The Impact of Trauma on Future Generations

Could trauma’s impact be passed along genetically from one generation to the next?

For years, Rachel Yehuda, PhD has been studying the biological impact of trauma on Holocaust survivors and their children. We discussed some of her earlier findings here.

PTSD and gene expressionAt that time, researchers were in the early stages of investigating epigenetic change – the possibility that changes in gene expression, specifically those related to trauma, could be passed along to future generations.

In a groundbreaking study published in September, 2016 in Biological Psychiatry, Yehuda and her colleagues looked into whether trauma-related changes in gene expression could be passed along to the offspring of Holocaust survivors.

Could trauma’s impact be passed along genetically from one generation to the next? @ruthbuczynski Click To Tweet

Researchers had previously detected evidence of transmission of stress-related epigenetic changes across generations in animals, but not in humans.

For this study, Yehuda and her team looked at methylation of FKBP5, which is a stress-related gene that has been connected to both PTSD and depression.

Methylation refers to the way gene activity adjusts and changes throughout life, particularly during early childhood.

Researchers took blood samples from 32 Holocaust survivors as well as 22 of their adult children. They then compared them with samples taken from matched control pairs of Jewish parents and their offspring.

What they discovered was fascinating.

Both the Holocaust survivors and their children showed changes in the same location of the FKBP5 gene.

But here’s where the findings got really interesting.

While Holocaust survivors showed an increased methylation rate over the matched controls, their children showed changes in the opposite direction.

In other words, Holocaust children had lower rates of methylation than those of the control offspring.

This is perplexing.

It’s possible that this change in direction could reflect an adaptation to the presence of trauma in the environment.

At minimum, this study identifies an associated change in gene expression between Holocaust survivors and their children.

And while association is not the same as causation, knowing that a patient’s history may be influenced by a parent or parents’ history of trauma could shed new light on how we approach their treatment.

So how do we use this? I’m not sure.

The authors themselves are quick to point out that they don’t yet understand the mechanisms that could be responsible for transmitting epigenetic changes across generations.

They’ve been following a cohort of Holocaust survivors, and their offspring, in a longitudinal study looking into the trauma’s impact on conception, pregnancy, and childbirth.

And they’re involved in a similar study following survivors of the World Trade Center attacks.

Researchers hope these long range studies will enable them to more fully investigate the impact of trauma on future generations.

It’s fascinating to me to see how much we’ve discovered about trauma and its treatment in just the last few years. I’ll be keeping an eye out for similar research as it becomes available.

And if you’d like to read this study for yourself, you can find it in Biological Psychiatry, volume 80, pp. 372 – 380.

For the latest insights from Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Stephen Porges, PhD; and Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, please join us for this week’s free broadcast in the Treating Trauma Master Series.

We’ll be focusing on How to Help Clients Tolerate Dysregulation and Come Back From Hypoarousal.

It’s free to watch at the time of broadcast; you just have to sign up.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What have you found helpful in working with clients who have a family history of trauma?

Please leave a comment below.

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96 Comments

  1. Hi Ruth, Thanks for another brief insight to human behaviors. This is enlightening info about trans-generational traumas and the possible ways our biological make-up influences many aspects of our Self.
    Many of my clients seem to have behaviors stemming from some possible family trauma that has become a “Family-Secret” that has not been discussed for many generations, yet affects and impacts the family’s cohesiveness, shame/fear attitudes, and the defensive posturing many of the members exhibit.
    When I work with an adult client who grew-up with some family-secrets, I ask about the family history and listen for pattern of behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and the words used to describe feelings/emotions. The narrative the client tells can often indicate what the beliefs are about the secret and how that secret has affected many of the family members, who may be in “stuck” mode, and repeating the patterns of behaviors yet not knowing why they act, think, and/or respond in certain ways.
    I look forward to learning more about this important topic.

  2. H Parsons says:

    How wonderful to have this forum to comment, initiate comment and share experiences. Thank you Ruth. Although I am a retired counsellor I still have the passion to understand more about the mind-body connection and am interested to learn more.

  3. I think it is important to review the research on the epigenetic impact of the Holocasust The sample size is small and the study of genetics involves multiple comples genetic combinations. Even if you accept epigenetic research it is important to consider all of the other variables that mediate the impact of extreme trauma from one generation to the next generation. I am the Director of the Transcending Trauma Project which has studied 3 generations of Holocaust survivor families through deepened life history interviews. We have observed a very strong relationship between qualitative family dynamics and the impact of intergenerational transmission. It is also important to take into account the survivor’s family of origin experience.
    There is a huge literature that has studied the variables involved in intergenerational transmission of trauma going back to the 1970s through the present. This literature has intensively studied factors of transmission from multiple perspectives. It is in this complex mix of variables that we can track how extreme trauma impacts the survivors and their family member.

