07/25/2024, 15:35, Vienna  DEUTSCH / ENGLISH

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Transgenerational Trauma (Part II)

Author: Silvia Prosquill (TVP)


Trauma as Identification Process

Bohleber (1998) describes the transgenerational transmission of trauma as identification process and introduces 5 ”general characteristics” that are unique to this type of identification. First, the identification refers to a past event. Secondly, these processes refer to an absolute and crude identification with the parent. The traumatized parents require a „regulation of their precarious narcissistic balance and mentally take possession of the child out of necessity” by projecting the split, “written off” parts unconsciously onto the child. The child experiences these imposed introjected parts as self-alienation and treats them as taboos – the content cannot be discussed. With reference to Abraham Torak (1976), Bohleber refers to this manifestation as “endokryptic identification” (Greek: endon “inside” and kryptós “hidden, concealed secret”). 

A third characteristic of the identification with traumatic experiences in early childhood, as described by Bohleber, is the content that bears resemblance to secrets or phantoms. The emotions and behavior that seemingly belong to the child are in reality part of the parents‘ history. The fourth characteristic by Bohleber highlights the fact that the affected children live in two realities in which the line between past and present is blurred. The fifth and last characteristic deals with the disruption of the independently development since the child lacks the mental space “in which the child´s identity can develop independent of the alienated narcissistic power of their parents”. Michael B. Buchholz discussed the psychodynamic processes regarding the unconscious transmission of traumata between generations by focusing on symbolization processes, and how they can be understood as transmissions of traumata between metaphors and reification. He refers to Freud when he talks about the unconscious´ ability to affect the unconscious communication, and that in doing so the (unconscious, fragmentary) knowledge of the other surpasses what is known and shown.

To him, this ability is significant when dealing multigenerational processes and he uses it in his work with patients. Concerning the question of mental transmission, he draws on the concept of internalization where social value systems that structure situations and behavioral patterns are assumed. He emphasizes that these value systems cannot be imagined as visual representations.
For the behavior patterns transmitted by values to be up-to-date and appropriate in specific situations, a certain “elasticity” is required. A third dimension is needed, namely that of the “cultural symbols” during the transmission. They can be understood as the “intermediate domain”, significant configurations, between actions and transmitted value systems and ideologies. They are internalized by the child through transmission of the configurations from their parents. The child adopts the “symbolic forms of experience” as “experience symbols”. In that way, the different “types” of behavior possess symbolic meaning that can impose the behavior´s function.

Neurobiological Implications

Natan P.F. Kellermann (2011) characterizes 4 types of transmission models and divides them into (1) psychodynamic, (2) socialization/education-bound, (3) based on family structure and communication, and (4) biological and genetic transmission models.

To explain this phenomenon, he designed a neurobiological and behavior-oriented theory that contains psychoanalytic viewpoints. On the one hand Kellermann’s reflections and illustrations regarding transgenerational trauma transmission follow a neurobiological approach documenting a genetic transmission, and on the other hand he highlights the parent’s care in conjunction with the psychosocial model. He points out the lack or surfeit of communication between parents and child. According to his psychosocial approach, the inherited trauma can emerge in a variation that is different from their parents´ generational traumata. Thus, the triggering factors differ from those of their parents. The author´s neurobiological concept consists of 4 stages. First, severe and chronic stress leads to an excessive release of cortisol that causes the hippocampus to age prematurely and damages the Nucleus Amygdalae. In the second stage, the child inherits the neurobiological conditioning. Future generations unknowingly inherit this predisposition, which Kellermann refers to as “program error”. Only when they themselves have traumatic experiences, can affected children make a connection with their parents´ experiences. The fourth stage refers to the symbolic heritage explained by the relation to traditional language and culture.

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