This photo is of a woman with brown skin, braided black hair, wearing white fur earrings and a brown jacket. She is about to smudge, holding an eagle feather in one hand and a bowl of lit sage in the other with smoke coming out. The background shows brown trees with hints of green cedar branches.

Healing the generational wound: understanding the impact of intergenerational trauma.


As we journey through life, we carry with us not only our own experiences but also the collective burdens of our ancestors. In the last article about Decolonizing Mental Health, one of the steps towards decolonizing our mental health was shifting away from the individual aspect of trauma. Trauma is often the result of what we are carrying and its impact can be determined by how we cope and take care of it. In addition, the echoes of past traumas reverberate within us, shaping our mental health and influencing our perception of the world. Acknowledging our history (family, community, culture) empowers us to lessen the burden for future generations and create a positive impact that can be carried forward.

Understanding intergenerational trauma.

Intergenerational trauma is rooted in the belief that traumatic experiences and their emotional aftermath are passed down from one generation to the next. When trauma remains unresolved and unhealed in previous generations, it trickles down through the familial and cultural fabric, influencing the mental health and well-being of subsequent generations. Descendants of communities that have endured historical trauma, such as colonization, slavery, pogroms, genocide, or forced displacement, may carry the weight of these events through generations. 

Intergenerational trauma is rooted in the belief that traumatic experiences and their emotional aftermath are passed down from one generation to the next.

Breaking the cycle: embracing responsibility for future generations.

In the same way our ancestors’ experiences are passed down to us, our experiences will be passed down to future generations. This means we’re responsible for perpetuation or for beginning the healing process and stopping the cycle from repeating. This can feel like a huge overwhelming task, but we don’t have to solve it in its entirety. The Indigenous seven generation teaching is a great tool to begin unpacking one’s history and think about what’s being carried. This teaching is that we in the present are affected by the seven generations before us and we also affect the seven generations after us. Applying this perspective to intergenerational trauma means we only have to start the journey and lessen the load in our generation. To gain further insight into this teaching, you can listen to someone from Algonquin College sharing their knowledge by clicking here.

This photo is of an old tree trunk surrounded by green trees in the forest. The trunk of the tree has a fern growing out of it and there is sun shining through the trees onto the fern.

We don’t need to heal or change the cycle entirely, only reduce the burden for the next. We can understand that we exist in the context of others before and after us. And by interrupting a cycle, we begin to heal and allow the next generation to begin a step ahead. This creates a new cycle; the trauma is lessened over time. As systemic oppressions are challenged in each generation, laws change, cultural is revitalized, languages are reclaimed, and different energy is passed through future generations with less to endure. 

How to start breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

  1. Reconnect with cultural roots: Many government policies have severed Indigenous people’s ties to original lands and community. Locating, embracing, and celebrating one’s ancestorial culture can be healing. As an Indigenous person, this can look like learning to speak the language, harvesting traditional food and medicines, dancing, singing, and finding ways to reconnect and redefine what culture looks like for you in this generation. 
  2. Heal through communal support: Colonizers systematically disrupted community networks, cultural practices, and families. Engaging with the community and participating in cultural practices can provide a safe space for healing, sharing stories, and finding solidarity. 
  3. Raise awareness: The dominate culture doesn’t adequately teach Indigenous stories in film, books, and schools. By promoting awareness, education, and inclusion of accurate history, authentic culture, and ongoing traumas faced by Indigenous communities’ we can challenge stereotypes, dispel ignorance, foster empathy, and build understanding. 
  4. Advocate for change: The original relationship between Indigenous people and the environment has been weakened as land was stolen. The land has not been taken care of and climate change is affecting us all. By advocating for social justice, environmental protection, and reconciliation, individuals can create positive impacts that resonate not only in the present, but for generations to come. 
  5. Be mindful of what we’re passing on: It’s not our fault that we have inherited trauma, but it’s our responsibility to acknowledge it. We’re accountable to the next seven generations. Understanding how our actions impact future generations and how we’re connected can help to motivate us to change.  

Intergenerational trauma is a silent and powerful force that we may carry without even being aware of it. It influences our mental health and well-being, affecting how we perceive ourselves, relate to others, and navigate life’s challenges. By acknowledging its existence and taking proactive steps towards healing, we can lessen what’s passed down to the next generation and begin to break cycles for future generations.  

Connect with Cheyenne Fox-Tree McGrath to explore more on understanding intergenerational trauma.

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