  4. Karen says:

    Thank you! I’ve been under the impression that the fetus in the third trimester of the mother’s pregnancy has a fully developed subconscious mind. Therefore, the baby is capable of “taking note” of it’s environment as ‘safe or unsafe’. In counseling this has facilitated a basic understanding of my clients associating their inability to regulate emotions. The impact on the fetus doesn’t have necessarily be at the holocaust trauma level but domestic violence trauma level. I look forward to this study developing further research. Again thank you!

  5. SM says:

    Very Interesting. Family constellation can reveal so much…. It can show family conflicts and enmeshments among its members but very much so a lot about locality and the development of trauma.. When addiction and alcohol run in a family a lot of questions can be found by doing a family constellation. It can show, as it did as part of a group experiment, that location, adaptation and nature would be more of the culprit than just nurturance. I have found for myself that the social context is a big factor.

  6. Jenny says:

    I don’t know much about genetics but what if the increase in the gene marker was a response to the trauma and what if the adaption in the markers in some of the offspring is natures way of adapting to a situation that puts the breed at risk. Does the change in markers actually coincide with changes in the individuals trauma response behaviour? Do those with decrease markers on this gene have any level of blunted or decrease trauma Response? Just thoughts, ideas. I have no idea if these concepts can be assessed or observed and one generation seems like a narrow window but the mind body and soul, our essence is forever showing its adaltability.

  7. EstherG says:

    A number of years ago I had a dream – I won’t get into all the specifics of my family history, the dream or how I felt throughout it – it was as if I was alive during the time of the holocaust. Everything about the dream was a vivid physical and emotional sensation. Both my parents come from Austria and were alive when Hitler arrived and during the war. I always had a sense that my dream was a result of their experiences and inside my cells. It was one of the most profound and vivid dreams I’ve had and I still have a sense of what it was like to be alive during the war, partly from stories my mother has told me and mostly from that dream.

    • Andy Hudak IIII says:

      Ever listen to Gabor Mate’s story of his birth shortly before the day Hitler invaded Poland ?
      If not, You can find several interviews on the Democracy Now website.
      As a balancing contrast against a solely deterministic view re this, check out Bruce Perry’s work. Specifically, the brain recovery curve when placed in a nurturing, safe environment! (It stands to reason that epigenetics would transfer in both pos and neg directions, eh?!?!?

  8. Kyle S says:

    Thank you.

  9. Vasilica Vasilescu,PhD says:

    This is really fascinating.
    Thank you.

  10. Mike Wallace, LPC says:

    This is really fascinating, thanks.

  11. Always interesting and useful info. Thank you.

  12. Elizabeth Scheide says:

    There is an interesting study demonstrating that rabbits exposed to physical trauma not quite damaging enough to kill the rabbits, survived later trauma that control rabbits did not. Transfusing blood from the experimental rabbits to new experimental rabbits gave them the same resistance. Is it possible that the change in direction of the methylation in children of survivors represents increased resistance to trauma????

  13. Barbara Caspy says:

    Interesting study! In working with families with a history of trauma, I find it helpful to work with parents to be reasonably protective of their children rather than over-protective. I also help mothers understand that if they approach their child in an anxious manner, that their child will likely feel more anxiety than is positive for their mental health. I suggest to them that if they’re feeling anxious, if possible have another family member interact withe the child until they feel calmer. If another family member is not available, I tell them to take a moment to take a couple of slow deep breathes and tell themselves to relax or to stay calm, and then approach their child.

    • Nancy says:

      Thank you for your comment. This is exactly what I would do as well.

  14. James T. Edwards says:

    Of course, the greatest mass trauma for research into this question is the 500 year history of kidnap, rape, torture, locking up and lynching black and brown people for profit. The prima facie evidence would suggest that trauma leaves the succeeding generations changed in profound ways.

    • S. Camel says:

      Of course, there will be even more generations of mass trauma for research, after we are all gone, due to the perpetuation of slavery mandated by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Then, we also have the issue of getting this new science to those marginalized groups who are still not privy to this information and subsequent access to counseling, therapy, and healing.

      • Harold Feinleib says:

        Please explain your thoughts about “the perpetuation of slavery mandated by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution”.

  15. Patty says:

    Yeah

  16. Martha Hyde says:

    Or, (another suggested interpretation/test): Could the thoughts and actions of the Holocaust survivor mothers have CAUSED the change in methylation in their children while still in utero? Yehuda did not only choose children who were from embyos of the Holocaust mothers, implanted into non-Holocaust mothers.

    There is a high likilihood that the physiological responses of the body to a mother’s thoughts would be transmitted to the fetus as a pattern of electrical signals. After all, that embryo/fetus is resting against the spinal column, and all the branches of the spinal nerves exiting from it. Most of the spinal cord is unmyelinated until some of its nerves exit. It is highly likely that the baby gets those signals from the mother.

