Healing Generational Trauma

March 23, 2018

This week we wrap up our monthly focus on how trauma affects those living on the margins in our city.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a four part series that we will be referencing through excerpts and praying about each week at our Friday prayer services.  To access this article: https://projects.jsonline.com/news/2017/3/23/epidemic-of-childhood-trauma-haunts-milwaukee.html


Today we look at the root causes of trauma, and how its affects have spread in the shadows at an exponential rate.

As most people in Milwaukee and other Northern industrial cities know, the economic boom that occurred in the early- to mid-1900s came to a crashing halt in the second half of the 20th century. And while most people recognize the financial hardships that were created, many do not understand how this dramatic change affected whole families and – specifically – how it affected those who were children at that time; nor do we recognize how it continues to affect these folks as adults.

Often people recognize the effects of trauma related to situations of violence, but they are unaware of how this trauma affects victims of economic (and subsequent neighborhood) breakdown.

The perpetuation of trauma has been documented in the families of those who survived the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Vietnam War and Cambodian genocide. That data has now turned up the same phenomena in families entrenched in poverty, violence and neglect.*

“A lot of families in the inner city have been so devastated economically that some of these families are numb,” says Christine Dunning. “They don’t have the wherewithal to give attention to their child; they are so frozen and withdrawn and dissociative.” When this happens, it’s not simply a matter of a kid having a tough childhood. “ Susan Dreyfus suggests that abuse, neglect and chronic anxiety literally change the architecture of a child’s brain: “It’s a public health crisis.” Further exasperating the effects of trauma, it’s been shown (through the new field of epigenetics) that “chronic stress builds up toxins within the body and potentially can even mutate genetic codes, which are passed down in the DNA to children.”* So not only are the children of these folks affected by the behavior of their parents, they’re also potentially affected from conception, at a genetic level, by this trauma.

Layering this on top of historic oppression and racism, it tragically seems that the African American and Hispanic families living in the central city have the deck fully stacked against them. And yet people are quick to say that those in generational poverty and trauma should toughen up, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do the hard work to make something better of their lives. While it is possible and does happen (thank God), it is extraordinarily difficult to overcome these odds without a superhuman level of self-sufficiency or resiliency – or through an intervention from an outside source.

So let us pray today for those affected by both extreme poverty and oppression, and for their children and grandchildren who continue to suffer.

Prayer for Centering

Heavenly Father we live in a fallen world and are surrounded with so many men and women – as well as boys and girls – that have suffered emotional damage and pass this trauma on to those around them.
We want to lift up all those that are experiencing this type of trauma – and pray for your healing touch on their lives.

Lord you know every one that is in need of emotional healing and the hurt and pain that they are going through
and we ask You to meet each one at their own point of need… and pray that they would find their strength, support, comfort and hope in you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Refresh those that are weary, strengthen those that are weak, help the afflicted, deliver the needy, and comfort the sorrowing.
Heal those that are hurting and draw very close to all who are in need of emotional healing. This we pray in Jesus name, Amen

Invitation to Silence


The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father, forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father, forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father, forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father, forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father, forgive.

The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women and children,
Father, forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father, forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.


Weekly Reflection Questions:

1. What trauma have I experienced that still affects me? What do I know about the trauma my ancestors experienced that may be experiencing me?

2. When have I missed the opportunity to meet someone with empathy rather than judgment?

3. What could I do to break the cycle of trauma of those around me and in my community?


Building Resilience for Racial Justice:
A 40-Day Journey into Our Emotional Selves
– Looking to What’s Next: Continuing the Work for the Long Haul
Sunday, March 25th, 10:30 – noon at Plymouth Church
As a closing to the 40-day practice, this session looks both backward—at what’s come up or been revealed through contemplative practices—and forward—toward what we can do individually and collectively. Together, we’ll ask “what’s next?” and set intentions that may lead to individual or group action plans.

Various opportunities to act with the Sisters of Mercy:
The Sisters of Mercy are among the endorsers of the Act to End Racismevents in Washington, D.C., April 3-5, to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Please participating in the spirit of these days in one of the following ways:

  • Join other Mercys traveling to Washington, D.C. for the April 4th silent walk from near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to the National Mall, an interfaith prayer service and then a full day of speakers and activities. You may find information here about buses coming to D.C. from around the country. Contact Marianne Comfort of the Institute Justice Team at mcomfort@sistersofmercy.org for more details about our meeting place.
  • Plan a prayer service on April 4th for where you live or minister. You might consider a prayer on racism through the lens of nonviolence created by Mercy Sister Diane Guerin, or a prayer service for racial healing from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • Spend some time with A Mercy Road to Eliminating Racism, a resource from the Institute Anti-Racism Transformation Team that offers practical ideas for addressing racism within us, our Institute, our ministries and society.

Immigration and Refugee Action Items
To learn more about the latest discussions between Congress and the White House on immigration concerns, please join this webinar hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition:

  • March 26th 4 PM ET:  Dreams Deferred, #DefundHate, WhereRtheRefugees?

Please RSVP here.  (Call in Number: (202) 602-1295 and enter the conference ID: 354-977-836#.  Webinar/ Visual Link: http://join.me/faith4immigration)

Lastly, express support for Refugee Resettlement.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration will be issuing a letter in support of refugees and the U.S. resettlement program. Full text of the letter can be found here. If you are able to sign on as a leader of a Catholic organization, or as a sister, priest, brother, or Catholic professional or volunteer lay person, please do so here (deadline 5pm ETon Friday, March 23rd.)

New Resources for Racial Healing

Several new USCCB resources can assist Catholics to pray and act for racial healing. Perfect for Lent, A Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also in Spanish) includes Scripture, reflection, and an examination of conscience to help Catholics call on the Divine Physician, Christ the Lord, to heal the wounds of racism throughout our land.  Two new prayers are also available: Prayer to Address the Sin of Racism (also in Spanish) and Prayer to Heal Racial Division (also in Spanish).  Find other resources at usccb.org/racism.

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