Long-term effects of trauma: psychosocial functioning of the second and third generation of Holocaust survivors

Miri Scharf
Development and Psychopathology 2007, 19 (2): 603-22
The long-term effects of extreme war-related trauma on the second and the third generation of Holocaust survivors (HS) were examined in 88 middle-class families. Differences in functioning between adult offspring of HS (HSO) and a comparison group, as well as the psychosocial functioning of adolescent grandchildren of HS, were studied. Degree of presence of Holocaust in the family was examined in families in which both parents were HSO, either mother or father was HSO, and neither parent was HSO. Mothers' Holocaust background was associated with higher levels of psychological distress and less positive parenting representations. In line with synergic (multiplicative) models of risk, adolescents in families where both parents were HSO perceived their mothers as less accepting and less encouraging independence, and reported less positive self-perceptions than their counterparts. They also perceived their fathers as less accepting and less encouraging independence, showed higher levels of ambivalent attachment style, and according to their peers, demonstrated poorer adjustment during military basic training than their fellow recruits from the one-parent HSO group. Parents and adolescents in the one-parent HSO group functioned similarly to others with no Holocaust background. Parenting variables mediated the association across generations between degree of Holocaust experience in the family of origin of the parents and ambivalent attachment style and self-perception of the adolescents. It is recommended that researchers and clinicians develop awareness of the possible traces of trauma in the second and the third generation despite their sound functioning in their daily lives.

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