Intergenerational Trauma & It's Mental Health Challenges

In this episode, we discuss and reflect on intergenerational trauma, and how those who have experienced this can take the steps needed towards healing.

Prakash Chandran: Intergenerational trauma is trauma that is passed from a survivor to their descendants. People experiencing this may experience specific symptoms, emotions and patterns referred to as survival mode, which can have a large impact on one's mental health. My guest today is Samantha N. Today, we're going to be discussing her journey with intergenerational trauma and it's mental health challenges.

This is My Miracle Radio by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. My name is Prakash Chandran. So Samantha, thank you so much for joining us today. I truly appreciate your time. I wanted to get started by asking about the term intergenerational trauma. What exactly does that mean?

Samantha N: So intergenerational trauma is really when parents in the family of origin have experienced trauma in their own family of origin and thus they pass it down to their children. So, for example, my mother grew up in a house where my grandfather was an alcoholic. My mother, I suspect, faced a lot of different types of abuse and trauma from both of her parents, and so she is a survivor. And my father, he doesn't remember any of his childhood, which is usually a key indicator of being a trauma survivor, and the two of them get married. And when they get married, they are trauma survivors, but they haven't done any work, so their relationship and how they treat me and my sibling is based on the trauma that they experienced. And so then, it perpetuates from generation to generation until somebody is doing some work on themselves to hopefully be that pebble in the pond that breaks the cycle.

Prakash Chandran: Yeah. So can we speak broadly about how that affected your upbringing? Just because You mentioned they didn't do the work on themselves. So that was then passed on to the way that you and your sibling were brought up. Talk to us about that.

Samantha N: My mother was clearly a victim of trauma. She had many health issues, always had to go to doctors. She didn't leave the house unless my dad drove her. And the world had to revolve around her. My father kind of was in charge of the house. And my father was a violent person, I guess my mother was too. And they created an environment which it wasn't nurturing. I'll say it and it is true, I grew up in a house that people would call the House of Horrors based upon the traumas I faced, based upon if I did something that I got in trouble for, punished for, there being extreme punishment with some abuses. But you know, also part of that is I had to apologize to my mother or no one in the house would speak to me. So the trauma continues to play out. And I'm not raised in a nurtured environment, I'm raised in a very hostile environment. And I don't know, it makes me a little sad when I talk about it actually.

Prakash Chandran: Of course. And I can't imagine recalling that even in the slightest way is easy for you. So I really appreciate your time and the energy that it takes to be here, to have this discussion with me. Let's just speak about things at a high level. So clearly, you did not live in a nurturing household. When did you make the decision to reach out and ask for help?

Samantha N: So there were multiple times. Time in my 20s where I was a little bit challenged and I saw a psychologist. And I think that was just a patch, right? They never really delved into what happened to me. Really the first time when I reached out for help, I wasn't speaking to my parents because it was safer for me that way. And I started receiving phone calls about their demise and I was also at the same time training for triathlons. So the collision of these two things ended up having a lot of anxiety, I couldn't sleep, and I entered therapy in 2008. And I had the hallmarks of what people who are traumatized very young from a very young age. And I experienced, I'd say, the trifecta of traumas, you know, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, that I didn't remember anything. I didn't know what happened to me. So there was a long period where I had to figure out what happened to me. It was very challenging. It was a very challenging time, but I worked a long time with this therapist and she found me another therapist.

And, you know, things seem sort of okay, but I always still had challenges. I had some difficulties exercising that I could never resolve. My sleep was never resolved. And, in 2018, my youngest, I'm sorry, graduated high school and went off to college. So that's like a major life event to me as well. And, unbeknownst to me, there was other trauma that really surfaced really fast. It hit me like a tidal wave in a very different way. And in that instance, I needed to go to Sierra Tucson for treatment.

I wasn't particularly given a choice for that moment. I needed a higher level of care, but I always felt very alone. I always felt like there was no one out there like me and I never could figure out why I couldn't resolve this. And being at Sierra Tucson, I really didn't feel alone. I felt like there were other people who had similar challenges or challenges that were different, but I could still relate to them because everybody was there for a reason. And so that is really how I ended up on my journey, you know, and I always have to work on my trauma. There's always another layer to pull back.

Prakash Chandran: Yeah. I mean, I commend you so much for doing that and it sounded like Sierra Tucson was a big piece of it. Tell me, had you ever heard of that term intergenerational trauma before Sierra Tucson?

