Finding Your Story: Healing Filipino Intergenerational Trauma
We hear this psycho babble a lot in social proof platforms & in esteemed journals in a mission to increase your Pinay self-awareness, encourage that you pave your own path different from the ones paved for you by refuting the cycle of ……inter-generational trauma.
Intergenerational trauma is defined as experiencing or witnessing a devastating event or a threatening one that had left a generation prior you (individual or group) to feel helpless, out of control, & desperate. This event(s) transcends to the next generation as a way to cope, make sense of the world around them, find meaning and healing.
Does it mean a trait, characteristic, a familial or societal phenomenon is meant to repeat itself through you?
Devastating events can be stories of immigration, an assault to one’s physical &/or mental being, a violation of space & boundaries that have left scarring impact to someone’s well-being. A threat can be viewed as witnessing or even hearing about a parent’s suicide attempt, watching a sibling be tortured through physical & emotional abuse, or being locked or sent away due to one’s peculiar way of behaving (such in the case of exhibiting early stages of a mental disorder or a child who is coined as “salbahe or the black sheep” in the family). These are only examples.
What can be traumatic & devastating to you may not always have the same psychological impact on others.
Your Trauma, Your Story
The truth is trauma is more defined not by the event but by the threat and despair it caused a person.
In the first blog post I’ve written, Redefining Resiliency: Allowing Our Children to Say Aray When It Hurts, I shared a story of myself at 5 years old and being hit by a car. This event can leave imprints of sounds and motions that can leave me fear-impaired even after the fact which is exactly what trauma is. But, fortunately, this was not the case.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I lived with my lola in the States who was particularly strict and uber considerate to PG&E & our Water Utility Company. She usually will time me and my sister during our showers to no more than 5 minutes and if I spent a second later, would unlock the bathroom door while I was bomba (naked) in the shower. Believe it or not, this one caused me more psychological impact than being hit by a car.
The threat to be seen stripped naked and ridiculed was far more humiliating to me as a child than being physically bruised by a car. Even to this day, I find myself double checking if I’ve locked the bathroom door…even long after my loving lola has passed away.
Trauma is the brain’s way of protecting you and I for having to experience/witness a threatening experience ever again. The problem with the brain is its hypersensitivity to anything that appears, looks, smells, moves…anything that resembles the original cause of the trauma. So, even if it no longer applies, my adult self might remind me to lock the door, not once but more times.
It’s a consolation to know that my protective brain continues to work- your goal is to have it work in your favor.
The brain ensures your security, your safety, but not your growth. Trauma is feeling stuck, the pull to be in the same safe place even if you desire to be elsewhere.
If you feel you need support from being stuck in the past, consider seeking therapy/counseling here.
Intergenerational Trauma in Filipino Families
Due to the vow of loyalty, thereby secrecy in the context of the Filipino family, it is quite possible to have had inter-generational trauma in your family and have no clue about it. Whispers & under- the -breath stories may have given you suspicion, many of these left unconfirmed and their versions change depending on whose lips rendered them.
The daunting task to complete this treasure hunt may completely overtake your psychological space. You may talk to an uncle, an auntie or simply interrogate your mom or dad to a disturbing response of-
Why do you want to know?
That’s all I can tell you.
It doesn’t matter anymore. You should be thankful.
Undertaking bridges & dark alleys with the stamina and courage of a true Pinay Darna (Heroine Filipina), only to be taken to a “NO ENTRY” sign on your every turn can be a very defeating feeling.
If you’re one of the lucky ones & your elders are not only willing but cherish kwentuhan (sharing stories) as a way to pass on values, lessons, and stories of hope- allow yourself to blossom in these stories whether they cause heartbreak from sheer pain or from joy.
Your mind does not know the difference between someone else’s traumatic event or yours. Your reaction, your empathy to it or over-closeness is what it registers. Capitalize on these stories as a building block to your own resilience, weaving past stories to your current self, and finding ways to reconcile both in the moment.
The No Entry Road. Finding Your Story
For the rest of us who may know, recall, heard stories of bits & pieces of families near or far, finding your way to yourself without the “True Story” is not a dead end.
Our compulsion to buy into the belief that what you couldn’t remember, name or label, much more express is the downhill to your healing and recovery is not always true.
To find compassion for yourself is to KNOW that the storytellers you were vouching on (elders, kuya, dad and mom) may not be meant to be YOUR storytellers.
I know in this storytelling social media world, we believe that we owe the world our story. As it is true that we all have our own unique stories, not all of them are meant to be told, at least not TODAY.
Many of us are great listeners and if you so desire, the next generation can benefit from your embracing this role. Your transition as a storyteller at our own time of becoming and in the persona of your children or possibly theirs is a choice that belongs to you.
To find compassion for yourself is to KNOW that some stories & even the rekindling of one’s feelings about them can bring about excruciating pain. Your ideal storytellers may be in pain or avoiding it even without much of their knowing.
This is intergenerational trauma. Your empathy to trust the process & stories to unfold at it’s perfect time is the beginning of your healing.
To find compassion for yourself is to see your elders/parents in the eyes of a small child. Their cruel words & seemingly uninterest to your well-being may have been the same scar they bore, hope to get relief from their own caregivers but never did.
To listen to the episode of Trauma o Stress at the Pinoy Love Language Podcast click here.
When you see this clearly even in the pits of this same tune they unconsciously render to you harshly just minutes before reading this post, they can rub onto you because you’re human. But you will find that your KNOWING allows this abrasiveness to not settle in your bones, dissipating in thin air as soon as they appear, and divorced from the value conditionally placed on you.
When you see clearly, this clear-
You are FREE.
If you want to find your own story, find you and need support, schedule a free consult with me here for counseling or therapy.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 15 years. She has frequented at least 500 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care. To access self-paced courses and other resources, enter the Kalamansi Juice Academy.
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