Generational trauma - how the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to alter generations.

Generational trauma

Also known as transgenerational trauma or intergenerational trauma; this is a type of trauma that is transferred between familial generations. If a generation experiences trauma they carry the ability to transfer this trauma; via c-ptsd mechanisms: to their children and so on.

Where trauma occurred in a shared experience among society or as minimally as an individual or small group, collective suffering can be observed. I use the current covid-19 pandemic as an example of this through this article, however it must be noted that past historical events which have been studied from a socio-economic  perspective have been identified as collective trauma resulting in transgenerational trauma. The coronavirus pandemic has not been studied in it's potential to cause transgenerational trauma however, as it meets the criteria for collective trauma I will be focusing on this for the forthcoming content. Tomorrow; I will look at the role of single and multiple interpersonal relationship trauma in terms of transgenerational trauma in much more detail and its relationship with some survivors of complex and developmental trauma. 

Past incidences that have been reviewed in the content of causing intergenerational trauma includes; Holocaust survivor's, descendants of Slaves, refugees and even survivors of interpersonal relationship trauma. In the instance of transgenerational trauma where the trauma is a large collective experience amongst either Society as a whole or an individual group is referred to as historical trauma. A term that I personally believe will be attached to covid-19. Historical trauma is identified as having three distinct traits - widespread in nature, a traumatic event resulting in collective suffering and malicious intent of those inflicting said trauma. As it effects a larger sample, it can be more complex than individual trauma as it can lead to widespread loss of social identity - effecting multiple Generations until the trauma itself becomes enmeshed within society. 

Covid 19 was a (majoritively) sudden and unexpected event which not only changed the way we function in the UK but worldwide. In terms of its ability to cause transgenerational trauma; Covid-19 affected every facet of the worlds societies with no culture or country being spared leading to mass panic, compliance,  isolation, fear and mistrust of Government and country. The covid-19 pandemic also caused a divide in the society as a whole where individuals at a collective level fought and argued over government advice. As isolation continued and lack of social support ensued, individuals became more tense and aggressive in nature; displaying many acute symptoms of PTSD itself. Many countries and continents were pitted against each other, almost in a "who responded better" way. Individual countries became horse ponies in their race of who responded the best, who had the lowest rates, construction of new policy as the population sat in isolation awaiting news and guidance on how to complete menial tasks once taken for granted. Within our population; domestic violence rates skyrocketed as did mental health issues; as members of society became bombarded by the media, obsessed with statistics and mistrustful of the government agencies that even produced the statistics in the first place. As weeks progressed, society began to live their lives in uncertainty with reliance on daily covid-19 info. 
  Separated from families and unable to collectively grieve, you can see easily why this pandemic has potential to cause intergenerational trauma in the future. Individuals with no mental health issues began to exhibit PTSD and phobia related behaviours. Suddenly, those members of the public who once seemed to coast through life without a worry - began to fear leaving their bubble, society collectively exhibited acute PTSD symptoms within the first week of lockdown being enforced. 

Importantly, theorists in trauma such as Gabor Mate and Professor Van der Kolk have stated that an individual's potential outcome following a traumatic incident is directly related to the level of social support. With regards to covid-19 and it's lockdown measures: this level of support was stripped from the majority of the population. Indicating the levels of trauma experienced as having the potential to become a pandemic in itself. 

Now, I'm not here to contest anything about covid-19. Whether you believe it or not, whatever your stance is; there is no denying that the pandemic itself has the potential for causing intergenerational trauma.

When we research related symptoms of transgenerational trauma; we find it firstly manifests as PTSD. With second generational trauma; it is viewed as a trauma response to past parental trauma. Looking at covid-19 as having the potential to cause it's own mental health pandemic with a sharp increase in society exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety and antisocial risk-taking behaviour. 

With regards to past research looking into the manifestation of intergenerational trauma; researchers found different symptoms relating to the type of collective trauma experience. Symptoms of intergenerational trauma differ greatly across cultural divides, the type of trauma experienced and support available; with a lack of support or therapy having the largest impact on recovery.

It is a lack of therapy and/or support that worsens symptoms of intergenerational trauma which can lead to transmission across familial generations. Survivors of collective or single and complex trauma can actually negatively influence future generations due to their unresolved trauma. (I will look more in depth about this in further posts.) This transference causes generations to react to situations as if they had originally experienced the trauma themselves; even although it may have originally been experienced by a parent or grandparent.

The key to preventing transgenerational trauma is to recognise the traumatic associated symptoms and issues; ultimately seeking help or support and processing and resolving these. Transgenerational trauma is very much under recognised and misdiagnosed due to a lack of trauma therapy specialists. With regards to covid-19 being a potential source of transgenerational trauma; I have yet to come across any solid material. However I am sure this will be completed as usual after the issues arise for our Society.

Nicola Strang 

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