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Your ancestors' trauma doesn't have to be yours; how to heal and grow (#93)

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Jean Latting
November 10, 2023
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Jasmin has written about generational trauma and her own experiences with it as the child of American Black and Caribbean Black parents.

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Jean Latting 0:11

Jean introduces Jasmin Joseph, a writer and researcher from Yonkers, New York, who has written on intergenerational trauma: when trauma that's experienced by people in one generation gets passed down to their children and their children's children. She wrote about how realizing that she, too, was a product of intergenerational trauma helped her decide to seek therapy.

Jasmin Joseph describes herself as a writer and researcher. She's written in Teen Vogue, Republic Journal, and YES! Magazine. She describes herself as a Black American woman of African, Native American, and European descent. She also describes herself as a 20-something mover, writer, tinkerer, explorer, and lover.

What does all this mean to you?

Jasmin Joseph 3:06

I wanted to describe me, as a person, who I am more than what I've done, so I came up with those words. Literally just thinking about what are the things I like to do? I like to tinker with ideas, explore places, love people, and I feel like that's the origin of all of my work anyway.

Jean Latting 4:38

How did you get interested in intergenerational trauma?

Jasmin Joseph 4:46

Anxiety manifests in my life is a desire to get information, so I started looking into anxiety, like physical manifestations of anxiety, what causes anxiety, and that came to be the arrow that everything was pointing to why do I have this? There are other reasons why mental illness manifests in ways that it does.

Destigmatizing mental illness

Jean Latting 6:41

You wrote this very provocative sentence in your YES! Magazine article,[1] “My own mental health journey began with destigmatizing mental illness and eventually transformed into an acceptance of mental health care as an inextricable part of holistic wellness.”

Who told you, you had a mental illness? And how did you go from mental illness to destigmatizing mental illness?

Jasmin Joseph 7:28

Going to my ob-gyn, very nervous, and with a very high heart rate. And he said, “You should see someone about that, if this happens to you a lot that's not good.” I thought “Okay, I think I need to do something about this, if having this kind of reaction is not good for me.”

Jean Latting 9:51

Did you think of yourself as a generally nervous person, composed on the outside, nervous on the inside?

Jasmin Joseph 10:00

In my family, the language is always, I was nervous. I get nervous, but I'm not a nervous person. I didn't recognize mental illness to be a condition. I recognized it as a temporary state. You can be depressed, you can be nervous, but that doesn't mean you're depressed, you're nervous.

But I think the doctor planted this seed. You could live without this kind of reaction to things that upset you or make you a little bit uncertain. And I thought, if I could do without this, I would like to.

Jean Latting 15:16

What made you turn that way and not just dismiss it?

Jasmin Joseph 15:42

I recognized that it was holding me back a little.

The next time I had that sort of reaction, I was, “Okay, I'm going to try to find a therapist.” Because I didn't really want to go to a psychiatrist. I didn't know what they did.

Jean Latting 16:59

Tell me about your family.

Family background

Jasmin Joseph 17:35

Both my parents are African American, my dad is African American/Caribbean American. They were from the Island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. And my grandma was from the South, and she met my grandpa after having moved North to New York.

What kind of pressure was it to be upwardly mobile in a world where there is a glass ceiling that was saying, we don't want Black people in here, we don't care what your qualifications are? What vices do you turn to when your life is frustrating and how do those vices impact your children?

What really clicked for me when I realized, “Oh, this didn't start with me. This isn’t all my fault or all their fault.” And then, “Oh, no one's to blame.” You didn't do it to yourself. You didn't do it to me. Someone didn't do it to you, someone didn't do it to them.

Jean Latting 23:45

You grew up with half Caribbean, half Black south. Describe the difference between Caribbean slavery and South, like Southern slavery as you understand it.

Jasmin Joseph 24:40

I think there's a difference in approach because they don't have that nihilistic worldview that might come as a result of having seen slavery, endured it, survived it. and emerged from it.

The immigrant experience

Jean Latting 25:33

So, you're saying the immigrant experience is what differentiates it. And so, you grew up believing I can do more. I can achieve more. Now here comes this doctor, telling you something's wrong with you.

Jasmin Joseph 28:07

I went online and searched Black woman therapist, because I know I want to talk to a Black woman. Then I found Therapy for Black Girls.[2] They have a network of therapists.

