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Intergenerational Trauma in the South Asian Diaspora, Part 3

Ancestral Trauma, Bio-psychosocial and Community Consequences: what are we living with?

As part of Mental Health Week, Dr Rima Lamba has written a series of guest articles for us on intergenerational trauma within the South Asian community in the U.K. We hope you find them insightful and thought-provoking. Read Part 1 of this piece here and Part 2 here.

The world of psychology and psychiatry have been making leaps and bounds with trauma-informed research and practice. Complex, unspoken and beneath-the-skin traumas exist in the psychobiology of many non-Caucasian communities with links to colonial history. An explosion of research has demonstrated that trauma is linked to obesity, weight related issues, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a whole host of health conditions, many of which disproportionately affect BAME communities.

Complex traumas can even impact our ability to create life beyond our own, as evidence shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACE) may take hold in our reproductive systems, manifesting as menstruation and fertility problems.

Complex and historical traumas impact our self-concept and the way we relate to others. Trauma also creates a difficult relationship with our emotions, in which our window of tolerance to manage a range of emotions becomes an uphill battle, especially when it comes to unexpressed anger and rage. Research on epigenetics has highlighted that trauma can have a lasting effect, because it can alter how genes are expressed, which then passes down through the generations. Repeated, interpersonal, relational, and complex traumas can alter our sense of safety when it comes to our bodies, relationships, and the outer world. We pass on our sense of feeling unsafe through how we relate to our children. Our capacity to attend to our children’s needs can be derailed, due to the distress of trauma. As a result, these parent-child interactions become shaped by trauma. This is part of how a child becomes shaped by their parent’s trauma. Insensitive parenting or maltreatment in the early years (because that parent may feel helpless and is struggling to tolerate distress, due to their window of tolerance being so narrow) can lead to the development of an insecure attachment system for the child. In this bonding, connecting and relating to others, is no longer safe in a child’s mind. Trauma then becomes passed down generational lines.

As a counselling psychologist, I have witnessed many bio-psychosocial, emotional and relational difficulties in the South Asian community, which are multi-layered and likely to be rooted in ancestral trauma stories related to oppression, enslavement, poverty, violence, rape, displacement, forced migration, and refugee existences. My hope with this series of articles is to raise questions and consciousness, in which healing can come from leaning in and safely exploring stories in our family and cultural heritage.

Trauma is never an event existing in isolation or locked in time. It is a human experience that lives through our bodies, echoes through our spirit, reproduces through our relationships and crosses generations.

Part 4 of this article will look at strategies that could be used to tackle and alleviate the impact of intergenerational trauma.

Dr. Rima Lamba is a UK based, Chartered Counselling Psychologist. She has set up a private practice specialising in women and mother's mental health and well-being, called Blue River Psychology. She has a keen interest in how intergenerational, patriarchal and racial traumas or stories intersect and influence the diverse lives and identity of women, including those who embark on motherhood. Instagram: @blueriverpsychology

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