Abandonment Issues: Is Generational Trauma Real?

Generational trauma is a theory that states that trauma is handed down generation to generation in our genes. Although it is based in science and research, for me it has that mystical quality to it. I want to believe it because it makes so much sense, but it’s hard to believe because it feels so magical. I imagine my ancestors ghosts haunting me, whispering their pain into my ear.

The most disheartening aspect is the evidence right before my eyes, though anecdotal at best. I see my young child struggle with the same symptoms as my PTSD and wonder why? He hasn’t had any trauma in his life. Why is he so fragile already? Is it because I passed it directly to him through my genes or is it because of the choices I made about his father and the subtleties of being raised by someone with mental illness?

The other night we were watching The Voice together and a young woman shared that her parents disowned her after she refused to get counseling for being a lesbian. She said she hadn’t seen them for 8 or 9 years. My sweet little boy looked at me and said in a sullen voice, “It’s been longer than that since I saw my Dad.”

Thoughts flashed through my head in the seconds after while I tried to decide what to say. I thought of my own father who disowned me 20 years ago. How it never really stopped hurting. I felt guilty for my part in my son not having his father around. I felt defensive because he has seen his father and the few times were because I drove him the 5 hour trip to see him. I thought how adorable it was that his concept of time was skewed (He only turns 8 next month).

That must have felt the safest for me, taken off guard in that moment and I blurted out, “You haven’t even been alive that long.” Before I could finish the sentence, he interrupted me with, “It’s not really that sad though, since I never really knew him anyways.” Of course I felt proud of him for trying to be strong, for being so logical. But, the truth is that it is so sad.

To be rejected by a parent no matter what the reason hurts at the soul level. I don’t care who you are. Whether your parents reject you for who you are or they just aren’t ready or able to be a parent to you, it has to hurt. My biological father, the one who disowned me when I was 16, was abandoned himself. His mother wasn’t ready so she dropped him off at her mother’s house and went on with her life.

There have been a few times since that conversation with my son, that I have felt like bursting into tears over the littlest things. I wonder if that triggered these emotions: the reminder of my father’s abandonment, the realization my son will live with some similar pain. So, I turn to science in these situations. The soft science of psychology soothes me by helping me to view my own trauma through a more rational lens.

Perhaps I was born with the trauma of my ancestors already imprinted in my DNA. Somehow, it makes the real traumas I have experienced in life more bearable. Somehow, it makes the guilt of my son’s pain less severe. I promised myself I would break the pattern and I didn’t. It makes it easier to forgive myself if it’s in my DNA.


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