Journey through intergenerational trauma - part 4 - "our home and native land"

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When talking to my sister recently about her impressions of being back in the land where we were born and grew up, she said something that really stuck with me; " we create our identities in relation to our geography". 

I found this to be very interesting in relation to intergenerational trauma. Working with clients, and even in my own personal journey, I have seen the effects of intergenerational trauma be present even when a person is not born on the same land of their ancestors. 

Global nomads

I believe that as human beings we are inherently nomadic. The DNA of our long ago ancestors who traveled across the world finding better places for their living conditions are still inside of us. There is not a single culture in our world which has not moved from one place to another at some point in history. Ever since the first human migration out of Africa, some 2 million years ago, we have been moving around this planet building and finding new homes, often times leaving homes in which our ancestors lived. Sometimes these voyages have been out of personal choice and pleasant, but more often than not, these voyages have been traumatic and due to events outside of one's control, such as climate, wars, colonization and much more. 

We all came from somewhere. The question which fascinates me is how did that journey (wether done by us and/or our ancestors) affect the way the trauma has been passed down? 

I spent the last part of my trip around the Balkans in Serbia, a land in which I have never been while still living in the former Yugoslavia and to which I have been now directed to find my identity. My ancestors migrated from present day Serbia to Croatia during the Ottoman times and were known to be warriors defending the Austro-Hungarian empire from the approach of the Ottoman empire. They lived (whether they were brought or they settled on their own, I do not know) on the border of these two empires, called Krajina, a region in the middle of present-day Croatia. Over time this region became known as the Serbian part of Croatia. During the 90's Yugoslav wars, my family was forced to leave this region and settle either in Serbia or Canada, forming a new migratory route in my ancestral tree. This migration left a big traumatic imprint. I believe it was easy for that imprint to happen due to a longer history of trauma around home, migration and identity. Trauma, which if I listen carefully to the stories passed down, could perhaps even be traced down all the way to the first migratory experience of my ancestors. Of course, I will never be able to know this for sure. 

One person, many generations

What I can now however, is the role I play in the continuation of the trauma down my ancestral line.  What is my role in the healing and integration of traumatic imprints around identity and home, and transformation of these into something that is supportive, loving and freeing? I found here in the Balkans, and especially on my last leg of the trip, there was still much desire by the older generations to look to the past and try to heal that, sharply and deeply contrasted by younger generations desire to create a different future independent of the past. One in which they have their own voice. 

So when it comes to healing our lineage, when it comes to finding our voice and creating stories which are empowering, where do we begin? 

Steps in healing intergenerational trauma 

I think that from everything which I have learned, I can summarize it in a few crucial steps: 


1. Listen with compassion the stories of your ancestors. Give them the space to be expressed so that the magnitude of emotions in them can be released. Only once an emotion is felt and acknowledged for that which it is, it has the power to loosen it's intensity and transform into something different, something lighter, something freeing. This is the essence of healing. If you don't have direct access, then learn the history, travel to their lands. 

2. Listen to the stories of the other side which has caused the trauma of your ancestors. This perhaps is the hardest thing and one which requires a limitless level of compassion and forgiveness. This also is where I think our world finds itself right now. On the bring of choosing to have this compassion and forgiveness, or continuing to blame each other through learned hate. 

3. Choose your story. Choose the lessons of your ancestors which empower you and allow you to live your best life. Take this lessons and apply them. Release the beliefs, values and cognitive patterns which hinder you from feeling fully connected with others, with yourself, which hinder a cultivation of a life of true joy. These thoughts and beliefs do not serve you. They served your ancestors because they helped them survive, but they do not serve you. 

4. Share with the human family. Don't keep this journey of healing just for yourself. Share with the world as the world is so deeply intertwined that a stranger can become family in an instant and family can become strangers. Healing is truly a community act and when we share our healing with others, we open up space for the community healing to occur. 

There is countless ways and journeys through transformation and healing of trauma, especially intergenerational trauma, but I feel these four elements must be present in order for permanent change to take place. I have seen that change take place as I had traveled across the Balkans and have seen the difference of what happens when it is not permanent and when it is. When it is not, the trauma is left only to boil under the surface until it erupts again. In some places in the Balkans there is much of this. In other places, you feel like you can walk lighter, because the energy has shifted towards clearing, forgiveness, release and collective manifestation. 

So for me, I feel that it is my personal, familial and social responsibility to walk the path of these four steps and to support others in doing the same. As my dad who likes to rhyme would probably say right here; one step at a time, with only love on my mind. 

Home is not only where my heart is, but more importantly home is where my feet stand.
— Snjezana Pruginic


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