The Normandy Chair for Peace recently hosted a ground-breaking webinar on the topic of multigenerational legacies of trauma. The webinar, titled “Transgenerational Approach to Transmission: Lessons Learned from Offspring of Nazi Holocaust Victim/Survivors,” featured renowned speaker Dr. Yael Danieli, a clinical psychologist, psychohistorian, and victimologist. Dr. Danieli is the Founder and Executive Director of the International Center for the Study, Treatment, and Prevention of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma.
The webinar was moderated by Emilie Gaillard, General Coordinator and Scientific Director of the Normandy Chair. The event aimed to shed light on the transmission of trauma across generations and the profound impact it has on individuals, families, and communities. Dr. Danieli’s extensive research and pioneering work in traumatology and victimology made her an ideal expert for this discussion.
Dr. Danieli began her presentation by emphasizing the universality of multigenerational legacies of trauma throughout human history. She highlighted how trauma is transmitted through various mechanisms, including biology, psychology, family dynamics, societal and cultural factors, and more. Drawing from her international handbook on the subject, she presented evidence that the transmission of trauma is a complex phenomenon affecting numerous populations worldwide.
The speaker introduced her own theoretical framework, “Trauma and the Continuity of Selves,” which explores the multidimensional nature of trauma survival and adaptation. She discussed the interplay between different systems and spheres of an individual’s life, including biological, psychological, familial, communal, economic, cultural, and national/international aspects. Dr. Danieli emphasized the role of trauma in shaping one’s identity and the subsequent influence on parenting, family life, emotional development, and beliefs across generations.
To support her framework, Dr. Danieli presented findings from a study involving approximately 500 adult children of Holocaust survivors. The study utilized a web-based inventory developed specifically for offspring, measuring post-traumatic adaptational styles of parents and reparative adaptational impacts on the children. The results indicated distinct styles among survivors, such as victim-style, numb-style, and fighter-style, each with different psychological and behavioral characteristics. The study also highlighted the significant influence of parents’ adaptational styles on the severity of their children’s psychological disorders.
Moreover, Dr. Danieli discussed the reparative adaptational impacts experienced by survivors’ children, which encompassed feelings of insecurity, protectiveness, the need for control, obsession with the trauma, defensive responses, and dependency issues. The study revealed that the severity of these impacts correlated with the presence of psychological disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among the offspring.
The webinar concluded by presenting a hypothesized model that connects family history, parents’ post-traumatic adaptational styles, and children’s reparative adaptational impacts. Dr. Danieli stressed the importance of understanding the intergenerational transmission of trauma and its far-reaching consequences for individuals and societies.
The webinar, which was translated and broadcasted on the Normandy Chair for Peace’s website, provided valuable insights into the multigenerational legacies of trauma. The discussion shed light on the profound psychological effects of trauma on survivors and their offspring, calling for continued research, support, and optimal care for affected populations.