There’s been a renewed conversation in the mental health field recently about the effects of intergenerational trauma, and with good reason: many people experience mental health struggles that are hard to shake until properly understood within the context of their families, their communities, and the passage of time.
Yet, too often discussions about intergenerational trauma miss the opportunity to talk about intergenerational resilience - the methods and wisdom used to heal and survive that are passed down from one generation to the next.
Tapping into your intergenerational strengths can be transformative for your mental wellbeing. Here are some pointers for how to get started.
The power of music
Music can have a profound effect on your nervous system - it can energize you, relax you, and help you release difficult emotions like anger or grief. When you hear music, the sound vibrations that enter your ears hit your eardrums and are subsequently received by your nervous system, impacting both your brain and the rest of your body. This includes areas of your brain and nervous system that are in charge of functions like rest and emotion regulation.
Across the world, many forms of traditional music utilize rhythmic instruments or vibrational methods of chanting and singing that may have a soothing effect on the nervous system. Explore if there are any favorite songs that people in your family have passed down over the years, spend some time learning them well and take notice of how that increased familiarity makes you feel. Consider connecting with traditional instruments from your cultural background that produce vibrating or meditative sounds.
When I work with clients struggling with depression, I really encourage them to be around people, even in a low stakes way like sitting in a coffee shop or walking through the park. That’s because humans are fundamentally social creatures, and simply being physically near one another has the capacity to boost emotional wellness.
It’s no accident that many cultural traditions have large group rituals designated for times when people go through an intense emotional experience, like grief or joy. Think of second line funerals in New Orleans for example, or the elaborate saints’ day parades that are still celebrated in some towns in Europe.
See where group gatherings of your family can bring you a sense of being grounded in something larger and older than yourself - hold in your heart and mind not only the places where your family has struggled, but also where it has thrived. If this is simply not possible or not the reality of your family, find other ways to connect with your cultural heritage and history. Take the opportunity to participate in local cultural festivals, and consider volunteering with organizations where you can connect with elders who are not literally related to you, but who are linked through the same cultural background.
Stories of survival
It’s empowering to “tell your story” because in doing so you create an organizing narrative about who you are. Learning about the history of your family and your culture can inform your sense of what strengths you hold as a people, and what obstacles you have overcome. Incorporating this understanding into your story of who you are can help you believe in your capacity for resiliency, and give you a sense of belonging to something greater than yourself.
Turning to traditional folk tales can also be a meaningful exploration, even in today’s modern age. Many traditional stories grapple with existential questions that are still relevant today — Why are we here? Why do bad things happen? What happens to us after we die? These questions, which are fundamentally unanswerable through concrete, objective methods, can fuel mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Finding meaning in folk tales can serve as an antidote, a container for life’s unknowable mysteries.
Support in soul searching
Exploring intergenerational resilience can be an emotionally intense process — I can help you talk through the feelings that come up along the way and any twists or turns your journey takes. Click the button below to set up a free phone consultation, and I can share more about how therapy can help your resiliency building work.