Skip to main content

Visions Journal

Editor's Message

Sarah Hamid-Balma

Reprinted from the Intergenerational Trauma issue of Visions Journal, 2023, 18 (2), p. 4

Normal is relative. Groups of people define it, and the first group most of us are attached to is the family. That’s why how we grow up initially feels normal. It’s all we know.

I didn’t realize that intergenerational trauma affected my own family until I was almost an adult. It turns out my great grandfather was imprisoned and then exiled to India from Afghanistan by the British. He was placed under house arrest. My grandparents and their children ended up born and raised in India as stateless citizens, with the Muslim kids going to schools run by nuns. When my family finally returned to Kabul in the 1970s, it wasn’t long before they had to flee again as refugees when Russia invaded—my brother and I in tow. My dad, uncle and aunties weren’t tortured or abused. But the trauma of forced moves (not once but twice), of war, of being denied your land and the ability to practice your religion and language freely in community—all of that was traumatic. As I grew up, I saw it in my family as anxiety: worry about money or not fitting in, a reluctance to move or change or take any risks, a desire to follow rules, a fear of throwing anything away. They don’t think behaviours like this could be trauma-related but my kids and I notice. The trauma started long ago in the 1890s but it still persists in little ways in everything—in bodies, hearts, minds and actions. The changes defined “normal” and “safe.” I have deep respect for all they endured.

Watch this space. You will see some new names on this page in the issues to come from different members of the group behind Visions called the BC Partners. I’ve returned for one issue after our terrific Kamal Arora left CMHA. The next issue is being coordinated by a colleague from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, followed by our new Leader of Health Promotion at CMHA and then by a colleague from Anxiety Canada. I hope the new voices this year excite you. If you would like to add your voice, join our Editorial Board and/or participate in our Visions reader survey or theme poll. See the ads ahead to find out all the ways you can get involved.

Take care. Trauma features in every Visions but this issue has a bigger dose. The articles are full of inspiration and hope but, still, do take breaks and take care of yourself as you read these powerful stories.

About the author

Sarah Hamid-Balma is Visions Editor and Director of Health Promotion and Education at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division

Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.