Generational Silence Contributes to Complex PTSD

December 6, 2018 Traci Powell

Generational silence can inflame complex PTSD. When others try to enforce it, to keep you quiet, you don't have to listen to them. Learn more at HealthyPlace.

Generational silence surrounding complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, often shortened to C-PTSD) and the abuse that can cause it makes growing up in a physically, mentally or emotionally abusive family especially hard ("What Is Complex PTSD [C-PTSD]?"). When family members tell you that you need to just shut up and accept it's just how the family is, you can be left feeling hopeless and broken. This attitude is passed on from generation to generation with the expectation that the next generation will also keep quiet. It is the curse of generational silence and it can feed complex PTSD, but it's a curse that you can break.

Impact of Generational Silence on Complex PTSD

Recently, I was told by a close family friend that she felt it was wrong of me to disconnect from family members who were abusive to me ("Detaching from Verbal Abuse Hypnosis MP3"). She gave me the ol' "blood is thicker than water" lecture and informed me how they are the only family I have and I need to respect them for that.

It wasn't long into the conversation that my complex PTSD had my head spinning. I kept flashing back to events that were horrific. My intense sense of shame and feeling that I don't matter that run rampant when I'm triggered began to convince me I had done something very wrong in speaking out against my abuse and standing up for myself. 

I tried to argue with this woman that no one has the right to abuse you and we all have the right to decide what is best for our lives, but she just kept insisting I was horrible for shutting out my family who had been there for me growing up. Sure, they did some of the things that are expected of adults in a family with young children, but members of my family also did things to children that were illegal and/or soul-crushing. 

Since my complex PTSD was so active during the conversation, I began to buy into what she was saying and feeling more shame than ever. I began to believe I was horrible for wanting to heal from my abuse and protect myself from my abusers. When I finally was able to step away from the conversation, though, the logical part of my brain was able to see how very wrong she was. 

Don't Let Generational Silence Feed Your Complex PTSD

When you are faced with family members who want to convince you that you are the problem, not the abusers, do your best to take a step back. If you try to explain how you feel about what happened to you and they have no desire to even begin to see things from your perspective, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stop the conversation.

Unfortunately, it's much easier for some people to keep family secrets than to face the truth. For them to do that, they will attempt to shame you into silence. It's like a family spider web that traps those who try to speak out. Through the generations, the web grows larger as more family members are trapped in their own silence, forced to live alone with the effects of complex PTSD, and allowing the generational abuse to continue.

As a survivor of abuse, I'm sure you know how hard it can be to face the things that happened within your family. You can't force others to see the truth, however, if they aren't ready. Just because they may not being ready, though, doesn't give them the right to shame you for wanting to heal and take the steps you need to set up boundaries to protect yourself. Even if those boundaries include reducing the amount of exposure you have to certain family members.

Blood may be thicker than water, but blood can stain and you have every right to avoid the blood that stains your life, breaking the cycle of generational silence attached to complex PTSD.

APA Reference
Powell, T. (2018, December 6). Generational Silence Contributes to Complex PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Traci Powell

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carol moger
August, 1 2019 at 4:55 pm

Traci, thank you so much for your thoughts and sharing your healing. I am a retired, 67 year old clinical social worker who was truly clueless about the complexity of my past history of mental illness and trauma. I heard for the first time, the name, "complex ptsd." It was such an eye-opener! And yes, my life has been about multi generational silence and non-truths. It has been a long process to come to terms with the impact of that silence on my life and those I have loved. One of my greatest burdens is with integrating c-ptsd with my fundamental religious background with its emphasis on looking good and external rather than internal guidelines for living my life.

August, 3 2019 at 10:03 am

Hi Carol,
I completely understand about "looking good and external." I had to come to grips that was just a goal for those around me who wanted me to keep up their facades of a life that wasn't real. People try to convince us our whole lives how we should act to keep their lies going, but thankfully, no matter what age we are, when we begin to understand how generational silence keeps us stuck, we can finally step into the truth begin the healing process, not only for us, but the generations to follow.

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