The Role of Epigenetics and Intergenerational Trauma in Global Conflict
How in the world did we get here?” A question that I’m sure I’m not alone in asking myself multiple times over the course of the last month. The answer is, in some ways, unimaginably complicated, and in other ways, quite simple indeed. But one undeniable factor, not just in recent news but in all global conflicts, is the phenomenon of intergenerational trauma. How we got here – how we always get here – is in part due to historical events on both an individual and societal level.
“Intergenerational trauma” is a phrase that refers to the fact that the impact of life experiences gets passed down, not just externally, but on a molecular level. This occurs through epigenetic, or the process by which our environment impacts the expression of our genes. Studies show that traumatic experiences can result in certain “epigenetic markers,” or chemical tags that attach to DNA and can switch genes on or off. These markers do in fact get passed down to offspring. Whether we go through them ourselves, or whether our ancestors went through them, traumatic experiences fundamentally change us, and perhaps more relevantly, change the way we might otherwise react to the things that happen to us. Now, imagine this happening not just to one person, but to people en masse. And not just to one group of people, but to multiple groups of people. At least in part, it helps explain how conflict escalates so severely and so tragically.
Here at Mind Study Center, our hearts go out to any and all marginalized people who have suffered and continue to suffer the impact of intergenerational trauma. Our hearts break for the suffering of all people, both past and present. We encourage anyone who is acutely feeling the impact of recent events to reach out for support, both personal and professional. In the face of such devastation, recovery and post traumatic growth are both possible, and we wish this for every person in the throes of despair.
Abigail Schoenberg, LMFT