Some more specific considerations to keep in mind with regard to trauma are the fact that specific cultural, familial, and generational components can exacerbate trauma responses even more. For example, an individual with a Jewish background whose family has survived the Holocaust (even several generations out), can still carry much of the trauma that their ancestors experienced. Thus, they are more likely to feel a very strong fear response to changes that seem like they emulate these past traumas. For many, this is part of their genetic coding, and may have never been triggered before. Certain events may feel similar, though, and thus bring this to the surface. Where a person may not be directly impacted by the incident, they can still have a very strong emotional reaction. Without the proper support, this can often lead individuals to respond using maladaptive coping skills. Thus why we sometimes see an increase in substance abuse, violent behavior, being verbally derogatory, and a lack of tolerance in these types of situations. Keep in mind, when it feels like survival is at stake (even if it really may not be), we respond using survival instincts – not from our adaptive brains.
For individuals who may have grown up with certain dysfunctional family dynamics, certain situations and experiences can trigger these feelings from their past. For many adults, they feel as though they have moved well beyond (and even “gotten over”) the events of their past. The research shows us, however, that trauma lingers in the mind and body, and will manifest at some point if it has not been dealt with entirely. For example, a person who grew up amidst family dysfunction where the implied rules were not to think, feel, or trust may feel very triggered by experiences where they perceive oppression. They may respond by becoming very rigid, or even overtly defensive. This is often because these responses allowed them to feel as though they had a sense of control or safety in their environment growing up, so in similar feeling experiences they do the same.
In these examples, if a person can learn to understand their generational trauma and unresolved family of origin conflict, then they will likely be able to manage their reactions in present day situations better. This is not to say that people still will not have strong feelings and opinions on a matter, but having dealt with unresolved trauma will allow them to navigate through these feelings using their prefrontal cortex rather than their limbic brain. It’s also possible that they may have very different opinions and feelings towards the issues at hand once they have worked to understand the underlying issues. In many ways this is the essence of therapy. Understanding the unconscious processes that influence us in our everyday lives is the key to long-term sustained change.
If you, or someone you know, finds yourself struggling with coping in an effective way with the environment around you, then you may considering seeking out a trained professional that specializes in family dynamics, systemic therapy, and/or trauma treatment. Therapists with these backgrounds have specialized training in working beyond the surface level context. This more systemic approach typically leads to longer lasting substantial change, deeper understanding of self, and a less-stressed existence. With this approach, individuals are better equipped to navigate through similar types of issues with greater understanding when they arise in the future.