South Lake Union Therapy, Julie Wilson, MA, LMHC

Childhood Trauma / Generational Trauma

What can be considered trauma in one’s past is dependent on the individual and how that person experienced their childhood at the time. What can be considered traumatic, as with most things, exists along a spectrum. One can be negatively affected by things that have been minimized and normalized over time or that have been deemed trivial by others. Even extreme abuse can be minimized and normalized. Regardless of where it falls on the spectrum, childhood trauma needs to be understood and processed at some point and in some way if one is to operate as a cohesive, integrated person.

Alice Miller has this to say about childhood trauma in her book, ” Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for True Self” (One can substitute “primary caregiver” for “mother” in this quote.) : The art of experiencing feelings. A child can experience her feelings only when there is somebody there who accepts her fully, understands her, and supports her. If that person is missing, if the child must risk losing the mother’s love of her substitute in order to feel, then she will repress emotions.

Childhood trauma in the form of chronic abuse: Chronic childhood abuse takes place in a familial climate of pervasive terror, in which ordinary care-taking relationships have been profoundly disrupted. Survivors describe a characteristic pattern of totalitarian control, enforced by means of violence and death threats, capricious enforcement of petty rules, intermittent rewards and destruction of all competing relationships through isolation, secrecy and betrayal. Even more than adults, children who develop in this climate of domination develop pathological attachments to those who abuse and neglect them, attachments they will strive to maintain even at the sacrifice of their own welfare, their own reality, or their lives. -Judith Herman “Trauma and Recovery”

It is almost always true that childhood trauma is the result of generational trauma.  Deeply damaged perpetrators carry their wounds forward and inflict damage on the next generation.  It's important to uncover and understand the themes perpetuated in generational trauma in order to better make sense of our experience of abuse and neglect and to identify and put to an end the cycle of pain and destruction.

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