helps you identify them, you can finally break the cycle and return to your life.