Sankofa #9

Sankofa #9

Yes, I am on leave, but I have decided to continue musing with you. Many of you have expressed that you are enjoying my weekly musing. I am glad and honoured.

Some of you are aware that I am an early riser –  most days before five unless I am very, very tired, or not well. Matter of fact I do enjoy waking up early. It gives me the opportunity to read, reflect, write, and pray.


Recently I have taken a keen interest in reading books relating to ‘Trauma’. Recent research has confirmed that we are all traumatised (or wounded). ‘Whether we’ve experienced trauma with a big T or small t, we’ve all experienced suffering, and while that suffering may have seemed like a moment in time, it lives in our subconscious and in our body, informing every thought and every action.”[1] In short, Trauma affects everything.

Many moons ago I was working with a psychologist on issues relating to my mum. As I described to him how I was treated by my late mum, he said, “It sounded like you had been traumatised by your mum.” That was the first time any counsellor had said that to me that I was traumatised. I remembered after hearing those few words, tears flowed uncontrollably. For the first time I realised that I was traumatised by late mum. It started me on the journey of healing.

We must be willing to accept this truth: we are all traumatised. Bringing loving awareness to our traumas (or wounds) is part of the healing process. According to Dr Sarah Woodhouse, “When we don’t recognise how traumatic experiences have affected us, we remain bound to the past and disconnected from our true selves, we’re trapped in painful old reactions, patterns and self-limiting traumatic beliefs.”[2]

Intergenerational Traumas

By the way intergenerational trauma is real. Intergenerational trauma—sometimes called transgenerational trauma—is a term that is used to describe the impact of a traumatic experience, not only on one generation, but on subsequent generations after the event.[3] We know that trauma leaves a lasting impact on a person. It can shape their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, but it can also affect their parenting, communication, and connection with their children. With intergenerational trauma, a child is exposed indirectly to the trauma of a parent, which can become a generational cycle. In some cases, the parent, unintentionally, will place the child in similar situations that led to their trauma.

What happened?

One last thought for this week. I am convinced that we all need to ask one fundamental question: “What happened to you?” This question can help each of us become more aware of how our experiences – both good and bad – shape us. Traumas shape us. Truth is unhealed traumas continue to have negative effects on our lives. Healing involves discomfort. But so does refusing to heal. And over time, refusing to heal I have found is always more painful and destructive for ourselves and others.

These days when I encounter a racist, or a bully, or a controlling person or a violent person I ask myself: ‘What happened to the person?’ It’s my attempt to understand the person, not to excuse or justify the person’s behaviour. I wonder what traumas (or wounds) the person has yet to heal? It helps me to be more compassionate and less critical.

I love this quote from Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr: ‘Pain that is not transformed is transferred.’  Another way to say it is “hurt people hurt people.”  This is important to remember because we are all on both the giving and receiving end of pain.[4] The good news is that the opposite is also true – healed people transfer healing and peace to other people. We are just as capable of passing on healing and wholeness as we are of passing on pain. Yet it does take a little more work and awareness to do so.

I am thinking and praying for you.

… in the meantime, blessed be.

Rev Swee Ann Koh

24th August 2022

[1] Gabrielle Bernstein, ‘HAPPY DAYS: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace’, Pg. 11

[2] Dr Sarah Woodhouse, ‘You’re not Broken: Break free from trauma & reclaim your life’, pg. 3

[3] Intergenerational trauma was first identified among the children of Holocaust survivors , but recent research has identified intergenerational trauma among other groups such as indigenous populations in North America and Australia (3)(5). In 1988, one study showed that children of Holocaust survivors were overrepresented in psychiatric referrals by 300% (6). The subjects were selected based on having at least one parent or grandparent who was a survivor.

[4] If this musing is causing you anxiety or discomfort, you might want to speak to someone. I am more than happy to listen.