A reflection on ancestral trauma

TRIGGER WARNING: The following is a discussion on generational trauma and may be triggering to some. I tried to blur what I think would be the most triggering phrases but please read at your own discretion.

There’s no one right way to do ancestral work, but most of us want to heal some of our ancestral trauma (also known as transgenerational trauma). We have to understand ancestral trauma, identify our ancestral trauma, and actively work to heal what we can.

To understand ancestral trauma, we have to understand how we became who we are. Newborns don’t have a blank slate, as some people think. While a woman is still in her mother’s womb, all her eggs form in the ovaries. Basically, your mom carried the egg that became you while she was in your grandmother’s womb. Her environment and emotions will affect you. Besides my dad’s hazel eyes and mom’s short stature, I’m also inheriting the family story and worldview.

The effects of ancestral trauma don’t end with the individual but keep spreading through generations. Families that have unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, and addiction may continue to pass on maladaptive coping strategies. Regardless of whether they’re healthy or not, we keep repeating previous generations’ patterns and attitudes.

Everyone can be affected by generational trauma, and some say we all have some to varying degrees. High-risk families are those that have experienced abuse, neglect, torture, oppression, and racial discrimination. Trauma itself can lead to poverty, compromised parenting, diminished attachments, chronic stress, and unstable living environments, which negatively impact kids. Epigenetics is the study of how environmental influences affect the expression of genes. Remember the debate about nature vs nurture? Our growth and development are affected by both. During development, our DNA accumulates a bunch of chemical markers that control how much our genes are expressed. Chemical markers are changed by the different experiences children have, which are then passed on.

It’s challenging to identify trauma passed down from generation to generation. It’s often hidden as hypervigilance, mistrust, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other negative coping mechanisms. All of these things can affect our health, causing physical problems.

A major part of my ancestral trauma comes from my Irish ancestors. Ireland was ravaged by the Great Famine from 1845 to 1852. The Famine and its effects forever changed the island’s demographic, political, and cultural landscapes. There were about one million deaths and more than one million refugees. The majority of these people emigrated to North America. They settled in Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, and Saint John in Canada; Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in the US. England, Scotland, and South Wales were popular places to emigrate short distances. Even some Irish fled to Australia.

Anti-Irish sentiment was brewing in Britain and the US around this time. Irish people were stereotyped as violent and alcoholic. They targeted Irish laborers in particular. Local American and Irish laborers fought over jobs, causing riots. Signs and ads saying “No Irish Need Apply” were everywhere. The UK had signs saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” post-World War II.

How did this turn into generational trauma? During centuries of English oppression and colonialism, there were many mechanisms of tight control, including physical force, sexual exploitation, economic exploitation, political exclusion, and cultural control. There was a deep psychological legacy left behind by these mechanisms, which led to dependency, fear, suppression of anger and rage, a sense of inferiority, self-hatred, horizontal violence, and psychological vulnerability.

Frank McCourt wrote in “The Irish Americans”:

We are expected to suffer retroactively, we are told then, and we know it now; the famine was the worst thing ever to happen to the Irish race; (oh) the psychological effects of hunger, how it breaks you, how it hinders any emotional development.

A similar theme can be found in Thomas Keneally’s book “The Great Shame”:

The Irish famine has produced in the Irish themselves a certain amount of survival shame: the irrational but sharp shame of still standing when so many fell, the shame of having been rendered less than human by cataclysm.

It’ll take some hard work and tears to break this cycle. It is helpful to open up communication with your parents about their lived experiences and how they coped. You can identify any embedded patterns, attitudes, or narratives from your family by doing some self-reflection. Think about alternative methods of coping and communication with a trusted friend, family member, or professional. Developing empathy and compassion for our families and their struggles is critical. Some of our ancestors worked hard to give us a better life, despite their flaws. Last but not least, if you have kids, think about what you want them to believe about their family, themselves, and the world.

Weekly Witchy Challenge


@Amaris_Bane omg Jes that was beautifully written. I loved every bit of it. Im going to have to go to my mom’s and get our ancestry books. A cousin of hers put together hard back books of my moms family history going back over 500 yrs, with pictures. As for my dad all i know of my ancestors is that they came to America in 1746 and were french, my last name also changed. Later on they had relations with people of the Apache and Cherokee tribes.

My moms family were Scandinavian and irish. They too came to America and had relations with people of the tribe of Seminoles. My great great grandfather was a Seminole Shaman and Chief. His daughter my great grandmother (whom i actually named after and she still spelled my name wrong til the day she died) was considered a Seminole princess. However she married my great grandfather who was a Pentacostal minister, and she gave up her heritage for love. No one will talk about what i am or how i became this way. As my dad always said it was evil in all their eyes. I was made to keep silent about the things i could do and see. I actually thought i was evil, so i suppressed my gifts til i could no longer feel my power. Once i did that i didnt feel whole. And i kept looking, in all the wrong places, to fill that void. My dad has stated to me “you cant suffer a witch to live”, that im going to burn in hell, and that what i can do is of the devil. And then hell call bc his gf wants my kidney stone removal tea i made her. She drank 3 cups and when to the doc to have it crushed and passed. They couldnt find it. It was just gone and too big for her to pass. I try to be good. I try to help where i can for others( most of the time to my own detriment).

