Transgenerational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.What I've been wrestling with is the notion of the seemingly complimentary concept of transgenerational responsibility. And by that I mean, just as the initiator of violent acts is culpable and responsible for those acts...does that culpability and responsibility end at the person of the perpetrator or does it reach across generational lines and posit itself with the subsequent generations of the perpetrator?
There's a related notion that requires more consideration...that's for later or for someone else to do...and that is, simply put, can you harm others without harming yourself? I don't think so...but I don't know. Obviously the manifestation of the harm would likely differ...killing someone else doesn't kill the perpetrator like it does the victim but...that doesn't mean some sort of harm to the initiator doesn't occur. Violence/oppression might be thought of as being something like an explosion. In an explosion the waves of destruction spread in all directions and anyone/anything within the zone of damage gets hurt/injured/wounded/harmed. An explosion isn't unidirectional...it's omnidirectional. I may toss a bomb at someone's feet and it blows up...but that explosion can harm not only the victim...but me...the tosser. This seems to merit much more thinking/feeling about than I can do here and now.
The mechanisms (sort of a misleading word but I'll use it here, living beings really don't do "mechanical") of the transmission of transgenerational trauma is hypothecated to be...in the definition above...associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). Interestingly enough, the idea of ptsd is fairly new. Humans have noted for some time that wars (orgies of violence against humans by humans that we, the "intelligent" species periodically engage in) result in damage beyond physical destruction. People get emotionally wounded by the violence of war in addition to being physically harmed...and...not only can the victims experience emotional harm but so can the perpetrators.
In WWI these sorts of manifestations of emotional damage were called shell shock, WWII saw a name change to combat stress reaction...it was only as a result of the Vietnam experience did the name ptsd emerge for this complex cluster of reactions to violent mayhem and terror. The increase in attempts at understanding this stuff that came with Vietnam also resulted in an expansion of the notion to include all sorts of situations of trauma including those not associated with war. I'm not going to go into further detail about it here, that's not what I'm trying to write about and...in truth...I wonder about how well and thoroughly we understand this...even though many very bright and concerned people have devoted much time and attention to trying to comprehend it.
What I'm wallowing around with is more general in nature. A question of ethics, maybe? A question of symmetry? What I'm wondering is if it is the case that transgenerational trauma can occur doesn't it follow that transgenerational culpability would exist also?
What if, as a result of that violence/harm, there is a benefit. Like, for instance, a human kills another human and steals stuff from them. They then take the stolen goods and give them to their children and their children give them to their children...and on and on. Do those children, and their children's children have any ethical or moral obligation toward that original victim...or to the children or children's children of that victim...who were deprived of that which was taken from their predecessors?
But beyond that tangible benefit thing...what about responsibility for the harm? Does it stop at the actual perpetrator or does it ripple or cascade down onto the children and children's children of the killer? In regard to the children and children's children of the killed victim? I wonder.
We're big here, in U.S. America, on the individualism thing. It's sort of like we pretend we're all self contained little packages floating around and what we do is what we are responsible for (when convenient) and we're not responsible for what anyone else does...or for what went on before we popped out from between our mother's legs. It's a whopping big part of the ideological lens we get fitted with here in U.S. America. What's funny is we tend to confine it to white people (maybe only white men)...if you think about it.
Groups of humans not identified as white skinned males...Indigenous peoples, African-American peoples, Asian-American peoples, women peoples even, tend to get looked at as if their actions and attitudes reflect on and are indicative of everyone in the particular group they are consigned to. They tend to not get seen as individuals...but rather as representatives of and proxies for their group. The same thing goes on for those beings who aren't human...one cat tends to be seen as a representative of all cats, same for dogs, cows, bats and so on. (I've slowly come to comprehend that such ways of thinking are markers of membership or non-membership in dominant or subordinate groups in this western euro horror story that influences all of us)
But, generally, not white men...white men are seen as kind of magically individual packages blithely floating along, self-contained and somehow disconnected from all other white men (and...mostly everyone else for that matter). I must say, the more I apprehend this weird viewpoint and the more I become able to sometimes spot it when it is presented...the stranger and more bizarre it appears. One rule for white men (individuals)...different rules for all other humans (representative of their socially assigned group) and for all other Earthlings who aren't human ones too. It's even more convoluted than that at times...but that's too involved to go into now.
Joy DeGruy and Michael Yellow Bird and Eduardo Duran and others have all written and talked about the notion of transgenerational trauma (maybe not using that phrase though) and implicit in their thinking/writing is the idea of transgenerational responsibility (again, not using that phrase either). If you want...you can learn more about these ideas by referencing their efforts. I would especially encourage you to watch this presentation by Joy DeGruy. She wrote a book about this sort of thing that details some aspects of these ideas. I cannot recommend your reading this book (especially if you are identified as a white U.S. American) unless you are willing to risk losing a number of comforting and reality denying illusions.
video she created. She wasn't, by name, referencing transgenerational responsibility or transgenerational trauma...but...she was talking about aspects of those notions and she did it in such a way that it was sort of funny and sort of sad simultaneously.