    However, the baby certainly cannot interpret what they mean, but “everything we ever experience is stored in the nervous system.” That does not mean that we are conscious/aware of or can recall everything we have ever experienced. That would probably cause hallucinations. But there is a high likelihood that our unconscious brains will use that pattern of electrical signals (mirroring) to choose similar responses to certain traumas. Only after living in the post-natal world for a while will we understand what those electrical patterns mean.

    The brainstem does not have to understand the implicit memory, but it does have to act on it. After all, that is the purpose of implicit memory, to be able to respond more quickly instead of having to come up with a new way for every experience later.

    • Martha Hyde says:

      Methylation patterns are epigenetic, not genetic mechanisms. I say this because many people claim that the methylation pattern of the parent is passed down to the child in the gametes directly. But we know that all methylation is supposed to be stripped from the gametes (twice) while they form in the body before fertilization. However, some have found that (accidentally?) some methylation in laboratory developed gametes (in vitro) is not removed during gamete formation and that observation is used to justify claiming genetic transfer to the next generation in vivo. No one has actually observed this “accident” in vivo, but many automatically claim it as an explanation for many behaviors that appear in the next generation. Obviously the “reverse methylation,” that Yehuda et al. observed, counters this argument. My explanation above accounts for such trait appearance in the next generation without requiring genetic mutations in the parent. AND it probably also explains this “reverse methylation pattern.”

  17. C Guthrie says:

    Three variants in the FKBP5 gene (rs4713916, rs1360780, and rs3800373) were associated with a failure of cortisol responses to return to baseline in healthy adults after psychosocial stress, suggesting a genotype-dependent risk of chronically elevated plasma cortisol levels in the context of acute stress as a possible mechanism for the increased risk of stress related mental disorders, such as depression and PTSD in adults with these alleles [93]. 
    The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma Apr 2014
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
    This report indicates that the LHPA axis is dysregulated as a result of epigenetics.
    Is this a permanent result or can psychotherapy ameliorate the LHPA axis dysfunction?

  18. Carol Logan says:

    Check out Mark Wolynn “It didn’t start with you” for more on How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle.

  19. Leah Stein says:

    I am an adult child of holocaust survivors. I think the effects of trauma are passed on by the child rearing impoverishment of the parents .we have trauma in our system because our parents were depressed,dissociated,frozen, in rage, and couldn’t connect emotionally. I don’t know about epigenetics, I know I was raised with full blown attachment trauma. And that is the second generation result of the Holocaust. :(

    • Maya says:

      And third generation and unfortunately fourth generation too. My family ended up not knowing what love is and feeling disconnected from the body. I’ve worked hard to fix this and do better for my children, but then their dad walked out on us and it’s been hard not to repeat history.
      At least I can teach them damage control and yes, my kids will be super resistant to anything live throws them.

    • Mitch says:

      Thanks for sharing this. As a son and grandson of Holocaust refugees (not even camp survivors, although with tremendous family loss), I’ve experienced the same, both emotionally and physically. And like so many, find myself having adapted by trying to help others. Yet, the self-work feels endless and often hopeless.

    • Kati Morrison, Ottawa, Canada, retired psychiaterist says:

      Do you know of any study to demonstrate your experiences ,regarding your description of your parents’ decreased capacity to connect?
      Did you became a professional in mental health? Like many of us?
      Identifying with caregiving role to help parents may have been a strong motivation.
      Many thanks for your honesty and insight.

      • Christine Hoepfner says:

        Studies about the effects of attachment trauma through emotional disconnection–in contrast to childhood abuse–have been conducted by Karlen Lyons-Ruth, among others. She has found caregiving to be one of the behavior patterns these children engage in to adapt to their situation.

  20. Barbara Altman says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you

  21. Alma says:

    Please explain a little more what epigenetic is

  22. Reporter says:

    Thanks for the information, Great post.

  23. Linda McHale says:

    I wonder what the genes of Native Americans would show. They have generations of systemic abuse. Also African Americans. Obviously they can’t go back enough generations to see the start of slavery and colonization. But these two groups have been through a long term, generational holocaust.

  24. Gail Barry says:

    I’m 3rd generation of a family badly affected by Irish violence for more than a century I’ve got complex PTSD, but isit nature or nurture?

    • Emily Scholnick says:

      I also have complex PTSD and am 3rd generation of Russian descendants who escaped the brutality of Russian Cossacks. The effects were different on my sister, brother and myself. We all suffered to different degrees and in different ways. The one thing we have in common is never being physically abusive.
      I find that hopeful.

  25. Elisabeth says:

    This article speaks to how we literally inherit our ancestor’s unresolved suffering and pain. With Family Constellations we see that we no longer need to repeat the same fate of our parents, grandparents, and generations further back.

