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Kohout, E. Brainin, E. (2004). How is trauma transmitted?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(5):1261-1264.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(5):1261-1264

How is trauma transmitted?

Reported by:
Eva Kohout

Moderator Elisabeth Brainin

In the paper ‘Is there a transgenerational transmission of trauma?’, the authors from the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society, Elisabeth Brainin (training analyst), Vera Ligeti (training analyst) and Samy Teicher (member) analysed the ‘vague and almost mystic notion of transmission of trauma which has appeared in psychoanalytic literature’. They explain that the social and psychic situation of the survivors of the Shoah and of their tormentors in Austria and Germany after the Second World War is extremely different. Therefore, they choose to focus on consequences of Shoah trauma for Shoah children and survivors and elucidate some unconscious aspects of the motifs behind psychoanalytic research of the topic.

Their main hypothesis is: Family romance and hysterical identification are universal psychic phenomena which are as decisive for the psychic development of the children of survivors as they are for most people of our culture. The transmission of family myths from one generation to the next in no way causes a repetition or restaging of the history of the parents but at best a staging of the children's imagination of their parents' history. Therefore, the content of the fantasies of the survivors' children is specific, but not so their psychic mechanisms.

The investigators belonging to the second generation of survivors unconsciously try to explore their parents' secrets and to solve their own oedipal conflicts with them. The triumph over the parents by scientifically investigating the industrially organised mass murder does not arouse conflicts with the ego and the superego because the struggle can be fought by the children instead of the parents.

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