A Legacy of Trauma

legacyRecently I ran across an excellent article by fellow therapist Tamara Hill. It’s about the impact of inter-generational trauma on families.

I wanted to share this with you because it’s important. Not just for your adult child(ren), but for you. I have some reservations about it as I’ll explain below, but overall I believe it’s valuable.

Read the Article

As you read the article, I’d like you to remember yourself as a child.

You had parents and grandparents. What did you learn from them, either from what they said, or what they didn’t say?

What did you learn about yourself, others, and the world by observing the behavior (not the words) of your parents and/or grandparents?

In particular, what did you learn about how to deal with uncomfortable emotions?

You and Your Estranged Adult Child

I’d like to say a word about #2 in the article, “Trauma can limit the parent-child relationship.”

I agree with the statement that “parents who have not received help or support for their trauma can develop unhealthy relationships with their child or grandchild.”

Unfortunately, the only example the article offers of such an unhealthy relationship is an abusive one!

The word “abuse” is used too liberally here, which is not uncommon in therapy circles.

Despite that drawback, there’s still gold to be found in Hill’s post, which is why I’m sharing it with you.

Please don’t let the A-word (“abusive”) trip you up when you read #2. Just take whatever fits and leave the rest.

Here’s another link to the article

I want to underline that there are unhealthy patterns that play out between parent and child that are not literally abusive, but do damage the relationship.

All of us have some emotional damage left over from childhood, even if we were lucky enough to have a “normal” childhood.

Mostly, it’s the difficulty stepping into the role of The Parent when one hasn’t had the privilege of being The Child that causes problems. If you’ve seen my Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, you know what I’m talking about.

Being a victim of trauma, even vicarious trauma from earlier generations, robs you of resources to pass down to your children and grandchildren.

If you were exposed to the trauma of your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, you carry a burden that may compromise your ability to play The Parent without conscious, consistent effort.

And of course, if you’re a victim of trauma yourself, that’s doubly true.

I always recommend a course of compassionate counseling for parents estranged from an adult child or children…. especially if you’ve personally survived the trauma of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

If you don’t already have someone you can talk to, consider seeking a counselor or therapist in your area. See the resources below.


Some good online directories where you can search for a therapist near you:




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