Discovering generational trauma

Jean Latting 29:53

You're doing a service for all the folks who have thought about therapy and haven't done it.

For listeners, I'm going to distinguish between therapy and coaching because people know I do leadership coaching. Therapy is going back into your past and uncovering the stuck part there so that you can move forward. Coaching keeps a line on the going forward, and you dip into the past as necessary to bring it up to help explain where you are now and what you need to be different to move forward.

Was it in therapy that you discovered generational trauma, or was it in your reading or some combination?

Jasmin Joseph 32:36

It was a combination. An example: if a lot of people have left someone's lives they felt like people often abandon them. So as their child, you're just trying to do something for yourself, you want to go on vacation, you want to study in a different country, you want to move, they take it as something personal, like you're choosing to leave them. They might not be supportive, and they're just reacting to an experience they had. And the knowledge of that can help you reassure them.

I think you have to recognize where that comes from and try to address them head on. But at the same time, not let that stop you from living your life. Which is very hard, especially for oldest daughters, and I think the immigrant experience is very similar to the Black experience.

Another thing that is quite hard about this process is that there's a lot of jealousy too, when these curses are broken, because you think I suffered this way, you should suffer this way too.

Kirmayer’s chart and historical trauma


This chart[3] was adapted from a psychology paper from 2014 by Kirmayer and others,[4] and it's showing the transgenerational transmission of historical trauma.

In my essay, particularly, and also what we're talking about, is this idea of a historical trauma,

meaning that something has happened on a population level to a group of people and that experience is what's being passed from generation to generation.

Historical trauma in this case was referring to Native Americans in the US. As a result of settler colonialism by Europeans, there was a loss of collective identity. As a result, you can lose a whole generation of children either to mental illness, or mental illness that then escalates into suicide.

And then how does that affect the family? There's grief, like you said, that goes unprocessed, there's anger at the world that is then shone onto the people that you have in your immediate area. So, men are angry, they cannot provide the way they think they're supposed to. Women are angry that they don't have the life they think they want for their children. And then as a result, it's family dysfunction, abuse, domestic violence.

A lot of the newer research about the genetic implications of trauma have pointed to where it's not that the DNA itself has changed but something attaches itself to the DNA that changes the way that it's presented.

Jean Latting 48:26

Let's talk about that. The parent grows up under the KKK, as my parents did for an example. [Some parents] end up being overprotective. Now coming down to you, how does that overprotectiveness affect you, over or under, whichever way it went for you?

Jasmin Joseph 49:00

For me, it would definitely be overprotectiveness, and sometimes I can feel unsupported. That's not because they don't support me or don't think that I can do whatever I want to do. It's just this sort of fear of what could happen if I'm going out and doing all these different things.

What would your life look without this trauma?

Jean Latting 49:49

Is there one thing you want people of your generation to understand about generational trauma?

Jasmin Joseph 50:00

I would say that, even if you understand it, and recognize it, you don't have to be defined by it.

There was a Native American teaching of seventh generational thinking. What would your life look like without this trauma?

Jasmin Joseph

Jasmin  is a writer, researcher, and aspiring producer based in Los Angeles originally from Yonkers, NY. Since entering the workforce at 14, she has served as a restaurant hostess, retail clerk, teacher’s assistant, domestic cleaner, financial analyst, political pollster, hair & skin researcher, garnering skills in business strategy & operations, market research, communications, and people and product management.

She is a graduate of Georgetown University holding a double major in Marketing and Operations/Information Management. She is currently a staff member at the Producers Guild of America. Her work in Teen Vogue, The Republic Journal, ZORA, and other publications details the full breadth of her experience as a Black American woman of African, Native American, and European descent. She describes herself as a twenty-something, mover, writer, tinkerer, explorer, and lover. 

Connect with Jasmin:


The views and opinions expressed in this or other blog posts at www.leadingconsciously.com are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Leading Consciously. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Can you trace generational trauma in your family?  Where did it originate?
  2. How might you reinterpret your own issues according to the concept of generational trauma?

Conscious Change skills
covered in this blog:

  • Test assumptions
    • Look for multiple points of view
    • Check to see if you are making cultural assumptions
  • Build effective relationships
    • Develop skills in inquiry and openness
    • Distinguish intent from impact

#GenerationalTrauma  #ImmigrantIdentity  #MentalHealth  #RacialTraumaHealing

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