Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disordermechanisms.
The phenomenon of children of traumatized parents being affected directly or indirectly by their parents’ post-traumatic symptoms has been described by some authors as secondary traumatisation (in reference to the second generation). To include the third generation, as well, the term intergenerational transmission of trauma was introduced. Building upon the clinical observations by Selma Fraiberg, child trauma researchers such as Byron Egeland, Inge Bretherton, and Daniel Schechter have empirically identified psychological mechanisms that favor intergenerational transmission, including dissociation in the context of attachment, and “communication” of prior traumatic experience as an effect of parental efforts to maintain self-regulation in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder and related alterations in social cognitive processes.
Both survivors and immediate witnesses of traumatic events in family history have traditionally been treated by family therapists.