Samantha N: Absolutely. I could see it in my family. I feel very compelled to do the work on me because I always say, one of my greatest accomplishments in life is to break the cycle. If I break the cycle, then the world somehow is really left in a better place.

Prakash Chandran: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, one of the things that you said earlier is that someone needs to make that decision to be that pebble and to cause that rippling effect to start working on themselves and realize that this is a pattern that will continue, right, if it's not fixed right now. And so do you remember the point in which that was made clear for you? I know you mentioned like the psychologist was a patch and then 2008 therapy and then your journey eventually to Sierra Tucson. But just emotionally, when was it very clear to you that you really were taking this seriously to break the cycle?

Samantha N: I think there were like a couple of times. You know, I come back again and again in my life, I would say there was definitely a time prior to Sierra Tucson, where I knew this was my life's work. In Sierra Tucson at that moment, when I also was aware of other traumas that had occurred to me, I really remember telling one of the residential therapists that this is my greatest accomplishment in my life. And I always feel that. I mean, there's so many things we do to work with people and help people and benefit people. But this one is one that it can be less in my kids. It might not be gone, right? There isn't as much there, right? Because I'm still a trauma survivor, like for a very long time, I had this view of, "Well, they won't have it. They won't have any of it." But even if I was a good parent, which I was as best as I could be, still a trauma survivor, which means that it's less in them. Does that make sense to you?

Prakash Chandran: Absolutely. And I just wanted to, if you don't mind, just ask briefly about your children. You know, I imagine that in raising them, this was something that was just in the front of your mind around creating a different environment than the one that you unfortunately did not have. Can you talk about that at a high level, just being a parent and raising them in a different type of space?

Samantha N: Yeah, absolutely. I would say I was driven long before I was in therapy to not be my parents. That was just a driving force in me as a person. The longer that I have worked through my trauma and, to be honest, there were periods in their life as I'm going through that it wasn't easy for them, if I want to be honest about it. But as I work on it, I have more tools to communicate with them in a healthy way, right? I can be still a role model, even if they're adult children in my interactions with them, right? And two of my kids had said that, you know, that they really thought I was a very brave and strong person. And I feel that the fact that my kids still want to come home or see me and I did my job and I had adverse circumstances, right? The deck wasn't stacked in my favor because I had no role models. So, it's important. I can't think of anything more important than helping shape the future rather than passing down the trauma, right?

Prakash Chandran: I totally understand what you're saying. You know, I think that I can't even imagine the journey that you have been through, the amount of work that you have had to do on yourself and the bravery that it has taken to not only self-admit that you might need help, but to really be the strongest that you possibly can for your children and the people around you. So I absolutely understand that. I imagine that there are so many takeaways from this journey that you're still on, but what's been one of the biggest takeaways that you'd like to share with our audience today?

Samantha N: Beyond the cycle breaking, I early on read a book about being able to see the world in 3D and that this person could only see it in 2D. I read it in the Courage to Heal. And I really wanted that, but I didn't know what it meant. And the truth is that I don't see the world always in 3D and in brilliant colors and feel in my body and feel the air on my face and all that. So I've always held on to that fact. And the more work I do, the more I get to see the beauty in the world, the more I get to feel in myself and I have a lot more tools to stay centered. But I guess my biggest takeaway is that a lot is stolen from oneself in trauma when there's trauma. And I feel that I want to experience life to the fullest that I can. So, I'm always driven to continue to do the work because I feel like it's my right as a human being to be able to experience the beauty in the world and all the different tapestries, sadness, the joy, the happiness, everything that is the human experience, because my experience was really blunted by trauma. So my takeaway is if I do the work, I get to experience the world more fully, which is very important to me.

Prakash Chandran: If someone is hearing this and thinking, "This is me." I don't know the term intergenerational trauma, but I recognize a pattern that I want to fix. I want to be the person that breaks the cycle. What advice might you have for them?

Samantha N: My advice would be that it's challenging work, right? That's not easy, but the thing that is so germane to it is that the potential is there to create healthy relationships in your family, with your children, with your significant other, with friends and the ability to change those dynamics is actually the ability to be the ripple effect that changes the world. So I would say that my advice would be to make sure you have a lot of support because it's not easy, but the outcome of it is so much more than any one of us.

Prakash Chandran: Samantha, I think that is the perfect place to end. Thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your story. I truly appreciate it. I know this is going to help a lot of people.

Samantha N: Thank you so much.

Prakash Chandran: This has been My Miracle Radio by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. For more information, you can visit Thank you all so much for listening. My name is Prakash Chandran, and we'll talk next time.