Intergenerational Trauma

Intergenerational trauma is real. Trauma is passed down through family lines. When a member of a family experiences a trauma, such as being raised by an alcoholic, experiencing slavery or the Holocaust, these traumas have biological and behavioural impacts on future generations.

Research has shown that unresolved trauma has links with violence, addiction, mental health issues, incarceration and obesity.

When entire generations of people have experienced trauma, such as with the Stolen Generation in Australia, symptoms of that trauma express not only through the generations to experience the trauma, but also their children and their children’s children.

Re-traumatisation happens when a person is re-exposed to the original trauma. A classic example is with the Australian stolen generation. 100,000 children of aboriginal people were taken by the government and church and placed in institutions until the 1970’s.

Let’s use an example:

  • Child taken and raised in an institution with no natural motherly love
  • Child doesn’t know how to raise a child with love and secure attachment
  • Child has little community support or cultural connection, struggles with depression
  • As an adult she has a child
  • She struggles to care for the child with her depression and lack of communal support
  • The child is taken into care

(Indigenous children are 10 times more likely to be placed in out of home care)

This is re-traumatisation.

Do you think there is intergenerational trauma in your family? How do you know?


Van der Kolk B. Develop Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health. 2006;4(2):118-136.

Atkinson, J. Nelson, J and Atkinson, C. 2010, “Trauma, Transgenerational Transfer and Effects on Community Wellbeing”, in Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice, Purdie, N. Dudgeon, P. and Walker, R. (eds.), accessed 14th April

Yehuda, R. (2018). Cultural trauma and epigenetic inheritance. Development and Psychopathology.