Different types of Trauma: Collective, Historical, Generational

Different traumaUnderstanding different types of trauma can help healthcare providers take into consideration a more holistic approach to healing as part of trauma-informed-care.

Let’s look at three different types of traumas: collective, historical, and generational.

Collective Trauma

Collective-trauma refers to a shared traumatic event(s) that involve large groups of people and can be transmitted across generations and communities. Families may share collective traumatic events in addition to entire societies. Natural disasters, war, genocide, slavery, famine, pandemics, recession, acts of terrorism and community violence are examples. The effects-of-collective-trauma can change the ways in which one thinks, feels, and acts. It can also have an important impact on decisions such as the way in which one works, goes to school, or parents.

A person does not need to be directly experienced a collective traumatic event to be impacted on some level. Watching the news and scrolling through social media can trigger emotionally charged responses. Those who are directly responding and listening to others’ accounts of trauma such as first responders, supportive friends, family, and community members can experience vicarious-trauma. Sometimes, shared pain leads to solidarity that promotes healing because individuals may defend against a common experience and find meaning in their grief together.

Historical Trauma

Historical trauma is intergenerational trauma experienced by a specific cultural group that has a history of being systematically oppressed. The term “historical trauma”, first introduced by Dr-Maria-Yellow-Horse-Brave-Heart is described as a “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding” from massive group trauma across generations. Examples include slavery, genocide, colonialism, forced relocation, and other historically traumatic events.

Effects-of-historical-trauma includes chronic emotional and physical pain, high mortality rates, depression, anxiety, substance use, child abuse, and intimate partner violence.

Generational Trauma

Generational trauma (also known as inter-generational trauma) refers to trauma that is passed down through generations in families and can also be seen in societies. If an ancestor within the family has experienced extreme and prolonged stress from trauma, that stress from the first generational family member passes down through the family history. Descendants can show symptoms of intergenerational trauma such as anger with triggering events, self-destructive behavior, depression, survivor guilt, internalized oppression, and low self-esteem. Descendants may have struggled with their mental health throughout childhood, reporting that they have “always felt depressed, irritable, etc.”

Examples: mistrust of people or systems due to oppressive and abusive practices, heightened emotions responses such as being over-protective, fearful, and anxious (e.g., parenting) due to own traumatic events.

Research suggests that there are biological consequences from intergenerational trauma, in addition to psychological and behavioral impacts. Intergenerational trauma impacts how one reacts to stress, regulates mood, behavior, and even can impact DNA by impacting how genes function which is known as epigenetic change.

To learn more about collective, historical, and intergenerational trauma, check out these resources:




Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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