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Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

Family constellations therapy offers a powerful tool for processing trauma. By recognizing the interconnectedness of personal and family experiences, it provides a path to healing that is both deep and broad, offering hope and transformation to those burdened by unresolved trauma.

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Trauma and Intergenerational Healing: A Professional Perspective:

Trauma, whether from recent events or ancestral origins, can cast a long shadow over a person's life, profoundly affecting behavior, relationships, and even physical health.

Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma:

The concept of intergenerational trauma examines the cyclical patterns of behavior and thought processes passed down through families. The lessons and experiences we acquire in childhood from our families often resurface in the families we create. This concept touches on our understanding of family roles, our behavior within the family unit, and the multigenerational impact of our actions, much like the rabbinic saying that suggests the deeds of the ancestors are a sign for the descendants.

Jewish traditions and scriptures frequently discuss the concept of intergenerational dynamics. The verse, "And you shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt'" (Exodus 13:8), represents a positive form of this transmission by encouraging dialogue and moral reflection. Conversely, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:29) describes an unhealthy pattern of intergenerational pathology, where the sufferings of the parents adversely affect their descendants without any healing or resolution.

 

Epigenetics:

The evidence for intergenerational trauma is not only anecdotal but also biological, as demonstrated by the field of epigenetics, which explores the hereditary components of emotional and psychological trauma. Studies have shown that descendants of those who experienced extreme trauma, such as Holocaust survivors or combat veterans, may inherit elevated cortisol levels, leading to stress-related illnesses, despite not experiencing the original traumatic events themselves. This fact suggests that trauma can be inherited similarly to physical traits.

The concept of body memory is fascinating in this context. Epigenetic research has proven that our DNA carries emotional imprints from our ancestors, which can manifest in future generations. However, there is hope in the possibility of altering our RNA. It seems that by addressing and healing our traumas, we can prevent the transmission of these legacies to our children and grandchildren.

Survivor's Guilt:

Family constellation therapy focuses on healing the wounds of intergenerational transmission. It operates on the principle that unaddressed or unresolved traumas from the past take over the emotional landscape of the family, influencing successive generations. Those who were exiled or ostracized from the family can impact family dynamics even long after their death.

Survivor's guilt is a poignant example of this phenomenon. Those who survived catastrophic events like the Holocaust or natural disasters often feel deep guilt for surviving while others perished. This guilt can permeate every aspect of their lives, affecting their self-perception, relationships, and even their professional lives.

From research on trauma stories of war veterans from World Wars to the Vietnam War, a vivid picture of global intergenerational trauma emerges. Soldiers returning from battlefields were often labeled as cowards and experienced severe psychological distress, sometimes coping through substance abuse. This trauma was then passed on to their descendants, who faced similar challenges in subsequent conflicts like battlegrounds. These patterns of survivor's guilt and trauma continued, creating a multi-generational legacy of suffering.

In Israel, this narrative is reflected in the experiences of survivors (and their descendants) of pogroms, the Holocaust, wars, and terrorist attacks. Our country grapples with the trauma of survivor's guilt throughout its history.

The Key to Dealing with Intergenerational Trauma:

The key to dealing with intergenerational trauma lies in recognizing and understanding the trauma itself. By identifying its sources and how it persists across generations, we can begin to heal. While we cannot change the past, we can change our perspective on it.

 

Family Constellations:

Traditional therapy methods can sometimes take years to unravel the complex web of trauma, often focusing on the individual's personal experiences. Family constellation therapy offers a unique and potentially faster path to healing by identifying the interconnected nature of trauma within the family system.

Family constellation therapy invites us to come to terms with our past, particularly the unconscious intergenerational aspects, and offers a way to rectify the emotional legacies that shape our lives. Exploring the landscape of our family history through constellation provides insight into the emotional and psychological legacies left by our ancestors—as if we carry the weight of their experiences on our shoulders. For example, the unresolved grief of a grandmother or the silent suffering of a mother can span family generations and manifest in various ways in future generations.

Without recognizing these roots, individuals may face symptoms and behaviors that seem mysterious or inexplicable. By acknowledging the difficulties our ancestors endured, we can lovingly return this inherited burden to its original place—to those to whom it belongs. This act, serving as a sort of purification ritual, frees us from the layers of inherited trauma that have woven into our being over time.

Anchor 1
Bert Hellinger

"Every day is a gift.

When we accept life as an unknown gift, our strength rises even in the face of fear and death.

When we say to life - yes!

We stop the old discourse that misses the change in the past.

When we stop, a door opens and invites us inside.

Then we become free, honoring the price our ancestors paid to pass on the gift of life.

When we say yes to life,

We remove the ruthless ways that have kept us stuck in the old stories, the old conversations.

We are walking a new, unknown and vulnerable path - and this is where grace meets us."

Bert Hellinger

Family constellation treatment facilitates a process in which intergenerational and hidden traumas can come to light.

By establishing constellations representing family members or significant events, patients can visually and emotionally explore the dynamics and patterns passed down from generation to generation. This process makes it possible to identify where the trauma originated and how it affected the family system. Most importantly, it offers an opportunity for recognition, reconciliation, and healing of these wounds, sometimes for the first time.

The holistic approach of family constellation treatment helps in identifying the place of trauma within the broader family narrative. This broad perspective can be incredibly liberating, as it shifts the burden of trauma from a personal experience to a shared, intergenerational family experience. It opens paths for forgiveness, compassion, and understanding, both towards yourself and towards family members.

Processing intergenerational trauma through a family constellation can provide a sense of closure. By addressing the roots of the trauma within the family system and promoting a healing dialogue, whether symbolic or verbal, it is possible to free yourself from the shackles of the past. This release not only helps in processing the trauma but also empowers individuals to move forward in life with a greater sense of wholeness and well-being.

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