STOPPING TRAUMA CYCLES IN THEIR PATH
While there is growing awareness around trauma and PTSD, there is still more work to be done in understanding intergenerational trauma – particularly that experienced by Indigenous Australian people/s.
Trauma is generally considered to be an individual’s response to a traumatic event that is so overwhelming they are unable to cope.
When trauma is not adequately addressed and/or treated, it can be passed down to the next generation – directly or indirectly - through parenting practices, family stories, belief patterns, behaviour, domestic abuse, violence, substance abuse and mental health issues. This pattern can then be repeated in an infinite cycle, known as intergenerational trauma.
A person may have experienced one traumatic event (e.g. an armed robbery), a series of traumatic events (e.g. working as a paramedic) or sustained trauma (e.g. an abusive relationship).
A person who has experienced any form of trauma has experienced a life ‘interrupted’. It is unfair to expect survivors to view life through the same lens as they once did, or as a ‘trauma-free’ person would.
One person’s experience of ‘trauma’ may be ‘an unpleasant event’ for another. It is unhelpful to make judgements around the experiences of others or compare trauma.
Many people may not even realise they are continuing the cycle (e.g. overprotective parenting by a survivor of childhood abuse). When a person has experienced trauma from a young age, they may not even know what ‘normal’ looks and feels like. They can’t be expected to think, feel and act as others would.
Trauma can actually create physical changes in a person’s brain and body and affect their health. They can develop unhelpful ways of thinking, feeling and believing about the world and themselves. They may develop coping mechanisms in a sub/conscious attempt to ‘manage’ overwhelming emotions.
Coping mechanisms may be subtle (e.g. using humour to mask grief), yet still unhealthy; or obvious behaviours of concern that are harmful to both the person and those around them (e.g. alcohol/drug dependency, verbal/sexual abuse or violence).
While there is never an excuse for violent or abusive behaviour – and many people experience trauma without doing so – simply judging and punishing this behaviour will not necessarily stop it or stop the next generation from continuing the cycle.
Instead, understanding the nature of trauma (that it is the disease and that the behaviour of concern is the symptom) can be extremely helpful in acknowledging that there is a problem, seeking help to deal with the root cause and breaking the cycle once and for all.
Judging a person’s experience of and reaction to trauma, placing our own expectations on them and telling them to simply ‘get over it’ can be extremely damaging and delay the recovery process.
This has particularly been the case for Indigenous Australian people/s. Historical trauma including the violence of colonisation, loss of culturally significant land, discriminatory policies, forced removal of children and ongoing racism has taken its toll and created cycles of intergenerational trauma within many communities.
Many Indigenous Australian people/s feel that non-Indigenous Australians have yet to completely acknowledge and understand our nation’s history through their eyes without a ‘yeah, but’ caveat. Many non-Indigenous Australians may struggle to understand this after officially saying ‘sorry’, simply because they do not understand the nature of intergenerational trauma and do not know how else to help.
A genuine acknowledgement of individual experiences and truths can be extremely healing, even when the same events have been experienced by different people in different ways. Telling/showing someone, ‘I hear you’ can be extremely powerful.
Many people from all walks of life have unfortunately experienced trauma and intergenerational trauma. Demonstrating empathy and putting ourselves in each other’s’ shoes by asking, ‘How might I feel, think and act if this happened to me?’ or ‘I know how that felt in my situation, perhaps that’s how the other person is feeling’, can create a shared understanding and space for healing to begin.
There is no ‘set time’ or ‘right way’ in which a person must heal. Everyone’s experience of trauma is different and their response to trauma can be unique, often difficult for others to understand and requiring patience.
However, with the right support, the wounds of trauma CAN be healed and the cycles of intergenerational trauma CAN be broken.
If you’re struggling, talk to someone. In an emergency, call 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue, 1300 224 636 or 1800 RESPECT any time for free.
Artius Health offers appointments with qualified, experienced and caring Psychologists via Telehealth, no matter where you are in Australia. Face-to-face appointments are also available at our clinics throughout QLD.
If you have a Health Care Card or Pension Card, we are here to help. We bulk-bill these appointments. Ask your GP for a referral or Mental Health Care Plan to access the Medicare rebate.
Artius Health values diversity and we welcome clients from our Indigenous Australia people/s, NDIS and LGBTIQ communities.