Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma.

TTT is a field of study I have long been fond of. It sparked my interest since it binds together past, present and future of the social catastrophes that have been defining human life since the dawn of time. Coming from a country that suffered under one of the most radical communist regimes the question of a group or collective trauma almost “forces” itself upon me. Paralyzed at the breakdown of meaning, I turned to the theory and research behind TTT in order to make some sense of the lingering effects of such extreme oppression and other forms of violence that history has recorded such as planned or abrupt explosions of wars, extreme ethnic oppressions, racial discrimination, slavery, economic injustice, gender-based violence etc. 

In psychoanalysis, Freud (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) came up with a concept like the presence of a death drive which is often used as an explanation of the presence of such destruction in our minds and social lives. The death drive is an inherent drive that seeks annihilation of all that lives, tension, what is creative, transformative and life bringing, something that strives towards a complete lack of stimulation, excitation, anxiety, a sort of nothingness. The death drive is not just attempting to flatten the life of the psyche but also discharges aggression towards the outside world. Although controversial and theoretically a highly debated concept within psychoanalysis, I tend to be a proponent of its structural value in the theory of the drives. 

However, there are other schools within psychoanalysis (object-relations) that have long been theorizing that such destruction is an inevitable form of communicating the incommunicable (trauma). After all how can such barbaric and heinous acts that exceed the limits of normal human toleration be explained or communicated?! They can only be understood in their muteness, raw and symptomatic explosions. Concepts like the TTT however study the long term, generational effects of massive personal and social traumas that define not just the generation that directly suffers from it but how it inscribes itself psychically and physically in at least 3 generations. The central idea of this concept is that traumatic experiences get transmitted in unconscious ways, one of the most affected and highly charged areas of transmission is in the kind of parenting, bonding or attachment style that the parents have to their children. It has been documented by many studies that families or parents affected by trauma tend to be either physically violent to their children, psychologically distant or numb, (or what is commonly called emotionally dead), show very little interest in the emotional life of their children and have big difficulties to recognize and tend to the vulnerabilities of their children. Unwanted affects within oneself are either deposited in their children and attacked in them or their presence is denied in the children as well. This difficulty of recognition stems from them having to split or deaden parts of themselves that feel vulnerable and helpless in face of such atrocities. Maybe out of the need to psychologically survive? 

Collective denial of the effects of massive social traumas is also one of the ways in which instead of recognition and doing the work of repair a society copes by denial and it therefore becomes the unconscious task of the next generations to acknowledge and work through what the previous generations could not. 

TTT is a very complex topic that has been addressed by many psychoanalytic authors and started out of research that was done with survivors of the Holocaust where oftentimes the children of the parents that had escaped or survived were not aware of being Jewish or having such a history but reported living out and repeating such histories in their lives.

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