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An Introduction to the Study of Intergenerational Trauma (a.k.a., Epigenetics)

Some research suggests that the effects of intergenerational trauma are both genetic and psychological in nature. We continue to gain knowledge about human genetics, the effects of our environment, and the effects of trauma with every new study regarding healing intergenerational trauma. This study is known as Epigenetics.

What is Epigenetics?i

The field of epigenetics investigates how the environment affects not only the DNA sequence but also how it is interpreted and utilized by our genes.

Think of your life as a book. Your DNA serves as the constant alphabet, but your experiences shape the story's ever-changing plot. Dramatic plot twists can result from significant trauma, but unlike changes to the alphabet, these changes can also affect how your DNA expresses itself, which can impact your reactions, health, mood, and susceptibility to conditions.

Epigenetics is the study of how life events constantly rewrite the story in our DNA, changing how we interact with the outside world. The effects of trauma on genes can also be changed, much like how a story can be changed. Despite the possibility that we won't be able to change the "alphabet," we can attempt to alter the story in a way that will benefit both the present and future generations.

How do environmental factors change the on/off state of your genes?

Every cell in your body is controlled by DNA, and intergenerational trauma alters a cell's function by turning genes on or off. Every change has an effect on how cells function.

According to research, these changes might even be passed down genetically from one generation to the next. Stress and other environmental factors can therefore have an impact on not only your health but also the health of your family and children.

Your DNA serves a role similar to a book's title in a metaphorical epigenetic library. Environmental elements like diet, stress, and support act as librarians by deciding which books (genes) are opened and read because not every book is being read simultaneously.

High levels of stress, like those many veterans experience, may have a negative impact on your health. This is also the same with the trauma that I've faced being abused as both a child and a domestic partner. It's also something that's mentioned throughout the book "The Body Keeps the Score."

One thing that you should know about this type of intergenerational trauma though is that just like we can choose a new book to read, we can also alter our environment. We can change which "books" are read by adjusting variables like adding counseling or healthier lifestyles. While the components of our DNA are constant, we can choose which ones are active. This is why when you aren't taking care of yourself you're likelier to feel sick.

What factors affect how intergenerational trauma occurs?

Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as an emotional response to a traumatic event, such as a car accident or a natural disaster. The immediate effects of this reaction include shock and denial, and later on, it may cause emotional instability, strained relationships, or physical symptoms. For instance, for me, my trauma has resulted in me having difficulty trusting others.

The most recent research indicates that trauma has effects that go beyond the original event and can even be passed down to future generations, despite the fact that our minds frequently attempt to avoid, suppress, or numb unpleasant memories. Through studies involving Holocaust survivors and people who survived the Dutch famine during World War II, this idea — now known as intergenerational trauma transmissions — was first comprehended.

According to these studies, adversity, such as child or domestic abuse, can change the way our genes are expressed and have an impact on our progeny. While trauma doesn't change our DNA, it can affect which genes are active or inactive, much like a bookmark in a book.

A person's body may adapt to intergenerational trauma by changing the expression of particular genes, and some of these modifications may be passed down to offspring as inherited "notes." However, we are able to adjust to these changes and let our own deeds and experiences in life and thus rewrite them.

In order to better understand how the effects of intergenerational trauma

can be passed down through generations and, more importantly, how we can intervene, epigenetics plays a crucial role in addressing generational trauma.

Domestic violence and child abuse survivors continue to deal with it well into adulthood. They seem to make their offspring more likely to experience PTSD, anxiety, obesity, and diabetes. For instance, my son also has some PTSD from what I've been through.

So what does all of this mean?

When you experience intergenerational trauma and it has an impact on your genes, what changes is how your body interprets and reacts to your DNA.

Since its inception in the middle of the 20th century, epigenetics has demonstrated remarkable promise, but it is crucial to recognize that it is not a precise science. More research is necessary before we can draw firm conclusions about epigenetic inheritance and its effects on health. Nevertheless, this is something that deserves our serious consideration. To stay abreast on developments like this and help other survivors, take a moment to support Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania today.

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