With everyone buzzing about the recent Disney blockbuster Encanto, it seems like the perfect time to take a look into the film’s heaviest theme: intergenerational trauma. In the film, we see how the unrealistic expectations set by the Madrigal matriarch, Abuela, put tremendous pressure on the family and ultimately drives a wedge between the family she wanted so badly to protect. This story mimics the type of dysfunction that can form in families dealing with intergenerational trauma in real life.

Intergenerational or transgenerational trauma is defined by the American Psychology Association as:

“a phenomenon in which the descendants of a person who has experienced a terrifying event show adverse emotional and behavioral reactions to the event that are similar to those of the person himself or herself.”  More colloquially it may also refer to “the ways in which trauma experienced in one generation affects the health and well-being of descendants of future generations” (Sangalang and Vang, 2016).

Reactions and presentations of intergenerational trauma may include:

  • Shame
  • Increased anxiety and guilt
  • Feelings of vulnerably and helplessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Suicidality
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • And more

Intergenerational trauma is most often seen in families of color, such as the Colombian Madrigals in Encanto, due to the history of percussion, abuse, and dehumanization of these ethnicities and races in generations past and still present today. That is not to discredit the experience of any others who are affected by intergenerational trauma as many events can lead to unresolved emotional effects that may have ripple effects through the generations. Any traumatic event from assault, abuse, military service, extended illness, witnessing terrorism, or simple familial dysfunction can cause ripples throughout the following generations of the survivor. This trauma that is passed down to the child manifests in the descendant in both emotional and physical ways based on genetic predispositions as well as parental style and relationship.

So now that we know a little more about what intergenerational trauma is, what can we do to cope with it and break the cycle in your lineage?

  1. Practice Mindfulness

One of the best practices everyone should incorporate into your daily routine is mindfulness. Mindfulness can mean something different for everyone, mediating and yoga are often the first images that come to mind. But mindfulness can come from anything that makes you feel good and gives you a few minutes to reflect and relax. For some that may be journaling, taking a walk or a bath while spending that time thinking, acknowledging your emotions and relaxing your thoughts. Practicing mindfulness can be an important step in getting more in touch with your body mind connection and unpacking your trauma.

  1. Get yourself into therapy

While practicing mindfulness is an important tool it is no replacement for professional counseling. I see it often joking online that younger generations are finally getting the therapy that their parents needed and to an extent that sentiment does reign true. The emotional effects of being raised in a home with unresolved trauma can manifest in a large range of ways; and with such diversity in the population of those affected, a therapist or other counselor trained in the field can offer many insights to your specific situation you won’t be able to get anywhere else. Individual counseling or even better family counseling can be an invaluable tool to healing your lineage of intergenerational trauma. There is also a wide range of therapy and wellness groups that focus on the issues of specific populations including ethnicity, survivors of traumatic events, survivors of abuse and even specific intergeneration trauma groups that you can look for in your area.

  1. Learn about your cultural heritage

For many, learning about your roots and the struggles of previous generations can provide some insight and answers on the roots of your transgenerational trauma. Though learning about your history may not in itself solve anything, the added perspective can help you understand better where some of this pain comes from and open the door for more informed conversations with your family. Though keep in mind some of the content you look into may be triggering so be sure to practice self-care and debrief this research with a professional if possible.

  1. Have candid conversations with your loved ones

I’m sure for a lot of people who have felt the burden of intergenerational trauma this can be the scariest step of them all. However, it may be the most important for moving past the trauma. Speak your peace about how you feel you have been affected by the manifestation trauma in your upbringing. However, refrain from blaming and try to remember what you’ve learned about the source of this trauma and to be empathetic with your loved ones. This may not be something they have felt safe unpacking for themselves yet and it is not always appropriate to push another person to do so. But simply opening the door for more conversation and a larger dialogue about your family can help start the process for others in your line who have not yet started the healing process.

Healing the trauma of many is not a job for only one so lean on others who have been through similar experiences and professionals who can guide you through what may be a very difficult process. This journey may be difficult but you owe it to yourself and the future of your lineage.

Guest Blogger: Sophia Llopiz, MHA Intern

Sophia Llopiz is a Senior year Human Services major, with psychology and medical social work minors, at the University of Delaware. She is currently completing her senior internship placement as a Support and Education Intern with the Mental Health  Association in Delaware. After graduation, she is looking to get some experience in the field for a year before pursuing an MSW and later would like to go on to become an LCSW working in the field of Trauma Recovery and Mental Health Stigma.