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Healing from the Generational Trauma of Abuse and Addiction

Caitlin Weese LCSW-C, 200 RYT

an adult holds the feet of a baby

Many of us find ourselves grappling with the weight of generational trauma passed down through our family lines. It’s important to note that generational trauma can be a variety of things and it may and often does, look different for different people. Generational trauma refers to the emotional, psychological, and even physical wounds that are carried from one generation to another, affecting our beliefs, behaviors, and overall well-being. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on generational trauma resulting from abuse and addiction in the family. By acknowledging and processing this trauma, we have the power to break the cycle and positively impact our family’s future generations. In this blog post, we will explore the impact of generational trauma and discuss practical strategies to heal and create a healthier legacy for future generations.

Understanding Generational Trauma:

Generational trauma can be rooted in significant historical events, cultural or societal oppression, war, displacement, domestic violence, abuse or other traumatic experiences. These events can leave a profound impact on the affected individuals, shaping their worldview and passing down the consequences of trauma to subsequent generations. We may feel that we ourselves have not experienced anything traumatic, however, the experiences of our family do impact us, down to our genes.

For many, generational trauma can manifest as deeply ingrained beliefs, unhealthy coping mechanisms, relationship patterns, and emotional wounds. Because of this, it can contribute to issues like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-destructive behaviors, and difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

How Do We Break the Cycle?

Awareness and Acknowledgment:

The first step in coping with generational trauma is to become aware of its existence and acknowledge its impact on your life. Take the time to reflect on your family history, cultural context, and intergenerational patterns that have influenced your experiences. Look closely at the beliefs and behaviors you were taught growing up and get curious about where these come from. While it is painful, it's important to remember that you are not to blame for the trauma, and you have the power to change the trajectory for future generations.

Seek Professional Support:

Healing generational trauma often requires professional support, such as therapy or counseling. A skilled therapist can support you in the process of unpacking and processing the underlying traumas. Along the way, they will help you develop coping strategies and tools for healing to manage your symptoms. Because trauma is stored in our more primitive limbic system, it’s important to find a provider who understands, and specializes in treating, trauma. Look for therapists who offer trauma- specific modalities like EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and somatic experiencing.

Engage in Self-Reflection and Self-Care:

Engaging in self-reflection allows you to identify patterns, triggers, and limiting beliefs that have been inherited from previous generations. Embrace self-care practices that nourish your mind, body, and soul, like meditation, journaling, movement, or artistic expression. As you do, feelings and thoughts may arise. Practice self-compassion as you uncover these wounds and get curious about how you can support yourself. Always remembering that they are not your fault and something you can work through.

Break Silence and Communicate:

Generational trauma often thrives in silence and secrecy. Break the cycle by opening up conversations with trusted individuals, whether it's friends, or support groups. Confiding in family members can be helpful as well, however, remember that not everyone in your family may be interested in looking at the role of family trauma or support you doing so. In these instances, it can be safer to avoid sharing this with them. If your family was impacted by substance use or abuse, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families can be a helpful support. Share your experiences and listen to other’s stories and identify where you can relate. Create a secure space for validation, understanding, and healing. By breaking the silence, you allow yourself and others to heal collectively.

Practice Self-Compassion and Forgiveness:

Healing generational trauma involves extending compassion and forgiveness to ourselves and our family. Understand that previous generations likely did not have the tools or resources to heal themselves which resulted in the transmission of trauma. Recognize that they are not at fault for their own traumatic experiences. Work to understand how resentment or anger towards your ancestors has served you, and where you would like to go from here. Practice self-compassion as you navigate the healing process, recognizing that it takes time and patience.

Create New Legacies:

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma involves consciously choosing to create a new legacy for future generations. Consider the values, beliefs, and behaviors you want to pass on to your children and the generations to come. Engage in practices that promote emotional well-being, healthy communication, and connection. Seek opportunities to heal collectively and build supportive networks within your community.


We have the power to break the cycle of generational trauma and create a healthier, more empowered legacy. By acknowledging the impact of generational trauma, seeking professional support, engaging in self-reflection and self-care, breaking silence, practicing self-compassion and forgiveness, and consciously creating new legacies, we can heal ourselves and pave the way for a brighter future for generations to come. Remember, healing is a process, and by taking these steps, you are reclaiming your power and transforming your life.

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