    This modality helps us to see and feel where our limitations, self-sabotages, or blockages are coming from. In a gentle, yet powerful way, it allows us to release the issues that don’t belong to us. We realize that we no longer need to suffer like a particular ancestor, with whom we might be “entangled”.

    This work has helped me to heal my life, having a ripple effect on all my interactions with others and with myself.

    Thank you, Ruth, for posting this article, explaining this phenomenon so clearly.

  26. Cecilie Holter says:

    I am not a professional therapist but as a writer and researcher, I have delved into the subject of multi-generational trauma for several years now. As the child of children of WWII (who themselves were raised by children of WWI), I have endured the “nuclear fall-out” from untreated and unhealed trauma. I think this is one of the greatest challenges of our time here in the West; how to recover our spirit after a century of horrendous warfare on a scale so enormous, we have lost our sense of ground, of connection to our own heart and spirit, and to that of our fellow men. This is evident in our increasing levels of addiction and the deep political and racial divides that are currently tearing our societies apart. Naming and uncovering the source of our malaise is certainly the first step towards our collective healing. I hope, as a mother myself, that we will manage to find new ways of healing from trauma. Certainly, recent research points to how costly war and violence is, not only for the generation experiencing it but for their descendants as well. This alone will hopefully serve as a deterrent going forward. But for now, we have to find ways to articulate the dangers we are in and why. We do have the tools and insights to do so now.

    • Ziggy Santos says:

      Hi Cecilie,
      Same situation with me…. where can I find your work as I am digging my heels into the history of my German family trauma? Thank you

    • Harold Feinleib says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment.

  27. I use genogram work with most clients, uncovering behavior patterns generationally transmitted with the aim of showing clients that many of these patterns are problematic in their lives today. For many years I’ve believed that trauma is also generationally transmitted and have been delighted to see that the research community is exploring genetic changes, not just cognitive ones. As research progresses I would be very interested in the genetic role played in pre-PTSD, as well as a longitudinal study of the genetic effects of PTSD on future generations.

    Thanks for your role in making this information more widely known.

  28. Judy hanazawa says:

    Thanks for these insights about intergenerational effects of trauma. Focus for me is to gather information re bio psychosocial effects, therapeutic process, including cultural considerations for First Nations (Indigenous) and other cultural communities here in Canada, related to effects of clergy sexual abuse

  29. Leena Sequeira says:

    It is interesting that we look for the ‘biology’ of psychiatric ‘disorders’ caused by experience and yet look for biological treatments of these ‘disorders’ rather than study the ‘biology’ of experience based treatments that have good outcome in treating these ‘disorders’. These are a number of evidence based psychological interventions for trauma and stressor related disorders. Are there studies looking at what biological changes take place following such interventions. I understand that there are some studies looking at cortisol levels in children following parent interventions. Are these any the looked at genes?

  30. Lisa Schiro says:

    That is absolutely fascinating. It never ceases to amaze me how our bodies and brains can recover… even from the most horrific circumstances. The fact that it creates a genetic predisposition is huge in the way that we create our treatment plans and ask the questions we need to ask to get a full bio psychosocial history.

  31. Jude says:

    Systemic Constellation Work, developed in Germany by Bert Hellinger, has been bouyed by this research.

  32. James T. Edwards says:

    This is especially interesting with regard to the centuries of generational trauma imposed by the enslavers of Africans in the Americas, as well as to the current traumatic situation in many of the city neighborhoods abandoned by industrial capitalism over the last 40 years. Studies have already linked the PTSD among soldiers returning from the Afghan-Iraq war and young people in U.S. neighborhoods plagued by gun violence and police occupation.

  33. Kate Cole says:

    Adult survivor of abandonment, emotional and physical abuse. I have lingering issues and trauma symptoms that are becoming more evident and apparent. With lifelong Sensitivities to sounds, smells, lighting, and to sympathetic situations. Overwhelming manifestation in my life at this time. I would gladly welcome any help I can receive, being in a stuck and recurring cycle.

    • Carrol laneulie says:

      Kate, Good Morning I am a mature English lady in Atlanta having a quiet breakfast and came across your letter which resonated in me,as I have experience Cedric a similar reality…
      Please feel free to contact me if you need a friend/a shoulder to share on.

      Sincerely, Carroll Laneulie

  34. Anni Valentine says:

    I have heard that there is a gene that is a weaker gene that creates huge sensitivities in some people.

  35. Jessica Boyd Lewis says:

    Have PTSD, ME/cfs and Fibromyalgia

  36. I see it being helpful when the intergenerational aspects are named, when triggers are identified, when external and internal ripple effects are linked to the trigger response, and when there’s an understanding of the non-conventional nature of responses to triggers. It sounds so simple, but it isn’t to the recipient of parental trauma.

