The intergenerational transmission of trauma symptoms in children of Holocaust survivors

Tamar Bauman, Pace University

Abstract

Research has shown that individuals who experience an event that shatters their assumptions of the world may develop a host of trauma symptoms in reaction to the event. Moreover, those individuals who experience trauma, and who come to change their way of relating to themselves and their outer world, can have an effect on others around them. Studies on children of trauma survivors have found some evidence of the transmission of trauma symptoms from first generation trauma survivor to their children. Understanding the role of parental trauma on the second generation's adaptation can help to improve functioning both on an individual level as well as functioning within the family. ^ This study examined whether trauma symptoms, operationalized as PTSD symptomatology, get transmitted from first generation trauma survivor to second. Modes of transmission (distinguished as hypervigilance/mistrust of world, mode of communication of Holocaust experiences, suffering and pain related to the Holocaust, pervasiveness of the Holocaust experience, and resolution of past losses) were evaluated for their contribution to the increase in trauma symptoms within the second generation. The sample consisted of a non-clinical population of 166 children of Holocaust survivors. All participants completed 4 measures including the Holocaust Experience Questionnaire (questionnaire created to identify modes of transmission through survivor's Holocaust experience and second generation's Holocaust experience), the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (measuring PTSD symptoms), NEO-Five Factor Inventory (measuring neuroticism as a control variable), and the Life Experience Survey (measuring stressful life experiences as a control variable). A theoretical model was created to evaluate the transmission process. Group differences based on parental experience during the Holocaust (concentration camp vs. labor camp/hiding/fleeing) and age of parent during the Holocaust (child/adolescent vs. adult) were evaluated for their contributions to PTSD symptoms within the second generation. ^ Results revealed that trauma symptoms can be transmitted from first generation Holocaust survivors to second. Regarding modes of transmission, children who perceived parental anguish and responded to it with empathy/guilt leading to an over-identification with parental victim states, experienced a significant amount of trauma symptoms including intrusion, avoidance, and hyperarousal symptoms. In addition, children who perceived parents to be hypervigilant and socially mistrusting and who reacted to this with their own levels of hypervigilance and mistrust, experienced a significant amount of hyperarousal symptoms. Lastly, children whose parents communicated about their Holocaust experiences in an open manner were found to experience less overall PTSD and fewer symptoms of avoidance than those whose parents were silent about their past experiences. Regarding group differences, children of survivors whose fathers experienced the Holocaust in adulthood, were found to have a greater increase in symptoms of avoidance than those whose fathers were children/adolescents. No significant effects were found for a survivor-mother's age or experience. ^ One important implication of this study is that children of parents who experienced a trauma may be at risk for experiencing trauma symptoms themselves. Therefore, when conducting clinical evaluations/social histories, clinicians must take into account parental trauma history, particularly when PTSD symptoms are present. In addition, understanding the modes by which trauma gets transmitted can help patient and therapist develop new ways of reacting and relating in order to improve functioning both on an individual level as well as functioning within the family. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Tamar Bauman, "The intergenerational transmission of trauma symptoms in children of Holocaust survivors" (January 1, 2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. Paper AAI3108601.
http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/dissertations/AAI3108601

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