Radical and traumatizing experiences can influence the psyche of individuals. A few of the affected persons develop symptoms subsequently such as nightmares, social withdrawal, irritability, and hyper arousal. Not only do the affected persons suffer from these symptoms but also their families. In terms of transgenerational traumatization, we investigate the effects of traumatic experiences on the descendants of traumatized persons.
The transfer of mental consequences of traumatic experiences on following generations is investigated quite some time now and is among other things proved for survivors of the Holocaust and for war veterans. Besides the direct consequences of the traumatization, it is assumed that also the educational style, the communication behavior regarding the experiences, and the experienced violence in the family may be possible mechanisms for a transgenerational transfer.
In cooperation with the Behandlungszentrum für Folteropfer (bzfo), we investigated the phenomenon of transgenerational transmission of traumatic experiences in Cambodian families. In the course of a first study, almost 8000 Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and their (by now grown-up) children in various provinces were interrogated.
A result of the study is that some descendants show effects of the traumatic experiences of the parents. This phenomenon especially occurs, when the descendants see themselves confronted with traumatic experiences. Also for young people this is often the case in today’s Cambodia because of traffic accidents, poor medical care, or natural disasters. After traumatic experiences, the affected descendants have a higher risk for negative effects on their mental health, when there is a higher family burden by traumata. This finding aligns with recent research on genetical and epigenetical effects of traumatic experiences.