Homegoing - intergenerational trauma

In our psychotherapy training, we learn about how families develop themes that get passed through generations, usually without them even realising it.  The term intergenerational trauma gets used a lot to describe how the effects of trauma like war, poverty, colonisation and migration can be felt by all the children born thereafter in a family that experiences the original trauma.

For example, some children in Christchurch suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), even though they were born after the devastating earthquakes there in 2010 and 2011.  Their parents' stress has been passed to them, through parenting or perhaps in utero, or perhaps in some way we really can't understand fully yet using western ideology.  Some cultures and worldview, such as Te Ao Māori understand that tupuna (ancestors) and their experiences are our future, and are always impacting our lives.

In the enthralling book Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, which was recommended to me by the Women's Bookshop and read over the summer holidays, the story is told of eight generations of one African family, and it is clear that still, the effects of enslavement and African colonisation impact on children living today in America.  For example, in the book the present day characters Marjorie and Marcus have fears of fire and water respectively, which the reader can see originate from experiences eight generations before, although Marjorie and Marcus cannot see this.

Reading this book emphasised to me both the Homegoing that I might undertake one day, but also that colonisation and events of Aotearoa New Zealand's past are very much relevant to the mental health and wellbeing of our people today.  For Maori especially, the impacts cannot be ignored.


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