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Intergenerational Trauma

  • By: Mirna E. Carranza
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

The term intergenerational trauma refers to the residual impact of a traumatic event that is transmitted across generations through storytelling and behavioral and relational patterns. As a background to the discussion of intergenerational trauma, the basic definitions of psychological trauma, mass trauma, and collective trauma are explained.

Psychological trauma refers to a significant and out-of-the-ordinary experience in which those involved feel helpless and powerless. When a victim is overwhelmed by an event, he or she cannot carry out the automatic “fight-or-flight” response, but instead feels paralyzed. Individual experiences of trauma are often kept secret, for example in cases of childhood sexual abuse, incest, sexual assault, or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Hence, the traumatic experience may be associated with self-blame, shame and embarrassment, or self-hatred.

Mass trauma is a significant, ...

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