If you aren’t naming and breaking the cycles that have entangled you, you are participating in them.

This is true in most systems we are part of, but is especially true for families. Researchers call it “intergenerational trauma” and have demonstrated that the trauma of a parent is literally, genetically, passed to offspring. This Simple-Wikipedia article on epigenetics has an easy-to-understand summary of epigenetics for those of us who get a little lost in the technical language used by geneticists.

In abbreviated terms: epigenetics takes a look into how our development is influenced by changes in gene activity – how heritable traits are passed down from those in our family, and/or how behaviors and environment can influence our development.

illustrated image showing two women. Text above both women says, "Every single person you meet is..." Under one woman, the text reads "Repeating a cycle of generational trauma." Under the second woman, the text says "Or carrying the burden of breaking cycles."

 

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Trauma, Dysfunction, and Cycles: A Quiz

When I initially posted this image to Instagram, feedback included some pushback that not all families could resonate with this. If we limit the understanding of family trauma to abuser/victim dynamics, this critique holds true –  but trauma (and perhaps especially intergenerational trauma) is much, much bigger than that limited lens.

Based on these conversations and research I’ve done in the area of intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, and family dysfunction cycles, I’ve created this resource:

A simple questionnaire to self-evaluate potential exposure to intergenerational trauma. Each "yes" answer is scored as 5 points, each "no" is 0 points. Results show a total score.

No identifiable data is saved from responses to this quiz. See Privacy Policy for more details.

This is quiz is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, assess, or treat any mental health condition. See site Terms of Use for questions.

Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced the death of a child?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced abuse or domestic violence?
Has anyone in three generations of your family lost a significant piece of their cultural heritage?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced divorce?
Has anyone in three generations of your family spent a portion of their life in poverty?
Is there a topic in your family that family members aren’t allowed to talk about because it’s too upsetting to someone?
Has anyone in three generations of your family lived through a war fought in their homeland?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced a hate crime, racism, or stigmatization?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced sexual violence?
Has anyone in three generations of your family immigrated to a new country?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced a miscarriage or stillborn child?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced addiction?
Has anyone in three generations of your family gone into active combat or sent a family member into active combat?
Has anyone in three generations of your family experienced extended unemployment?
Has anyone in three generations of your family been estranged from someone they loved?

If you answered yes to any of these, someone in your family line experienced a potentially traumatic event. Some individuals are far more resilient than others, and some families are better at minimizing the impact on successive generations (often through resiliency promoting childhood experiences), but adaptive coping patterns leave an imprint. Thoughtful living asks that we consider how our parents, our parent’s parents, and their parents coped with traumas, and how their choices impact how we live in the world now.

Click here for more resources for understanding, teaching, and illustrating trauma, PTSD, and new research in these areas. 

Folklore and Modern Science

Long before science proved the trauma of one generation impacts the expression of genes in the following generation, folklore gave us the language of “family curses” and ancient religious traditions taught the idea of children suffering for the wrongdoing of parents. These ideas fell out of popularity when the 1600’s brought the Age of Enlightenment, and “respectable thought” moved away from folklore towards hard sciences. However, now that science is confirming the intuitive wisdom of the past, will we listen for the places where intuition might illuminate our human experience in spaces that science has yet to explore?


 

User jennk_ asked a thoughtful question in the Instagram comments, “Are there any burdens that we can place on the next generation if we focus too much of our energy on breaking a cycle?”

Answer:  It’s such a kind question! I think it’s possible to focus so hard on “fixing” that our kids miss the fact that life is process, and that mindful living isn’t fixing something and moving on. Mindful living means constantly looking at systems and structures and beliefs, and reevaluating what is good and just.

 

 

Image description for screen readers:
Illustrated image with a light blue background, showing two women. 

Text above both women says, “Every single person you meet is…” 

The woman on the left has light skin and light brown hair, and is wearing a pink shirt with shorts. Underneath her is written: “Repeating a cycle of generational trauma.” 

The second woman has darker skin than the first woman with darker brown hair, and is wearing a green shirt with pants. Underneath her is written: “Or carrying the burden of breaking cycles.”

Through Patreon, you can get instant access to download all printable PDFs, licensing for professional use, and early releases- all while supporting the creation of more psychoeducational resources like this.

One thought on “Intergenerational Trauma – Illustration and Questionnaire”

  1. Thank you. I’m in the pivot generation of breaking generational trauma bonds and caring for my own and my child’s trauma. I’m a change breaker and so thankful for language to move forward and resources that confirm how hard and important and empowering the process is!

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