  37. Anna says:

    Interesting and yes I have come to this conclusion as well. I was adopted and my hubby is the oldest of immigrants from Europe. His mom was born at beginning of war… her first five years were in the war. She immigrated and grew up. After getting married she was pregnant and had a devestating car accident that took the baby-8.5 months along. My hubby was the next baby and there was much anxiety. So we had four children and two have serious diagnosis of aspergers syndrom and bipolar. The stress of closed adoption/ war/ immigration/ 9-11/ baby passing…. and finding out I was a secret after being unsupported to find anything out and subsequent going no contact, my adoptive parents divorce… emotional neglect… etc it all combines I believe. Our kids have had inordinate food challenges/ sensitivities despite my nursing them long periods. Resiliency seems to be running thinner though- if there are any grandchildren it would be interesting to see how they fare.

    • K says:

      It sounds like you have awareness. If your children heal now.. on a spiritual (meaning their spirit) also an emotional and physical (considering the sensitivites and allergies) the grand children will be ok. In trauma you have to build up that resiliency. Humans are very resilient! Many of the people who do this work, the research, the therapy ECT suffered trauma and have now made something beautiful from it

  38. Lynn MacDonald says:

    Thank you! I’ve been unable to figure out why my children behave the way they do. I am an adult survivor of child abuse and my children have inherited anxiety and depression (along with a few other maladaptive behaviors) from me. Some is environmental, no doubt, but this did help to shed some light on how they are processing it all. Adaption in action. I am both happy and sad. Mostly encouraged that science is getting there!

  39. Andrea says:

    … even just connecting the dots, I find, makes a huge difference. To realize that the pain I was carrying wasn´t “mine” (read: shaming, a sign of failure) alone, that it wasn´t all personal, that the work we do helps to get old intergenerational, even cultural trauma unstuck – is liberating and dignifying and helps access self-compassion and surrender.

    • Carrol laneulie says:

      Andrea…your resonated in me….I am so very happy we a way out of our thoughts through communicating this way….without this channel our thoughts and feelings just churn away inside us…let’s keep connecting, I find it fascinating

  40. Thank you for this article about Yehuda’s work. Many novels deal with the effects of the Holocaust on survivors and their children; one of the best is Anne Michaels’ “Fugitive Pieces” (McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1996).

  41. JoAnn Baird says:

    Fascinating study. Certainly when you think of multi-generational poverty and the generational transmission of physical diseases and serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, why not not a genetic expression of depression or anxiety? PTSD could be the epigenetic culprit in many disorders.

  42. Candis says:

    Wow. I had a highly traumatic childhood and young adulthood and my son has been dealing with methylation issues that have affected him greatly since his mid-adolescence. Apparently he has identified a gene(s) that is responsible for these issues and he has been working with others to understand and deal with the effects of this genetic expression. The MTHFR mutation leads to all kinds of physical/mental/emotional problems for people who cannot metabolize certain nutrients properly due to impaired methylation. He has met a lot of people online who are dealing with this issue as well. Interesting.

    • Susan says:

      Ever since I studied sociology as a single mum, I have felt that the post war generation (my age group) have been impacted on multiple levels by that experience. I was always unwell as a child, suffered sexual abuse (not from my parents) and emotional neglect, this time from my parents who had no idea how to bring me up. I know now I had classic ADHD but we did not called it that. Through many years of processing and understanding myself and the previous generations I am happy to say I love life and love now working with parents. I take a number of mineral and vitamin supplements which combinations I have figured out through studying nutrition and by trial and error over the years. This is the first time I have read about this inability to absorb nutrients being linked to the previous generation but it makes perfect sense. In the group work I do with parents who have suffered child abuse and / or trauma we always look at and discuss the circumstances and experiences of the parents and often too the grandparents. Every time, it helps to relieve the overwhelming shame of survivors and is a key component of the client being able to find compassion for both themselves and the previous generation. So helpful to be hearing more and more work being done around trauma and the far reaching effect it has on us and our children.

      • Ziggy Santos says:

        Yes please, where can find more about your sons work. I am directly impacted myself. Thank you

    • Who is your son? You said he’s identified a gene- I’m interested to read more

  43. Peter White says:

    The generation that spawned the Baby-Boomers suffered the Depression in their youth and then , in their maturity they had to take up arms to finish the unfinished war of their fathers where it got even closer to home. Not only uncountable individual traumas, but also National trauma. In Europe trauma was even more all-consuming This, I think, can explain just why the Baby-boomers hit the road running and made a right mess of it. I was ill-prepared for parenting. Constantly amazed by my high-flying kids (Australian father, German mother) so did manage to get some of it right. Getting people to really open up about it is problematic but essential to quality of life and the capacity to truly love. Thank you for your sterling work in disseminating quality information. So interesting to get all the other individual stories that pop up hereabouts also :-)

  44. JoAnne Morris says:

    This study is very interesting. As a child my mother talked to me about “generational memory.” She was a history teacher, so I am not sure where she came upon this idea but she certainly believed in it. For 30 years, I have worked with adoptive parents who have received their children from both the foster care system and from international orphanages. The trauma these children have experienced often leads to very difficult parenting and unwelcome outcomes. Nevertheless, I find that the devoted parents often reap a sweet reward with the grandchildren that come through these adoptions. Perhaps a lower rate of methylation is the cause of this?

