Effect of Parents with PTSD on Children

Dushica Djurovic

Does Transmission of Trauma Influence Children of Parents with PTSD?

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War veterans may experience traumatic events that may influence their lives after the military; moreover, such traumatic experiences may affect lives of the veterans’ family members. One of these people who experience a trauma during military service is my uncle who went to the army when he was very young. There is not anything that can be the same again for my uncle. Although he was a smiling and pretty talkative person before he went to the army, six months after he became reticent and aloof. Family members who have known him since he was born were worried about his mood and behavior, and they wondered what happened to him. When his parents and a sister heard that his best friend, Mark, was shot right in front of my uncle while Mark and he were running into a bunker, they have realized the cause of his depressive behavior. The bloody picture of his friend shot in the back of head has been flowing in my uncle’s mind for a long time, and that picture became both his daily struggle and a night mere. He was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which is caused by the traumatic event he has experienced during the military combat. There are many ex-combatants who have experienced traumas during wars like my uncle, and such traumas may affect veterans’ family relationships (Bathory, page 71). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may affect both a relationship with combat veterans’ children and relationships with their partners.

According to Medscape Medical News that published the article about the high rate of PTSD in returning Iraq war veterans, the estimate rate of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans returning from Iraq embraces the range from 12% to 20% (Roehr). Individuals with PTSD tend to have a high level of anxiety and arousal, which manifests itself as difficult sleeping, impaired concentration, and the fear of being easily startled (Price). My uncle had difficulties such as sleeplessness and anxiety. Even though he had psychotherapy treatment for a few years after he returned home from the military service, his recovery was slow because of specific PTSD symptoms such as apathy and insomnia. As a result, his five-year-old son was not able to understand why his father was often pensive when he asked him for something. PTSD symptoms may be frightening for both parents and their kids. Children may also worry that their parent cannot properly care for them (Price). That is why children may be afraid of having a close relationship with their parents who are depressed or anxious, dealing with PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, such children may even become unhappy or reluctant to trust others, including their parents, because they do not feel loved and cared for their family members.

Combat veterans may struggle trying to maintain relationships with their partners because people with PTSD may feel anxious talking with their wives and husbands about their traumatic experience. According to the American National Center for PTSD, the partners of the Vietnam Veterans with PTSD reported some effects of the veterans’ mental health problems such as lower levels of happiness, less satisfaction in their lives, and more demoralization that is manifested as the lack of hope, courage, and confidence (Stevens). If people who experience traumatic events do not use psychotherapy treatments, their intense emotions of guilt, grief, or fear may escalate. That may happen because they may not be able to handle their burden of war. As a result, war veterans may become physically and verbally aggressive to their partners, which may lead to divorce. The rates of divorce for Veterans with PTSD were about twice as great as for Veterans without PTSD (Kulka). Suffering from the effects of PTSD such as aggression, irritability, or anger, people may deal with certain relationship problems.

Both parts, Maus I and Maus II emphasize two stories in which PTSD was transmitted from parents to their child. While one story is focused on Vladek Spiegelman’s survival of the Holocaust, another is focused on the relationship between Vladek and his son Artie. There is a strong bond that connects both stories. The clue lies in the different kinds of guilt that both of them feel, and such kind of guilty triggered PTSD in them. While Vladek, as a Holocaust victim, struggles when he realizes his luck by surviving from Nazi terror during the war, Artie struggles because he was lucky to be born after the war and avoid the suffering in Auschwitz that his family experienced. Furthermore, both of them have an open wound in their hearts: Vladek lost his wife and Artie his mother when she had a breakdown after the many hardships she endured through. Not only Holocaust survivors, but also their children suffer from their families’ experience.

The main question that echoes in Vladek’s head is, “Why did he survive the Holocaust and not somebody else.” He feels guilty because he was lucky to survive the war which was responsible for millions of deaths. Vladek thinks that instead of him, somebody more worthy deserves to be alive. In order to avoid that feeling, he wants to turn his back on the painful past. He always avoids talking about it with Artie who becomes angry every time he tries to get information about his family. During my reading, I figured out that Vladek even pretends that he does not realize his son’s frustration and gets angry when Artie insists on getting the information. Instead of that, he behaves like everything between them is fine, ignoring any tension. Vladek’s experience at Auschwitz is a burden that flows in his mind, however, he desperately wants to live in the present and so he avoids talking about it. On the other hand, Artie constantly insists on hearing more information about what his family experienced during the war. While he is irritated and often angry with Vladek’s behavior and cannot even imagine living with him under the same roof, his father wants to fix their relationship by spending time together. Vladek misses his wife, Anja, who had cared for him and for this reason he needs his son even more. For instance, he calls his son early in the morning to tell him that he needs his help fixing the drainpipe. Vladek tells him that he needs help by emphasizing the fact that he is an old, vulnerable man but actually it is about more than a drainpipe. He desperately needs his son’s love and attention. While he wants to enjoy spending time with his son and talking about the present, Artie wants to hear everything about the past. The more Vladek struggles with PTSD symptoms and wants to turn his back on the past, the more Artie insists on talking about it in order to get more information. That is why their relationship is broken and full of tension and misunderstanding. Every time Vladek talks about such a brutal experience that his family had, he digs deep into his heart, and becomes upset and more depressed. Not only people who experienced the Holocaust are its victims, but also their children who are born after the war as Artie was.

