a person talks to a therapist about multigenerational trauma

How to Break Multigenerational Trauma

Multigenerational trauma is a complex cycle to break. When a parent experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma as a child, they may never develop adequate coping skills to help them avoid repeating the same behaviors to or around their own children. Tragically, this negative feedback loop continues to feed itself, and new generations of children face the same troubles as their parents.

At Recovery Ranch Tennessee, we understand the gravity of this situation, and we are dedicated to helping those affected by multigenerational trauma. We are committed to teaching our clients the necessary skills to break these cycles and grow into healthy, balanced adults that can learn from their pasts but not be defined by them. Learn more about our trauma-informed therapy program today by calling 1.844.876.7680.

What Causes Generations of Trauma?

There are several types of abuse and trauma that can lead to the unfortunate cycle of multigenerational trauma. Some of the most common are described below.

Parental Physical Abuse

Childhood physical abuse is most often perpetrated under the guise of providing discipline for the children who are abused. Children who experience physical abuse can come to believe that abusive tactics are appropriate ways to teach and discipline children. Additionally, adults who were physically abused as children may form adult relationships in which there is domestic violence. Such children have learned that family relationships and love can be intertwined with physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse takes many forms, including using verbal aggression and other tactics of domination, power, and control to manipulate and punish others. While emotional abuse does not involve physical violence, it can be debilitating for the victim and have long-lasting effects on self-image and self-esteem.

One of the primary effects of being emotionally abused is relational problems with significant others and being in less intimate relationships. Adults who were emotionally abused as children may enter relationships in which they are treated similarly by significant others or in which they emotionally abuse others.

Parental Sexual Abuse

Parents who were themselves sexually abused as children can develop many parenting problems, which can severely and adversely affect their own children. The inappropriate sexualization of children may continue across generations unintentionally or, at times, purposefully. Sexually abused parents may not understand appropriate boundaries between adults and children and may expose their children to age-inappropriate sexual information. On the other hand, some sexually abused parents will overcompensate, attempting to protect their children in distressful ways.

Tragically, some adults who were sexually abused as children will go on to sexually abuse children themselves. This is rarer, but it is typically a direct result of having learned as children that children and adults may engage in sexual activity together.


Children who are emotionally or physically neglected can develop many long-lasting problems. Intimacy and nurturance skills are typically underdeveloped and can lead these children to have relational problems later in life with other adults and their own children. Some children who experience neglect will form quick, over-involved, and inappropriate attachments with others. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Others, finding it difficult to tolerate intimacy, may remain socially and emotionally distant even when involved in what are typically considered to be intimate relationships. Emotionally distant parents, debilitated by their own childhood neglect, can fail to meet the needs of their own children.

Domestic Violence

Children who witness domestic violence are at risk for entering adult relationships in which there is intimate partner violence. These children learn that violence, control, and domination are essential elements of an intimate relationship. Child witnesses also learn rigid gender roles that tend to perpetuate the domestic violence cycle. For example, girls who witness the victimization of their mothers may expect abusive behavior from their own partners. Similarly, boys who witness the victimization of women may repeat this in their adult relationships.

Secondary PTSD

Children can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when exposed to adults who themselves have the disorder. Some individuals with this condition have severe and frightening symptoms such as dissociation, flashbacks, and bouts of extreme emotionality. Children who witness severe trauma symptoms such as these may be physically endangered or experience severe and overwhelming psychological distress themselves. This type of trauma is known as “secondary” because the affected child has not directly experienced the original trauma but is, nonetheless, acutely affected by it.


Children of people with addiction are at risk for substance use disorders themselves. They learn about substance use by watching their parent’s substance use. Children of addicted parents are prone to think of substance use as a coping strategy for distress. Additionally, these children do not learn healthy ways to problem-solve, manage emotions or manage relationships.

Families involving addiction have communication patterns and interactions that accommodate the effects of substance use disorders. Boundaries and roles are confused as family members attempt to cope with the impairments of the addicted parent(s). Children may be overly responsible and assume adult roles. They may also be unprotected and at risk for harm due to a lack of appropriate adult supervision.

Adult children of people with addiction have difficulty in healthy relationships where intimacy and openness are valued. They tend to form relationships of codependency in which their own needs are overshadowed by another’s. Even without substance use in the families they create, the communication patterns, boundary confusion, role confusion, and intimacy problems may continue.

Break the Cycles of Trauma at Recovery Ranch

At Recovery Ranch in Nunnelly, TN, we help people break the cycle of trauma. We teach people how to stay safe and solve problems without using destructive behaviors like violence or addiction. We also help them learn how to have healthy relationships where everyone can share their feelings and be open with each other.

Learn how to overcome your addiction and mental health symptoms so you can break the cycle of multigenerational trauma. Get started by calling 1.844.876.7680 or contacting us online today.

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