  45. thank you.

  46. Brenda Downing says:

    Thank you for this interesting read.
    I would like to point out though that the year of publication for the Yehuda article, ‘Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects on FKBP5 Methylation’ is 2015, not 2016 as stated.

    • Nancy, NICABM Staff says:

      Hello Brenda,

      Thanks for reading and for your eye for detail.

      The study, as you indicated, was initially published online in 2015. We were working from the later print publication, dated September 1, 2016:

      Holocaust Exposure Induced Intergenerational Effects on FKBP5 Methylation. Yehuda, Rachel et al. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 80 , Issue 5 , 372 – 380.

      Best,
      Nancy

  47. Elaine Dolan says:

    The inverse effect –that the next generation or alternate generations experience fewer characteristics of PTS experiencers–calls to mind some interesting ideas for me:

    1. Homeopathic meds are STRONGER when the dosage is LESS.

    2. Patients with Autistic characteristics have become more frequent and progressively more severe over the generations. The trigger switching the gene off or on seems to be set into motion by trauma—chemical, emotional, physical.

  48. Brilliant biochemical researcher Dr. Rachel Yehuda and her team have influenced many therapist’s understanding of treatment of Trauma for the past decade.
    Many of my patients feel relieved of their irrational guilt once they accept the fact /idea of transgenerational trauma.
    Thank you

  49. Menaka Cooke says:

    Thanks for this great article. I will look up the reference given.
    In Australia, the effect of Aboriginal children taken away from parents is now recognised as a trauma which affects at least two or three generations of offspring. The generation that suffered the abuse/stealth are known as ‘Stolen Childen’ and govts and their agencies are recognising it.
    My own grandmother in India was ‘stolen’ as a child from her Hindu family as she studied at an English missionary school around the early 1900s. She was sent to a missionary family 1000 miles away as a 8 or 10 year old. I can remember that she felt the sadness and longing for connection deeply. That has come through my own mother and to me. I am glad new studies are pointing this out – so that it there seems to be gathering evidence for generational and inter-generational trauma.

    • Thank you for mentioning the cultural and generational trauma for Aboriginal children in Australia. The same is true in Canada, where for many decades children were taken away from their families to attend “residential schools,” sponsored by the government and often run by various religious orders; their underlying purpose was to “take the Indian out of child.” The children were not allowed to speak their Native languages, had their hair shorn, lived in these schools often from age 4-5 (with brief visits back home, where parents and grandparents and children often felt alienated from each other); and they were often subject to physical and sexual abuse, inadequate nutrition, and poor health care. Studies and ongoing testimony have shown how the children and grandchildren of residential school “survivors”, as well as the survivors themselves, have been adversely affected in many ways; poor living conditions exist to this day in many reserves, so the people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual lives have all been compromised, individually and as cultures — though there are steps now being taken toward apology and “truth and reconciliation.” It would be interesting to look at the genetic effects — though it would be hard to find “control groups,” I think.

      • Karen Cogsdill says:

        Absolutely. We need go no further then our own Native American tribes to study generational trauma. And yet our government continues that legacy today. Ask any indigenous individual and you will hear a story of rape, addiction, suicide, etc. It breaks my heart.

      • age 4-15, I meant (four to fifteen), not four to five.

        ESJ

  50. Tamar Read says:

    I am 95 year years of age and a retired music professor. in my 20’s , after a
    Rorschack test, I wasd told by my therapist that I had a “floating” anxiety.
    In my 60’s ;it was called Endogenous Anxiety, and that I would always have it.
    I had two reasons. The first was my childhood treatment, and the
    ksecond was inheritance. I have wondered which parent passed it on to me.
    Now your genetic or biological efforts are very interesting.
    I was never tested for that. Maybe next life time, if there is one.
    Thank you for this notice.

    • Suzy says:

      Tamar,
      You really inspire me to be present. Thank you for your words.

  51. Karen gentle says:

    This is very interesting research and I will read further. Keep me informed as this is also a particular interest of mine and many of my client situations.
    Karen gentle.

  52. Kyla Macario says:

    I’m wondering about the influence of maternal chemicals (reaction to stress, malnutrition/starvation) on developing fetus. In 1981 Thomas Verney a prenatal psychologist wrote, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. (I just looked the book is still available) What I remember most is the profound impact maternal stress from the loss of the father (before child born vs after child born) there was an astounding increase in childhood schizophrenia in infants born after the father died vs. before he died. I apologize that I don’t recall exact figures. The theory was that the huge and unexplained (to the fetus) flood of grief was key to later mental/emotional functioning.

