The concept of vicarious group trauma is relevant for Jewish individuals because people who did not directly experience the Holocaust can still exhibit signs and symptoms of trauma exposure related to this event. Fuhr (2016) studied historical trauma related to Jewish individuals who lived in Britain. The researcher defined vicarious group trauma as, “A life or safety-threatening event or abuse that happened to some members of a social group, but is felt by other members as their own experience because of their personal affiliation with the group.” The research noted that these individuals can experience anxiety, perceptions of threat and hypervigilance simply due to their identification to the group, due to the magnitude of the trauma inflicted upon the group as a whole.
Cohn and Morrison (2017) found that in their sample, the trauma of the participants’ grandparents’ Holocaust experience impacted their own affective experience, their sense of connection to family history, their understanding of being different than others, and their political and ethnic values. Further, Abrams (1999) reported that when conducting therapeutic interventions, silence was a significant clinical feature in Jewish families contending with traumatic experiences. Survivors of a major historical trauma who remain silent are often condemned to desiccated existence, whereas those who speak out are susceptible to somatic consequences, psychosis, or even suicide (Rosenblum, 2009).
When conducting psychological treatment with people who are Jewish, it is important to be mindful of the historical trauma Jewish individuals have faced, and the fact that they may define themselves in collective manners as a part of a group of their ancestors who survived the Holocaust (Cohn & Morrison, 2017). Additionally, it is important to encompass thoughts about the effect on the individual level, the family level, and the environmental level, and confront patterns of the family that maintain burnout in the environment, as well as bring about appropriate structural change within the family to allow for safe expression and healing (Abrams, 1999). Abrams (1999) also noted that fostering open communication between older generations and younger generations can provide critical understanding and relief to families, lessening these collective effects.
Abrams, M. (1999). Intergenerational transmission of trauma: Recent contributions from the literature of family system approaches to treatment. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 53 (2), 225-231.
Cohn, I. G., & Morrison, N. M. (2017). Echoes of transgenerational trauma in the lived experiences of Jewish Australian grandchildren of holocaust survivors. Australian Journal Of Psychology, doi:10.1111/ajpy.12194
Fuhr, C. (2016). Vicarious Group Trauma among British Jews. Qualitative Sociology, 39(3), 309-330. doi:10.1007/s11133-016-9337-4
Rosenblum, R. (2009). Postponing trauma: The dangers of telling. The International Journal Of Psychoanalysis, 90(6), 1319-1340. doi:10.1111/j.1745- 8315.2009.00171.x
Katy Roth, M.A., CRC
WKPIC Doctoral Intern