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  • Dr. Carol Kidron

Transmitted Trauma Legacies – Illness or Badge of Honor?

In their article "Trauma as Badge of Honor: Phenomenological Experiences of Holocaust Descendant Resilient Vulnerability," Kidron, Kotliar and Kirmayer's article describe the way that the second generation - adult children of Holocaust survivors in Israel - experience both emotional vulnerability and the resilience. The article focuses on what the way second generation describe themselves as emotionally "scratched" by their familial Holocaust legacy, a unique sense of self that entails both resilience and vulnerability. Their accounts point to the way vulnerability and resilience are not binary opposites – but rather that there is a complex dialectical relationship between them. In recent years, psychological research has taken a salutogenic turn – highlighting human resilience rather than pathology in the face of trauma and transmitted trauma. Psychologists seek to understand the ways in which people experience precarious situations yet do not succumb to psychpathology. There is growing interest in the way individuals and communities heal despite hardship and most especially in personal, familial and collective protective buffers that promote resilience and shield against or minimize potential traumatization. However, Kidron et al's research shows that the distinction drawn between resilience and vulnerability in the face of traumatizing events and their legacies is too dichotomous. Interviews with adult children of Holocaust survivors in Israel point to the way resilience and vulnerability are intertwined and actually emerge in tandem. Second generation interlocutors describe too the way belief systems and meaning worlds surrounding their Holocaust legacy shape their unique sense of what they term "resilient-vulnerability".

In according with Kidron's earlier research findings, second generation interlocutors reject the pathologizing diagnosis of transmitted trauma found in the scholarship, and its assumption that those who grew up in survivor families was a potential victim of transmitted trauma. The interlocutors insisted they were not suffering from transmitted PTSD or the effects of transmitted survivor PTSD. At the same time - they referred to their emotional 'wounds' as a "scratch" – a scratch they carry and embody as what they term "a badge of honor". This perspective, and sense of self, not only normalizes their emotional vulnerability but also valorizes and celebrates it. From the standpoint of the interlocutors, the scratch stems from emotional sensitivity and hardship however at the same time it allows them to embody and testify to an intimate and empathic connection to their survivor parents and to the Holocaust past. In this way the second generation claim that their wounds are source of personal pride and honor – hence they carry them as a "badge of honor". Kidron, Kotliar and Kirmayer claim that as pride, honor and familial empathy are emotional protective buffers and empowering beliefs and experiences, paradoxically – vulnerability seems to engender strength and resilience. Put simply – the second generations resilience stems from their Holocaust related vulnerability. Findings therefore problematize a binary reading of vulnerability and resilience and between wellness and distress. One could not describe second generation as either well or distressed but rather a complex weave of both experiences that define and produce one another. The article also challenges attempts to quantify resilience or vulnerability. Instead research should approach the question of emotional wellbeing, resilience and vulnerability phenomenologically – as complex subjective and dynamic interactions shaped by particular cultural, political and economic processes and meaning making. In keeping with this critique Kidron, Kotliar and Kirmayer assert that one cannot understand second generation experience without exploring their meaning world – their ethical perspectives, their beliefs and their sense of personal and familial positioning. In the case of Israeli second generation, Jewish-Israeli beliefs and values shape the way the second generation wounded emotional legacy is valorized and sanctified in a national collective context where the transmission and perpetuation of Holocaust memory – is deemed ethically essential. As vanguards or carriers of authentic intergenerationally– inherited scratches or markers of Holocaust wounds - the second generation may take on an empowering ideological communal and collective role/status that at once promotes empowerment and therefore – resilience. However most surprising – lest we think that the scratch and its social sanctification is only empowering – interlocutors insist – again paradoxicallhy – that their scratch or wound cannot and will not be healed – as it is and must – ideologically – and morally – remain a significant marker and testimony to familial and collective legacies which would otherwise be forgotten. For second generation interlocutors – their "scratch" or vulnerability must remain "resilient" – hence Kidron, Kotliar and Kirmayer's choice to refer to their experience as resilient-vulnerability – implying not only that they are both strong and vulnerability and that these two experiences and attributes are inextricably related – but that in addition, their vulnerability- or wound remains reflexively and intentional – resilient in the face of potential healing. Interlocutors explain - the second generation "badge of honor" is not transmitted trauma – it is not an illness – but rather a powerfully empowering meaning world that shapes at times vulnerability and at times a sense of pride, honor and moral mission and these experiences are inseparable. Kidron, Kotliar and Kirmayer call upon their readers to critically deconstruct one dimensional pathologizing readings of illness constructs such as PTSD and transmitted PTSD. They also suggest that we consider the way in which taken for granted concepts such as resilience and vulnerability intertwine to empower and perhaps enlist victims and their descendants in unique ways as they are always culturally constituted in the particular contexts of post-conflict and post-genocide moral meaning worlds.

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