Disorganizing experiences in second- and third-generation holocaust survivors

Miri Scharf, Ofra Mayseless
Qualitative Health Research 2011, 21 (11): 1539-53
Second-generation Holocaust survivors might not show direct symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder or attachment disorganization, but are at risk for developing high levels of psychological distress. We present themes of difficult experiences of second-generation Holocaust survivors, arguing that some of these aversive experiences might have disorganizing qualities even though they do not qualify as traumatic. Based on in-depth interviews with 196 second-generation parents and their adolescent children, three themes of disorganizing experiences carried across generations were identified: focus on survival issues, lack of emotional resources, and coercion to please the parents and satisfy their needs. These themes reflect the frustration of three basic needs: competence, relatedness, and autonomy, and this frustration becomes disorganizing when it involves stability, potency, incomprehensibility, and helplessness. The findings shed light on the effect of trauma over the generations and, as such, equip therapists with a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved.

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