Intergenerational trauma

I’ve been reading the multi-generational stories that confirm the obvious: you cannot easily access intergenerational transmission of trauma in people where the generations stop, or where they may not have had the ability to openly tell their stories, or have memorials, or freedom from having to hide reminders of loss, or feel safe. It’s complex, dependent on inner and outer conditions.

For instance, my father’s grandmother, M, lost one baby when Dad’s mother, Elsa, was one and a half years old, and another baby when Elsa was two and a half. Then M lost her oldest child, and Elsa’s only companion, when that child was five and Elsa was four years old. M’s grief may have been bottomless, it most certainly preoccupied her and she may have become even less accessible to her remaining child. It’s no stretch to imagine that Elsa re-enacted what she witnessed as a young and lonely child, probably unconsciously, and in deep pain, that it should have been her.

Poor Elsa. Poor Daddy.

Yet no one told those stories. And no one appointed me the keeper of family sorrows. Apparently I appointed myself the role, to figure out why Dad was who he was, and how it all subsequently happened – that he lacked maternal attachment, as did his mother, and her mother – and then I was the child he attached to in such a grotesque way, the one who went numb with disbelief. And holds the stories.