    Additionally, the Dutch hunger studies followed children of the parents that were starving during Nazi occupation. Many, now in their late 60’s who had never been starved seemed to always perceive intense hunger. The adult children did know of their mother’s history of being starved.

    So many confounding factors yet truly interesting in light of what clients may bring to their counseling sessions.

  53. It’s in point of fact a great and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you just shared this useful info with
    us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  54. Kae Knight says:

    Thank you, Ruth.

    I am aware of these studies and have referred to Biological Psychiatry when working wit Holocaust Survivors and the 2 generation groups.

    This is the first public post other than Biological Psychiatry I have seen.

    So please you have brought this to the public’s attention.

    Kae Knight

  55. Deborah Merchant says:

    I will look up this study. Thank you. It’s pertinent to my dissertation, so thank you for the timeliness of this email. I’m sure you also are aware of similar research, maybe parallel research by Mark Wolynn in his book “It Didn’t Start with You”. I have not read very far into this volume yet, but he may even have cited Yehuda’s work. This is an amazing expansion of trauma studies.

  56. Madelyne Bailey says:

    This is very interesting. I have worked for many years with children of Holocaust survivors in a mental health setting and have found the holocaust history essential in the understanding of the client and also in understanding particular behaviors and symptoms that are syntonic to the client.I have no experience with the following generation, grandchildren.

  57. Raquelfarbervazquez says:

    I am the grandchild of Holocaust victims. My mother’s family was exterminated. The only survivors were two brothers an herself because they had emigrated to Argentina. My father left our family when I was 11 years old. My mom could not keep us together and years of trauma followed for me and my brother. Both of us have children who are successful in life. Also my brother and my self had have good carriers but our personal life’s were challenging. As a psychiatric social worker I am very much aware of the influence of past generations in our life.Spirituality as well psychotherapy were the tools that have helped me to achieve peace. I’m 82 years old and still very much involved in searching and learning. Thank you for being a light who brings us knowledge.

  58. Bea Schild says:

    To be able to openly talk about it. To be able to address the sense, that something is going on, that influences the client, but seems foreign to him/her and find out, if the client has an understanding of it. Then treat that entity within the client as who she/he is, not as an inner-child-part of the client him-/herself.

  59. I have found both personally and professionaly (I am a Feldenkrais practitioner, not just ‘physical’ things come up!) that Bert Hellinger’s “Family Constellation” group therapy is very helpful. It is somewhat a mystery how it works, but I have been able to let go of guilt I didn’t even know existed in me; and so have others to whom I have suggested this work…they are then able to let go of deleterious physical habit patterns; postural, ‘accident proneness’, ‘dowager’s hump’ –lack of physical activity which promotes osteoporoses, etc.
    I’d be so appreciative if you ever had some webinars on Family Constellation work; but don’t know if there is enough of a scientific basis for it for you to promulgate it…I so apprectiate your integrity and openess and champtioning of trauma helpful work; we are all impacted by trauma ‘even unto the 7th generation’ …we know there are hidden ‘dirty family secrets’, but not consciously enough to cope with the transmitted guild, shame, etc. –whether genetically passed along, or the ‘attitude’ of guilt and shame and self punishment for our ancestor’s errors…

  60. Cher says:

    This IS interesting! At 60 yrs I have always felt that many of my internal struggles and chronic depression were some how “not mine” in a way I could never explain. I know little of my family history. My Mother told me that I was a Jew because she was because her Mother was and that is the way it is. We did not practice any religion. All I know of her Mother (my Grandmother) was that she was born in Israel and a slight mention of the Holocaust. Along with few memories my Mother shared of very unusual behaviors of her Mother. I had had the opportunity to talk with a counselor who worked with holocaust survivors. She felt that the behaviors I had described were familiar for survivors that became mothers. That you for posting this.

  61. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I find this research fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  62. Dear Ruth , I appreciate that you are always looking at and offering on – going research and practices. In my work with trauma survivors I have used psychodrama to examine and heal the wounds of previous generations that have “landed” in off spring. I have learned about Constellations work from my psychodrama colleague Karen Carnabucci who is certified in both psychodrama and Constellations which is something to check out – that conference is coming up this Oct in Va and the ASGPP (psychodrama) conference in April 2018 in Dallas . I have personally participated in both psychodramas and in Constellation work and experienced the healing power first hand.

  63. Bettie says:

    Has there been studies on the impact of white non Jewish men who fight the wars

  64. Trauma is stored in muscle and connective tissue memory, beyond verbal expression as it is incurred in children who have not yet found the language to fully express and release the effects. The best way of doing this release is through somatic therapies, such as Lucia Capacchione’s constellation matwork and Creative Journal Expressive Arts, a multi–modal, both-handed journal technique integrated with physical/somatic expressive arts such as matwork timeline, claywork, collage, dance and movement. All these are capable of integration through Non Dominant hand journalling/drawing, thoroughly re-framing and contextualising the traumatic, non verbal somatic memory. The broader the base of sensory/neural integration the better.

