Women: What We Pass Down

Historical and generational trauma are relatively new concepts. Newly named at least. The trauma has a long history. Historical and generational trauma are two distinct psychological ideas but with a similar source and consequences. Historical trauma is when a traumatic event or set of events happens to a group of people and results in widespread symptoms across that community. A commonly considered example is the trauma within the Jewish community as a result of the Holocaust. Generational trauma occurs within a family and the results can be seen in subsequent generations such as when there is domestic violence in one generation and the effects are felt by the following generations. 

Dr. Michele Andrasik stated in their article Historical Trauma and the Health and Wellbeing of Communities of Color, “Each individual event is profoundly traumatic and when you look at events as a whole, they represent a history of sustained cultural disruption and community destruction.” Dr. Andrasik was referring to the trauma of slavery and its effects on the Black American community but what if we considered the same concept from a gender perspective? Women, since the beginning of recorded history, have been traumatized through physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse. This has happened on such a large scale that when writing our histories we don’t even recognize it as trauma. All major cultures operate under a patriarchal system with women being treated as second class citizens. The status of second class has allowed men to rape, beat, murder, mutilate, starve, and control women for thousands of years. There is no debate that these things have occurred, it is a matter of record. Now that we are starting to understand more about the ways that trauma impacts not only an individual but the entire community and subsequent generations, we should be looking at the trauma of women differently.

Is it possible that women as a cohort have unidentified symptoms of trauma as a result of historical and generational trauma? I guess a better question is, is it possible that women don’t have unidentified trauma symptoms as a result of historical and generational trauma? Women are more likely to die of a heart attack than men, have higher rates of depression, and have a stroke. There are lots of possible reasons for these but one possibility hasn’t been explored yet: generational and historical trauma. 

Women’s rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are twice as high as men’s. On average, their symptoms last four times longer than men’s. Women are more likely to experience sexual trauma than men and sexual trauma is more likely to cause PTSD than other types of trauma. But the more we learn about historical and generational trauma the more evident it is that women are likely not just suffering from the trauma that she experiences in her own life. She may also be carrying the trauma of so many of the generations before her. If trauma can be passed down in our behaviors, in our health, and even in our genes, then women are carrying an even bigger burden than we thought before. 

Before we get too caught up in the despair of the weight of trauma from all of human history falling on our shoulders, let’s think about what else gets passed down. Resistance. Survival. Resilience. History has been unable to hide the horrors that women have suffered as the property of men, rape victims as a strategy of war, and incubators for the proliferation of the species. Inspiringly though, history has also been unable to hide the resistance of women. Women have individually, in small groups, and as nations pushed back against the establishment to ensure their survival. The techniques used throughout history are passed down from mother to daughter. Sometimes these are small acts of defiance and sometimes they culminate into a movement. What gives me hope is that despite the trauma, women have been resilient. In fact, rather than suffocating under the weight of generations of abuse, women have become stronger, more organized, and less tolerant of their oppression. 

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More research is needed into the ways that trauma of all kinds is passed down throughout generations within families and across groups. This research should include looking at women as a distinct group with historical trauma that reaches back as far as history is recorded. Research also needs to explore the ways that resilience is passed on because there is no doubt that women have taught themselves to endure and even thrive despite their trauma. The more we know about how this survival is passed on, the more we can nurture it.


Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist

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