When I began probing the subject of transgenerational trauma, my initial thoughts were a combination of relief and scepticism. But having lived an involuntary low for many years the topic opened me to an answer, creating a flurry of ponderings on the lives of my ancestors. More particularly my grandfather.
In the past few years, I learned he was imprisoned in Siberia within a Gulag (forced labour camps during the Soviet Union) during World War 2, released following the brokering of the Molotov pact. His liberation culminated in a nearly 6,000-mile journey back to his hometown of L’viv before seeing the horrors that were about to be unleashed by Stalin. He quickly fled with his best friend (Waleska), defecting to the British Army later fighting in the battle of Monte Casino, Palestine, Iraq, stationed in Russia and Poland before landing in London.
My mother recalled how he told her of landing on the beaches of Italy, kicking a helmet to reveal a decapitated head. These images must have had a destructive effect on his psyche, and as a former civilian quickly thrust into the war, he and many other soldiers were not equipped to deal with the shock and revulsion of such happenings.
Later, my grandfather was married, and Waleska married my grandmother’s sister. Waleska later died in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital tormented by the memories he accrued during the war. According to my mother, my grandfather lived with a temper, mood swings and other psychological disorders which at the time would not have been recognised as such. We analysed occurrences of the past and in retrospect felt he may have lived with depression, bipolar and PTSD.
My father, who fought in Burma (now Myanmar) during World War 2 exuded a temper, which many say was a personality trait. But attributes such as these do not come from no-where. Something I am learning myself from my own work.
Although genetically transmitted transgenerational trauma may not yet be a recognised part of psychology, it is accepted in principle as a vehicle for children to adopt their parents’ habits and attitudes. Good examples of this can be found in the political leanings of people and their parents, an example for how major political parties within the United Kingdom are set to almost always prevail.
In an island nation, adopting a party of resilience to integration is no surprise, and as the nation continues to develop, centuries of invasions from the Vikings, the Romans and attempts by the Nazis etc has slowed, even prevented inter-community socialisation, serving xenophobic philosophies. Possibly even biologically transferred.
There has been a loss of connection and trade and further extrication of cultural togetherness through an array of newly formed methods of identity separation and verification, including passports and visas that further divide people and germinate differences. Trauma begins in the mind and is later fostered in the behaviours and administrative actions of human beings which are then sustained for greater periods.
Xenophobic beliefs are a natural course from centuries of divisional attitudes, brought on by the normalisation of traumatising behaviours dealt by centuries of conflict. This is now practically enshrined in global dna.
Accepting transgenerational trauma into mainstream science is a long way off. Most likely because very few are studying it, but even if millions of pounds were plunged into this field of research, it would be scrutinised with bias and buried to preserve the bread of politics. Because proving it, let alone accepting it burns a weapon the authorities cannot afford to let go of.
Even as discussion surrounding mental health is accepted more and more, its invisibility often mutes the progression for a better understanding of it. Transgenerational trauma is at its Copernicus stage, and right now everyone believes the sun revolves around the earth.
Basic evidence available right now should catapult further research to put meat on the bones of this crucial piece of human study, to better understand our behaviour and psychology. That’s if those who hold the purse strings can let it breathe. Maybe one day we can treat mental health disorders without pills, but for now a billion pound industry must be sustained for obvious reasons.