The Canadian Globe and Mail carries a story this week, "The Intergenerational Trauma of First Nations Still Runs Deep". Reading the first paragraph, I am struck with how familiar this story about Native People of Canada seems.
"Imagine a knock on your door. You open it and are met by strangers accompanied by a police officer. These people are speaking a different language so you don’t understand what they’re saying. Eventually, you come to the surreal realization that they’ve come for your children. There is some time given to pack clothes and say goodbye. Any resistance is met with the threat of arrest by the police. You’re not sure where your children are going or if you will ever see them again. You’re wondering what you did wrong. You have no idea what is happening as you helplessly watch this nightmare unfold before your eyes".
Three generations removed from Holocaust survivors, I grew up on stories like that. I have lived my whole life with a sense of pain and grief for family members long gone, most of whom I never met, and to this day, I carry a chronic sense of personal vulnerability to a repeat of trauma now several generations old. I am sometimes surprised by - and envious of - those who move about with a sense of freedom and safety in the world.
But the story in the Globe and Mail is of someone else's tragedy, that of native Canadian families permanently destroyed by the forced removal of large numbers of children from their parents and sent off to residential schools or adoption. The article highlights how the trauma of these forced removals lives on generations later:
"Direct survivors of these experiences often transmit the trauma they experienced to later generations when they don’t recognize or have the opportunity to address their issues. Over the course of time these behaviours, often destructive, become normalized within the family and their community, leading to the next generation suffering the same problems."
The impact of trauma is, thankfully, getting increasing recognition in our world. However, intergenerational trauma, trauma carried across generations, remains poorly recognized. Just as individual trauma can devastate persons, intergenerational trauma can devastate communities, even nations.
On a positive note, just as individuals can take steps to move beyond the debilitating effects of trauma, so too, communities and nations can take steps to move beyond intergenerational trauma.
But first they have to recognize its existence. It takes courage for community members to step forward and openly tell their stories. It takes boldness for the Globe and Mail to publish them. Both contribute to the healing of all communities living with transgenerational trauma by recognizing that this traumatic event took place and made an impact accross generations.
Has your life been impacted by trauma of a previous generation? What stories need to be told to assist moving on?