CATEGORY: CONTROL OF LANGUAGE AND IDEAS
Source: Kenny, Business Insider
Read time: 3.2 minutes
A reporter wrote an article on five signs that you may have intergenerational trauma by interviewing one psychotherapist.
Who Did This?
Serafina Kenny is a health reporter at Business Insider. Her work includes multiple articles based on the views of single experts on diet, longevity, relationship problems, sexology, and dermatology. Among her accomplishments on her bio page on Business Insider includes “She has a Masters degree in Gender, Sexuality and Culture; . . . and has hosted a feminist pop culture podcast.”
For this article, Kenny interviewed Hendrix Hammond as an expert on intergenerational trauma. Hammond, based in London, has a master’s degree in family & couple psychotherapy. He has provided workshops on a variety of topics including: The importance of identity and intersectionality; Race and racism in the workplace; and Applying systemic ideas in educational settings. He devoted a page on his personal website to promote Black Lives Matter.
Experiencing trauma and stress can negatively impact individuals who can then pass down to their children a host of maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through repetition. The negative impacts on children include relationship dynamics, unconscious thinking patterns, and personality traits. Each impact can be passed down through multiple generations.
Hammond asserted that the following signs indicate that you likely are the victim of intergenerational trauma:
(1) You’re very suspicious of people. Your mother or father experienced a trauma that involved betrayal and taught them to be suspicious, and you, as an infant, mirrored this until it became part of your personality.
(2) You need to be around people all the time. Your mother or father experienced a trauma and reacted by always “looking around to check if they have enough around them to help them survive,” and then you, as a child, mirrored this and integrated it into your thinking and behavior.
(3) You struggle to regulate your emotions. Your parent(s) responded to traumatic events with abnormal numbness or excessive emotionality, and this “gets modeled to their children."
(4) You may not have the tools to deal with low moods and mental health issues. If your family never modeled the practice of reaching out to speak to other people to manage their low moods, you never learned how to do that yourself, and, according to Hendrix, “it can quickly turn into extended periods of depression.”
(5) You self-harm or have destructive coping mechanisms. Cutting, burning, undereating, or taking risks with your life are other indicators that you modeled after your parents to be “really repressed” in your emotional responses to life.
The attractiveness of the theory is obvious because children feel unconscious connections to parents, and we can easily observe so many other examples where children learn culture, language, and skills from parents. But the concept has received criticism from scientists for multiple concerns.
One concern is that the theory of intergenerational trauma is not needed to explain why children are similar to parents. Children inherit many similarities through genetics.
Another concern is that the “generational” aspect of the theory is difficult to defend. If individuals can be permanently negatively impacted by repetitive exposure from parents, why don’t individuals unconsciously integrate maladaptive thoughts and behaviors of others they frequently observe such as best friends and favorite teachers? And why do some children turn out very different from their parents?
Another concern is that many of the life experiences that allegedly impact parents are not traumas. Trauma has a specific meaning in psychiatry of being life-threatening because those are the types of experiences that typically cause posttraumatic stress disorder. By promoting the idea that everyday stress is the more potent “trauma,” when it’s not, the health advice is unlikely to truly help anybody.
Another concern is that the theory is based on influences passing from unconscious mind to unconscious mind by repetition, but the mechanism of how that happens, whether it be psychodynamic or physiological in nature, is unproven. Proof of a mechanism is not needed for a theory to be true, but it would help with plausibility. A physiobiological mechanism that is frequently proposed is epigenetics, which is most frequently described as the methylation of DNA causing changes in gene expression. Whether methylation patterns can be transmitted from parent to child remains unproven and is highly controversial in humans. Kenny mentioned the epigenetics theory as a possible mechanism, but to her credit, qualified it as needing more research to confirm it.
Why Did This Happen?
Despite the lack of evidence for intergenerational trauma, the concept first gained traction in psychology to explain problems in children of Holocaust survivors. The concept has been used often to explain problems in descendants of slavery, refugees, and other forms of oppression.
The phrase intergenerational trauma is one of many attempts to control language that have been promoted in the trauma research and clinical fields over the past thirty years. Other phrases for concepts that lack sufficient evidence include toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, complex PTSD, and racial trauma. All of these have in common the aim to control the idea of human nature as having brains that are fragile and nearly all problems in disadvantaged groups are due to life experiences, as opposed to genetics; and the solution to most of these problems requires revolutionary change in how society treats disadvantaged individuals through expansion of governmental entitlements.
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