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.

What does it mean to undergo a psychoanalysis?

“In psychoanalysis, we do not seek to cure you but to help you find your own truth.” – Jacques Lacan

Beginning a psychoanalytic therapy, as most therapy treatments, requires a certain level of commitment and desire for it. An in depth look into one’s inner world and the self in relation to others is often a challenging process which requires hard work. The reasons for beginning psychotherapy are different for everybody and often the things one wants to change and/or understand are not the reasons that bring one pain and suffering.

The psychoanalytic account of subjectivity is one of the creation of a complex human being through multiple and conflicting identifications informed and inscribed by a constantly changing social environment where unconscious desire takes its shape at the intersection of flesh and word, mother and baby, fantasy and reality, life and death.

What makes psychoanalysis special and my chosen method of working is the freedom it allows for the analysand to speak what is important for them, therefore direct the treatment in a way that feels personally meaningful. “The analyst is not an authority figure; he is a partner in a shared search for truth.” – Jacques-Alain Miller

The first appointment will help both of us to understand your needs and whether this method of working is suited for you.

The frequency of the sessions varies from once to five times a week and is to be chosen freely and through a mutual agreement with me.

Psychoanalysis—as a form of conversation—is worth having only if it makes our lives more interesting, or funnier, or sadder, or more tormented, or whatever it is about ourselves that we value and want to promote; and especially if it helps us find new things about ourselves that we didn’t know we could value. New virtues are surprisingly rare. —Adam Phillips

Psychotherapy…is a long term giving the patient back what the patient brings. It is a complex derivative of the face that reflects what is there to be seen. I like to think of my work in this way, and to think that if I do this well enough the patient will find his or her own self, and will be able to exist and to feel real. Feeling real is more than existing: it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself, and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation. – D.W. Winnicott 

Undergoing a psychoanalytic psychotherapy or a psychoanalysis means that you see your analyst minimally 2 times a week and most frequently 4-5 times a week. In the session you are invited to sit or lay on the couch and free associate, or differently said; say whatever comes to your mind without censoring the content of your thoughts and feelings.  

One often watches this scene in Hollywood movies. Obviously very much caricatured to describe a psychoanalysis where the analysand is endlessly talking and the analyst barely saying anything sitting behind the couch. Instead what happens is the unfolding of an immensely complex process between analyst and analysand where both are intensely engaged in understanding and elaborating the unconscious workings of the mind of the analysand. Their relation to the analyst as a figure who is engaged in all too familiar ways. It is precisely this re-enacted relationship that helps both to catch glimpses of past relationships that tend to re-appear as phantasms that come to life during the course of the treatment. Phantasms that tend to stand in the way. They stand in the way and perhaps also stand for introjected past relationships to one’s environment, parents, siblings, relatives, ways of being held, spoken to, related with that have impacted the creation of a very idiosyncratic way of being in the world (also not being) that is now for the analysand an obstacle to his inner and outer freedom, a source of psychic pain or also a source of intersubjective difficulties and inhibitions.  

The day a psychoanalysis starts the newly formed couple venture on a trip with an unknown destination and duration. A destination that with a good enough work from both sides can bring the analysand into a freer relation with their own desire, a more sensitive sense of themselves as desiring subjects, a restoration of a sense of aliveness and vitality, an increased awareness of one’s psychic internality and relatedness in the world.