Many blessings to u. Hows your shop? Im so happy for u. Very proud of all u have accomplished


Thank you for sharing this. My grandmother and her entire family are from Irelamdand I remember her talking about the famine. The imprint it left on the family. And the Great Depression, too. She survived that. She survived being beaten as a child and locked in a freezer because nobody wanted to take the time to help her. She was hard of hearing and everyone thought she was stupid. No, she needed the simple help that we can get nowadays.


Miss Jess, This was a great presentation, well thought out and written.
Luckily, the Potato famine wasn’t brought out in our family much except in literature, but I’m also 3 or 4th generation Irish American.


Thanks and again, Well Done.
I felt great pain/shame with slavery and native American persecution, or many years until I realized that I do not have to wear the mantel of white guilt. My people were mostly still starving in the UK. I have enough guilt for my own mistakes without taking on someone elses.


I love this :heart: I’m mainly of Irish descent, coming from my father’s side & have read on many subjects that were practices that could contribute to ancestral trauma.

For instance the Magdalen Laundries. I have a book about those practices & I’ll have to find it to give you the name of it if your interested. Its on my bookshelf in my room.

I’ll add a picture of it in a little bit.

My husband & I have had many talks about Ireland & events that happened throughout Ireland & after immigration started to Canada & America.

The same can be said for the Italian immigrants also. There was a lot of negative responses to them immigrating here too.

Thank you so much for this information! Well written & very informative & insightful! :revolving_hearts:


I’m back to add the cover & back of the book I have on the Magdalen Laundries:


Yes! This took me a while to grasp as well. I’ve been doing my genealogy on an attempt to learn my mother’s side (she’s adopted) via DNA. I’ve had a handful of 2-3 cousins but most are distant and we can’t connect the dots. On my dad’s side I’ve been able to go back 6-7 generations. They all immigrated from Ireland via Canada in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

High School Racism Story

The high school I went to was very diverse but there was a lot of animosity between the “redneck” and the black students. It was not uncommon for fights to break out after classes let out between the two groups. I remember once time, my little 5’ nothing self was walking the bus when I somehow ended up walking between the two sides yelling at each other. This black student that stood 6’1" or 6’2" stepped in front of me and started yelling about my “people enslaving” his people. I don’t know where I found the guts but I stated “My IRISH family come over in the 1890s and were starving in Ireland before that. When they got here, they were treated so poorly that many continued to suffer. So unless your family were slaves in that time period and to the poor Irish, you need to get out of my face.” He, along with EVERYONE in the hall were shocked. After that, neither side messed with me and in fact, I made many friends out of that incident.

Yes! My great grandma was born in 1910. She lived through so many major historical events. I regret not asking her to tell me her story but I was young and didn’t realize at the time how important it would be.

Yes! During my shadow work, I’ve been reading a lot about generational trauma and it amazes me how anyone is still alive. There are so many instances of oppression and abuse within pretty much every demographic. Granted, some had it way worse than others, but it really does mean we all carry this weight. I’m adding that book to my wish list! Thank you for sharing.

It amazes me how people can have such hatred in their hearts and then it suddenly disappears when they are affected or can benefit from someone. You are a wonderful person and you are doing great things in this world. And thank you for asking about my shop! It is going slow. I’ve made a few sales but right now we are still in the building phase so I don’t mind. Especially since right now it is just a side gig.


And whats worse is i was raised to love everyone. And thank u for the compliment. Many blessings to u, your family, and business. U will do great things love. Remember im here if u need anything.


I wouldn’t even know where to start! I’m a European mutt. I have DNA from Denmark, Sweden, Norway on my mom’s side and France, Ireland, Scotland, Wales on my dad’s side. My mom had a dysfunctional childhood and my dad never talked about his. They have both moved on so now I’m stuck. Instinctually, I tend to gravitate towards Celtic and Norse mythology.


This entire piece was beautifully written and full of thought-provoking ideas, but this line jumped out to me most of all. I’d never considered sitting down (or perhaps something a bit less formal haha) and talking to my parents about emotional inheritance- material inheritance, sure, but never anything emotional, spiritual, or ancestral.

I heard quite a few stories growing up about how my grandparents did things, how my parents didn’t like those methods, and how they changed them so my sibling and I would have better lives. Now after reading this, it makes me want to look back and search for any patterns- things that might have been released, and what might remain- passed along from one generation to the next :thinking: :tree_of_life:

All in all another really deep and heartfelt piece that opens up many doors- thank you so much for this very interesting read about ancestral trauma, @Amaris_Bane! :heart::pray:


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