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Healing Intergenerational Trauma

I feel the detrimental effects of war and violence. My parents are Khmer Rouge genocide survivors, and they carried with them a world of hurt. I did not experience the genocide firsthand, but I now endure the intergenerational trauma woven through my lineage. I was birthed in my mother's womb with her sadness, nervousness, and helplessness. Because my parents' could not heal their wounds from a dark past, they projected their trauma onto their children, unknowingly giving us the responsibility to heal for them.

I believe when we experience trauma we lose a part of our soul. When I say soul, I mean our spirit, the true essence of our being, and our core consciousness. Our soul leaves our body in order to survive the traumatic experience, causing a schism between body, mind and spirit. The physical pain becomes too difficult to bear especially when experiencing heavy trauma such as war, genocide, and sexual violation. It cuts deep into our soul making us feel a sense of powerlessness in the material world.

I witnessed my parents' broken spirit and loss of will to live. Every day was a struggle. It was never easy.

They displayed symptoms of anxiety, depression, and hostility. They became "virtually imprisoned by the fear that they could no longer re-engage with life," as Peter Levine states in his book "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma." They could not enjoy and find pleasure out of life anymore. As a child, I believe we will do anything to feel the love from our parents. I entered their dark heart of sadness to be closer to them, dimming my own light to help them. I began to share the same symptoms of trauma, feeling I cannot overcome life's obstacles and feeling disconnected from the vitality within my soul. I separated from my physical body because I could not deal with the pain of loneliness, lack of love, and care from unavailable parents.

When a disturbing experience or experiences happens to us, we go through a spectrum of responses simultaneously: Our nervous system acts erratically out of fear triggering the sympathetic symptom, our spirit becomes energetically drained, intense emotions amplify, and our mind becomes numb. It makes an imprint onto our soul as we attach an emotional charge to the painful experience. We cannot live fully in the present for a part of us is frozen in time.

How do we go about dealing with trauma then?

Trauma affects our overall well-being from spiritual to physical, so I also believe we cannot deal with trauma through one approach only, but instead through many avenues of healing. Shamans heal trauma through soul retrieval and medicinals. Psychotherapist heals trauma through talk therapy such as CBT. Massage therapists use the body to release trauma.

But what exactly is right for us?

We have to discover for ourselves what will work for us by experimenting and learning about different healing modalities. I believe we are initially our own healers, but we can seek help from elders, communities, and find support. But first, we must recognize in ourselves and awaken to the idea that we need to heal. It does not mean there is something wrong with us; it just means we need to let go of the suffering. Pain is a natural part of life, but suffering is caused by our attachment to the pain. We need to take responsibility for our life and our healing process. Trauma steals a part of ourselves away if it is our spirit, power, or inner dignity, but we need to consciously call the ruptured pieces back to us for their return.

Healing trauma is difficult and will be difficult. But we need to trust in the process and build a community of support to process the trauma. Trauma should not be tackled alone because it thrives off of fear and our separation from others. When we connect and share our stories, we are showing up for ourselves and showing up for other people who can relate to our pain. This is when we begin to feel connected to our true selves again, when we feel connected to our humanity.

I decided I wanted to heal myself because I did not want to suffer anymore and most importantly I did not want my future children to suffer because of our trauma.

I wanted to end the cycle of intergenerational trauma from the Khmer Rouge genocide with me by transforming my pain into strength. To transform all of my wounds into a force that could not be reckoned with. We can use art to mend our souls, we can use healthy foods to detox our body, we can use meditation to calm our minds, and we can cry out our pain with a trusted community. There are resources and support out there.

Break the silence of isolation and reach out because we all need help sometimes.

Originally published on Queen of the Soul blog.