A Canadian View: Inter-Generational Trauma, Poverty & Racism, Part One

by | Nov 18, 2021 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments

I recently hosted an online seminar related to historic and inter-generational trauma related to the survivors of the Canadian residential school system and their descendants. One of the presenters was from the Compassionate Inquiry project.

I would like to examine the relationship between trauma, poverty and (systemic) racism over my next three articles. Part One discusses trauma. What is trauma? Adverse childhood experiences are common and can have negative long-lasting effects on our health. Ten types of trauma include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, mother treated violently, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce and incarcerated household member.

Inter-generational trauma is historical or cumulative trauma, which refers to a collective and compounding emotional and psychological wounding over time, both in one’s lifetime and across generations. This can also result in numerous and sustained attacks against a group or culture over generations which affect current well-being.

While trauma was presented at this online seminar as it relates to Indigenous People in Canada, I was also able to relate it to many of the persons in need our Society of Saint Vincent de Paul seeks to help. How many times have we heard fellow Vincentians question why the same people keep coming back for help? Why can’t they find work? Why don’t they have any ambition to do better? Why do they seem happy with their current lifestyles?

Instead of such questions and concerns, what if we tried to understand the effect trauma may have had and still has on their lives? What if we really tried to invite them to share their history, which was full of various traumatic experiences that may still affect them? Many of those we serve are not even aware of the effect trauma has had on their ability to learn, find employment, or simply participate more fully in society.

If we could all gain such an understanding of trauma and how it can be inter-generational, then we could succeed in our efforts to accomplish systemic changes that help those living in poverty. Please seek to learn more about inter-generational trauma as part of your efforts to address poverty.

About the author:

Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is a Canadian Vincentian. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.



  1. Mark Pranaitis, C.M.

    Thank you, Jim, for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. For more information on this topic, I suggest reading Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy. While it focuses on the US experience, I think many of its lessons will apply many people dealing with the effects of trauma.

  2. Louis Arceneaux, c.m.

    Very good first article. Looking forward to succceeding ones. Peace, Louie

  3. Carol De Angelo

    Thanks, Jim, so important for us to be aware of this topic. The Catholic Boarding School zoom series just recently completed helped increase my awareness. Our Canadian and US brothers and sisters shared their experiences and made me very aware of intergenerational trauma.