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Open Access Research article

Transgenerational transmission of trauma and resilience: a qualitative study with Brazilian offspring of Holocaust survivors

Luciana Lorens Braga*, Marcelo Feijó Mello* and José Paulo Fiks

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychiatry, São Paulo School of Medicine, Federal University of São Paulo, Rua Botucatu 431, 04023-061, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:134  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-134

Published: 3 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Over the past five decades, clinicians and researchers have debated the impact of the Holocaust on the children of its survivors. The transgenerational transmission of trauma has been explored in more than 500 articles, which have failed to reach reliable conclusions that could be generalized. The psychiatric literature shows mixed findings regarding this subject: many clinical studies reported psychopathological findings related to transgenerational transmission of trauma and some empirical research has found no evidence of this phenomenon in offspring of Holocaust survivors.

Method

This qualitative study aims to detect how the second generation perceives transgenerational transmission of their parents’ experiences in the Holocaust. In-depth individual interviews were conducted with fifteen offspring of Holocaust survivors and sought to analyze experiences, meanings and subjective processes of the participants. A Grounded Theory approach was employed, and constant comparative method was used for analysis of textual data.

Results

The development of conceptual categories led to the emergence of distinct patterns of communication from parents to their descendants. The qualitative methodology also allowed systematization of the different ways in which offspring can deal with parental trauma, which determine the development of specific mechanisms of traumatic experience or resilience in the second generation.

Conclusions

The conceptual categories constructed by the Grounded Theory approach were used to present a possible model of the transgenerational transmission of trauma, showing that not only traumatic experiences, but also resilience patterns can be transmitted to and developed by the second generation. As in all qualitative studies, these conclusions cannot be generalized, but the findings can be tested in other contexts.

Keywords:
Transgenerational; Transmission; Trauma; Resilience; Offspring; Holocaust; PTSD