  65. Carol says:

    I have heard that children of holocaust survivors share similar traits.
    I am a survivor of physical emotional and sexual abuse.
    With excellent therapy, yoga massage a loving husband I
    Managed to bring up 4 children..
    I still suffer feelings of abandonment
    And awake daily in a panic which passes.

    My adult children ar aware of some of the trauma
    Cause I cut off relations with my parents.

    I wonder how impacted my children are from all this.

  66. Carol says:

    I have heard that children of holocaust survivors share similar traits.
    I am a survivor of physical emotional and sexual abuse.
    With excellent therapy, yoga massage a loving husband I
    Managed to bring up 4 children..
    I still suffer feelings of abandonment
    And awake daily in a panic which passes.

    My adult children r aware of some of the trauma
    Cause I cut off relations with my parents.

    I wonder how impacted my children are from all this.

  67. Madeleine Kingsley says:

    I always start work with a genogram, so that I cand considdeer Family Constellations and so thatwe can all be aware of potential trauma legacy. I refer to Pat Conroy’s novel Beach Music in which the daughter of two Holocaust survivors kils herself and the author;s comment is that the weight of both parents’ sorrow – the one who kept the hell of his past a permanent secret and ever discussed , and the one who could never tell enough abouther anguish weghed so powerfully on the daughter….

    My parents esxcaped Austria in 1938, but like many immigrant children I know who were also raised in London but under the shadow of the Shoah, perhaps by parents who suffered nto0 only loss from a distance and loss of their culture, but also survivor guilt, I inherited trauma – fear, nightmares, anxiety. I discovered that my second son also had the same nghtmares. I think that making the clients aware of inherited trauma enables us to creat self-care strategies that can reduce the trauma. Thinkiing how to make every day a celebration, setting a time limit on how much you dwell on the apst, doing something creative to let the past flow away (a bit like Taschlich), boundarying past memories either by writing them down and closing the book, or panting a tree….
    thanks for making me reflect on this vital theme.

  68. CS says:

    I come from a history of severe trauma on both sides of my parents’ lives, albeit both respectable people. I can vouch that parental trauma is passed on. Whilst NOT to disregard the incomprehensible horrors of the “events” mentioned, I’m always amazed that the events mentioned seem to be the most significant traumas in the present western psyche as refernce points, as there are others, (in other countires) and also personal tragedies as well.
    I come from a family of three girls. None of us married or had children. Yet a holocaust survivor typically does have offspring. The parental trauma literally takes your life away – you spend years doing the work to resolve tbe pain, and also use other coping mechanisms, such as initially, years of academic success. To no avail, if there are no relational outlets as support for trauma. Let alone attuned relational outlets, as support.
    I’m just glad the experiment of traumatising mice, and the scent of orange blossoms, was not quoted here. There are enough traumatised humans to study.
    There is very little or no help available for ‘western’ traumatised people, in some countries. Be glad if you live in a country where this dialogue is even recognised.

  69. Elsa says:

    Hi, I can understand, from experience, that what passes on can go in the opposite direction. My mother lived through the bombing of Vienna. Twice when she came out from the cellar when she and the other residents were taking refuge, they found that all the inhabitants of another building were dead. There had been a direct hit. A longtime response: intense fear during thunderstorms. My response: I remember loving to swim in the lake during a thunder storm, watching the lightning flash above me. I thought I was safe – didn’t know that I was in danger, the highest spot on the lake. But the big thing. No fear at all. And in some other circumstances as well, I’m a bit counter-phobic – so the opposite of my mother.

    • This feels more true to what i have witnessed; like puzzle pieces, gaps are filled in by the opposite. So it is in the behaviors of the grandchildren (more then the children) where I expect some patterns to be witnessed.

  70. Patricia Lee says:

    How does a lower rate of methylation affect the incident and following generations? Does it mean that future generations have less ability to initiate positive change? Or maybe positive changes are more difficult to initiate because of the lower methylation? Will this be passed on to subsequent generatuons? Is lower methylation desirable, a good thing?

  71. Linda Lockspeiser says:

    These findings about long term impact of trauma through the generations confirms what I have seen in doing family constellations which is a way of working developed by Bert Hellinger in Germany after WWI. In these workshops, we can often see the root causes of presenting problems in the history of unacknowledged trauma or loss in the family. Acknowledging these original events in a ritual constellation can often have the effect of releasing the person from these unconscious entanglements resulting in a sense of peace and harmony personally and in the family system.

  72. Marion houghton says:

    I do a family history with the couples I see and talk with them about the impact of trauma in previous generations. For me, it is a given to look for intergenerational patterns and make them conscious in the couples work.

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