Here's an excerpt from the writing she did to accompany this video. She's referencing racism but in her addressing that abomination she points out the sort of magical notion that somehow white people are exempt from all known dynamics of cultural transmission or of ideological comprehension and viewpoints (and, we might infer, corresponding behaviors and/or responsibilities and/or culpability). Her words:
You can't opt out of the system. You can't opt out of your privilege. You can't opt out of its benefits if you're born with white skin.All of the resources I'm listing here have to do with humans writing or talking about human doings to other humans. But...it's all about oppression...one group with more power doing large and small awful things to other groups with less power for benefit of some kind or other. Beings belonging to a powerful group harming beings belonging to a less powerful group.
And it's funny how we understand this when we're talking about other forms of pathology. We understand that people growing up in abusive households have higher chances of being impacted by abuse. We understand that soldiers coming back from violent war zones have higher chances of being affected by post traumatic stress disorder. We understand that people in certain environments will be psychologically impacted in certain ways.
But start talking about learned racism and, all of a sudden, everything we know about the human brain goes out the window because every white person is a unique special snowflake (with the magical mutant x abilities to not be influenced by their surroundings and the constant barrage of racist, white supremacist propaganda).
Dear white people: You are not omega level mutants able to control things with your mind. You are not Jean Gray. You have been born into this racist, sexist, capitalist, white supremacist society and from birth you have been imbued with its beliefs.
Maybe, in those portraits of human injury and wounding and harm we can dimly apprehend processes of oppression and their similarities from one group of victims to the next...and the similarities of the processes of oppression...from one group of perpetrators to the next. Maybe we can do that.
In the doing though there is danger...and risk...it must ever and always be held in awareness that the lived experience of oppression is unique and individual to each victim (or, maybe in some ways, each group of victims) and great care and caution must be exercised in the face of any temptation to meld or conflate those experiences. While oppressions may look very similar, indeed...they may be similar, that doesn't mean the experience of those targeted is the same.
Using verbal shorthand phrases like "people of color" does great harm to comprehension unless it is kept in mind that the experience of harm (and sometimes even the form of the harmings) differed depending on which minoritized group was being targeted. The circumstances and experience of Native Americans was different than the circumstances and experiences of African Americans and the circumstances and experiences of Asian Americans was different than either of those groups. (It is to be understood that this uniqueness of experience holds for all groups who are oppressed/harmed even if they're not specifically named here)
About the only thing that can be said in general, with some element of accuracy, is that European ancestored white males (and often the European ancestored white females too) pretty much treated anyone who wasn't assigned to their socially constructed group, horribly. And...that many of the processes and dynamics of harm emanating from European white peoples of the past continue to operate in the present.
Well...one other thing can be said, in general, with some accuracy and that is that understanding all this demands much more sustained thinking and comprehending than U.S. American culture tries to make us believe. It's rather embarrassing to realize how incredibly ignorant most of us (I include myself) who are identified as "white" are regarding many things really...but especially those destructive processes encompassed by the term racism. What's even more excruciatingly dismaying is how many of us who are so woefully ignorant are just as likely to have amazingly strong and certain opinions about that which, we are in fact, almost totally clueless. Being both ignorant and certain about something is an ugly and dangerous combination.
Hiding the horror and the complexity and the suffering and the nuance and the processes...processes like transgenerational trauma...keeping all those out of awareness and visibility is part and parcel of how they are kept in operation. And...interrupting them...changing them...opting out of them...is virtually impossible until they are more fully and widely known and understood and recognized...by those who are members of dominant groups. Those who belong to the targeted groups know what's going on...it's those who do the damage who evince ignorance and obliviousness.
So...in furtherance of the goal of getting through the thicket of obfuscations and obliviousnesses and invisiblities of oppression...the question that I'm struggling with is whether it is possible to have transgenerational trauma without also having transgenerational responsiblity or transgenerational culpability?
In other words...if harm carries across generations...doesn't it follow that responsibility for that harm also carries across generations? It seems to me that it would...and does. But...it may be that I'm being misled and confused by words or language or skewed logic. I don't know. I don't think so though.
Note: I'm writing and thinking this from the position of an older European ancestored heterosexual male...which means I've been well indoctrinated in obliviousness...for decades. Hence, it is likely I've committed profound omissions and errors or distortions in my efforts to express my thinking on this topic. Anyone choosing to assist in correcting my ignorant or unintentional error making in this post will have my gratitude. Thank you.