UNTOLD STORIES AND THE POWER OF SILENCE IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL TRANSMISSION OF SOCIAL TRAUMA*

In the air your root remains, there in the air.

Paul Celan in “The No-One’s Rose.”

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Abstract

There are intergenerational secrets and unprocessed experiences that very often don’t have a voice or an image associated with them but loom in our minds nonetheless. What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others. This paper will look at the conflict that occurs when unspoken events and memories of one generation haunt the next one. It is my contention that the second-generation survivors of trauma can be deeply affected by something that did not directly happen to them. Utilizing my own personal narrative I will examine how being the daughter of a woman who escaped the Holocaust, and her silence about those events affected my personal development and later my work with patients. I will also explore the unspoken secret that a patient’s mother kept from her, paralleling the writer’s mother’s secret.

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Correspondence to Ruth Lijtmaer.

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Address correspondence to Ruth Lijtmaer, Ph.D., 88 West Ridgewood Ave, Ridgewood, NY 07450, USA.

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Lijtmaer, R. UNTOLD STORIES AND THE POWER OF SILENCE IN THE INTERGENERATIONAL TRANSMISSION OF SOCIAL TRAUMA*. Am J Psychoanal 77, 274–284 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-017-9102-9

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Keywords

  • social trauma
  • intergenerational transmission
  • silence
  • secrets
  • psychoanalysis