Although he was born after the war, Artie also suffers from his parents painful memories. That memories caused PTSD and both parents as well as his son suffered from the same traumatic disorders. As the only member of his family who does not have a traumatic past, Artie struggles because he feels less worthy as somebody who did not suffer at Auschwitz. Moreover, he feels a burden because he did not do anything to deserve the comfortable life that he has. On the contrary, his family had to survive terrible suffering during the war to be still alive. Unfortunately, the majority of their relatives were not as a lucky as Vladek and Anja. Artie’s brother Richie did not survive the war. When the Germans started to take children from Srodula, Anja and Vladek, were living in the ghetto and in order to save their son’s life they sent Richie to Zawiercie with his aunt Tosha and her children, Bibi and Lonia. Unexpectedly, the Germans came a few months later to evacuate Zawiercie and send the rest of the Jewish population to Auschwitz. In order to avoid being sent with the children to Nazi gas chambers, Tosha decided to kill not just herself but also her children and Richie with poison. She chose the lesser of two evils. That tragedy left a deep scar on Anja and Vladek’s hearts. That scar even intensified their PTSDs. Richie was still their beautiful and intelligent baby. Even though they had Artie after the war, they are desperately trying to see their first baby in Artie’s eyes. This causes Artie to feel neglected. He would have never been able to be replaced with his brother, and that is why he feels less worthy than Richie. He feels guilty because of his inability to replace his brother for their parents, and the parents’ sorrow was transmitted to their sun making him a new PTSD sufferer. As we see from this story, Artie becomes a new Holocaust victim even though the event itself was in the past, before he was born.

Another thread that connects both stories, Vladek’s escape from the Holocaust and the relationship between his son and him, is Anja’s death. Vladek, as her husband, blames himself for not having been able to save her. Artie blames his father because he destroyed Anja’s diaries which were his only reminder of his mother. After the war, Vladek did not pay enough attention to her and was not as kind as he had been before they were forced to go to the concentration camp, for this reason she became even more depressed and committed suicide. After her death, he wanted to destroy everything which reminded him of her. Furthermore, he became very depressed and cried when he read the comic called “The prisoner on the hell planet” that Artie published about his mother years ago. This is the only time readers of ”Maus” are faced with Anja’s personality as a Holocaust victim. She felt alone and became more depressed after her son answered by saying just “sure” and did not even looked at her when she asked him if he still loved her. From Artie’s comic strip about his mother, I realized that Artie’s cold reaction was not just one more thing for an already very depressed woman, a small step which pushed her over the edge. She already felt unloved and Vladek did not support and care about her. Artie called his father a murder when Vladek told him that he had destroyed her diaries. In my opinion, Vladek destroyed them in order to hide not just from his conscience but also from Artie the fact that he, as her husband, was guilty for the suicide his wife committed. Once again, the past influences Artie’s life and he is suffering because of the PTSD consequences his father and mother experienced after being in Auschwitz.

Both stories, Vladek’s survival of the Holocaust and the broken relationship between Artie and him, are interlinked with the guilt they feel. Vladek feels survivor’s guilt, and although his son insists on it, he avoids talking about the past. Although he was not a victim of Auschwitz, Artie indirectly suffers from his parents PTSD and feels inadequate for having an easy life, while his parent’s had been put under so much thread. Moreover, Anja’s death forever left a deep scar on their souls, which intensified painful memories in Vladek and triggered PTSD in Artie. For this reason both, the father and son would have never been able to step completely into the present. Part of both of them would have always been in the past. This book teaches us that the more people tend to ignore their past, the more it holds onto them and their past experience, good and bad, can be passed from one generation to the next, and that is how PTSD transmission becomes intergenerational illness.

Analyzing the literature, researchers found that in most studies, the children whose father were diagnosed with PTSD participating in combat, were more likely to suffer from distress than those children whose fathers did not participate in combat but experienced PTSD. However, there were a few clinical cases in which the number of fathers with PTSD but who did not participated in military was larger than the number of those fathers with PTSD but who experienced their traumas in military. Additionally, there is not clear definition of “traumatic status” that is still an ambiguous and inconsistent term (Kallerman, 2007).

