Last updated:

March 29, 2024


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What is Generational Trauma - Signs, Causes, and Healing

Understand intergenerational trauma in India, its signs, causes, and healing methods. Explore therapeutic approaches and support for navigating generational wounds with Rocket Health India's online therapy.


One day, one of my clients asked me if her mother unabashedly hit her whenever she was wrong in her childhood as a form of punishment, which also helped her in realising to not repeat that behaviour or say those things; then why her mother intervenes and stops her  when she is hitting her daughter for the same teachings… As she continued to speak about her childhood days and when she was hit or yelled at by her mother, she could only remember how she felt then and not exactly what had happened, and that feeling made her uneasy!

This reminds me of the concept of generational trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma or multigenerational trauma. But before understanding generational trauma, let’s understand the term trauma. 

What is Intergenerational Trauma?

Trauma, which literally means wound, can be described as an individual’s reaction to an overwhelming event. It is not the intensity of the event, but the experience and the effect of that experience the individual goes through; hence, making trauma a subjective experience. 

Generational trauma or Intergenerational trauma refers to the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next. This type of trauma can occur when individuals who have experienced trauma, such as war, genocide, or abuse, pass on the effects of that trauma to their children and grandchildren, either directly or indirectly. This can happen through various means, including the way parents or caregivers raise their children, the stories and memories they share, and the cultural practices and beliefs they pass down.

Signs of Intergenerational Trauma

It's important to recognize that intergenerational trauma is a complex phenomenon that can manifest in different ways depending on the context and the individuals involved. Addressing intergenerational trauma often requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the historical and social context of the trauma, as well as the individual and collective experiences of those affected.

In India, common types of intergenerational trauma include the effects of colonialism, caste-based discrimination, communal violence, and displacement. These traumas can lead to a range of issues, such as low self-esteem, identity crises, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships. Additionally, the stigma around mental health in many Indian communities can further complicate the healing process.

One of the key aspects of intergenerational trauma is the way in which it can affect individuals' mental, emotional, and physical well-being across generations. Intergenerational trauma can manifest in various ways, including hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares, aloofness, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues. It is often transferred through family dynamics, cultural practices, and storytelling. 

Causes of Intergenerational Trauma

The trauma may pass on from generations to generations in many ways. 

In a research by Yehuda and Lehrner in 2018, they stated that an offspring of Holocaust survivors with symptoms of PTSD had low levels of methylation- an epigenetic mechanism which modifies gene function and expression. 

Stanek (2015) refers to intergenerational trauma as embodied trauma, where the physical sensations and emotional memory are stored in the body, and the body becomes a bridge between the past and the present to transmit trauma. 

Cherepanov (2020) is a trauma psychologist who suggested that the oppressive conditions make the parents develop survival messages like “rely on yourself”, “look out for yourself first”- which are transferred to their children and grandchildren. 

There have been research on understanding the parent child relationship through the lens of interpersonal  trauma which helps in understanding that a traumatic history, like a natural disaster or accident, doesn’t necessarily impact the mother’s attachment; but the interpersonal trauma like rape, sexual abuse, criminal assault have negative impact on the attachment shared with the child or even an infant. This further leads to impaired parenting. The unresolved trauma creates difficulties in forming a safe and secure bond with the child. It creates a disorganised attachment which may also lead to pain and pathological concern.

Working on resolving the Intergenerational Trauma

Healing the generational trauma needs a professional who is informed in trauma work, who is equipped and trained to offer trauma therapy. There are many approaches and therapies that can help an individual to get attuned to their bodies, making them aware of the past and the impact in the present, acknowledging and accepting, and then slowly by constant regulation of the felt uneasiness, trying to be present with oneself, the individual can learn to deal and heal from the traumatic experience and the effects. 

Different therapies which can help in healing include Dance Movement Therapy, Integral Somatic Psychology, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and many more. 

Apart from the professional help an individual can invest their time and efforts in self-care activities, physical movements, talking to parents and other members of the family, practising relaxation techniques, connecting with other people and participating in the support groups. 

As rightly said by Alicia Elliott, “If intergenerational trauma can alter DNA, why can’t intergenerational love?”

Intergenerational trauma is a complex issue that requires a nuanced understanding and comprehensive approach to treatment. By acknowledging the impact of historical events and addressing the cultural and social factors that contribute to trauma, individuals and communities in India can begin to heal. Online therapy can play a crucial role in this process, offering accessible and effective support for those struggling with intergenerational trauma. If you or someone you know is dealing with intergenerational trauma, consider seeking support from a mental health professional or an online therapy platform like Rocket Health India.

For more information on intergenerational trauma and how online therapy can help, visit Rocket Health India today.


Buonagurio, Nora, "The Cycle Continues: The Effects of Intergenerational Trauma on the Sense of Self and the Healing Opportunities of Dance/Movement Therapy: A Literature Review" (2020). Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses. 280.

Cherepanov, E. (2020). Survival messages. In Understanding the transgenerational legacy of totalitarian regimes (1st ed., pp. 127–133). Routledge.

Kaur H, Jaggi P. Intergenerational Trauma in the Context of the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition. Psychol Stud (Mysore). 2023 Jun 10:1-14. doi: 10.1007/s12646-023-00730-w. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37361513; PMCID: PMC10257180.

Mucci C. (2013). Chapter 3: Generations of trauma: reflections on the transmission of trauma from the first to the second and third generation, Beyond Individual And Collective Trauma (pp. 134, 140). Karnac Books Ltd. 

Yehuda, R. and Lehrner, A. (2018). Intergenerational transmission of trauma effects: putative role of epigenetic mechanisms. World Psychiatry, 17: 243-257.