Davidson, Smith, and Kundler analyzed 108 outpatient veterans with PTSD, including 24 major depressives and 15 alcoholics, and reported the higher rate of psychiatric treatment among children of PTSD sufferers (Davidson, Smith, Kundler, 1989). Furthermore, PTSD were found in 6 families of PTSD, but none in the control group. Similarly, Parsons, Kehle, and Owen observed cases that were consisted 45 children of veterans, and 47 children of nonveterans, when they found that PTSD sufferers perceived children as having more dysfunctional social and emotional behavior, and difficulties in establishing and maintaining friendships. In these cases the types of behaviors were function of child’s gender and age (Persons, Kehle, Owen, 1990).

In both of described studies, the fathers had status of those who were diagnosed with PTSD but the second study also included those fathers who were without PTSD. The target groups in both studies were consisted of Americans who participated in the Vietnam War or the World War II. Furthermore, Jordan et al. reported that veterans with PTSD showed markedly elevated levels of severe and diffuse problems in marital and family adjustment, parenting skills, and violent behavior. In his research the author was focused on 1,200 Vietnam veterans and 376 spouses or coresident partners of the veterans.

Ruscio, Weathers, and King found that emotional numbing was the only aspects of PTSD uniquely associated with veterans’ perceived relationships with their children. The group included 66 male Vietnam veterans, and all of them had one or more children (Ruscio, Weathers, King, 2002). There is another research, done by Westerink and Giarratano, and such study consisted 22 children of veterans over the age of 15 years, and their fathers had the status of veterans with PTSD. The findings show that children of veterans reported higher levels of conflict in their families; there were no significant differences on measures of psychological distress and self-esteem from control groups (Westerink, Giarratano, 1999).

In the case of my uncle who was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which is caused by the traumatic event he has experienced during the military combat, I realized that his son is more likely to become a new PTSD sufferer. That is because of the bloody picture of my uncle’s friend who was shot in the back of head, and such a bloody picture has been flowing in my uncle’s mind for a long time affecting even the behavior of his son. According to Maus, the book about the lives of Holocaust survivors after the Auschwitz, I realized that they transmitted their PTSDs to their son Artie. That caused many struggles in their relationships. I got sense that the clue lies in the different kinds of guilt that both of them feel. While Vladek, as a Holocaust victim and PTSD sufferer, struggles when he realizes his luck by surviving from Nazi terror during the war. On the other hand, Artie struggles because he was lucky to be born after the war and avoid the suffering in Auschwitz that his family experienced. However, their parents’ PTSDs made him a new PTSD sufferer.

According to studies I was reading, the results about transmission of PTSD from father to child show a various range of different findings. While some researchers reported that the children of fathers with PTSDs that were caused by military traumas, are more likely to suffer from the same, numerous others think that military traumas of ex-combatants cannot directly affect their children. To conclude, there are many researchers who are trying to narrow the scope of findings about PTSD transmission from father to child, however, a large range of multiple different results show that this area is much deeper and ambiguous than scholars expected.

Works Cited

Dekel, Rachel, and Hadass Goldblatt. ‘Is There Intergenerational Transmission Of Trauma? The Case Of Combat Veterans’ Children’. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.

Kellerman, N. (2007). Ha’avara shel traumat hasho’ah [Transmission of the Holocaust trauma]. In Z. Solomon & J. Chaitin (Eds.), Yaldut betzel hasho’ah: Yeladim nitzolim ve’dor sheni [Childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust–survived children and second generation] (pp. 286 –303).

Davidson, J., Smith, R., & Kudler, H. (1989). Familial psychiatric illness in chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 30, 339 –345.

Parsons, J., Kehle, T. J., & Owen, S. V. (1990). Incidence of behavior problems among children of Vietnam veterans. School Psychology International, 11, 253–259.

Ruscio, A. M., Weathers, F. W., King, L. A., & King, D. W. (2002). Male war-zone veterans’ perceived relationships with their children: The importance of emotional numbing. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, 351–357.

Westerink, J., & Giarratano, L. (1999). The impact of posttraumatic stress disorder on partners and children of Australian Vietnam veterans. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 33, 841– 847.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986

Kulka, Richard A. ‘Partners Of Veterans With PTSD: Research Findings – PTSD: National Center For PTSD’. Ptsd.va.gov. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Bathory, Dalia. ‘History Of Communism In Europe: Vol. 4 / 2013’. Google Books. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.

Roehr, Bob. ‘High Rate Of PTSD In Returning Iraq War Veterans’. Medscape.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Price, Jennifer L. ‘Children Of Veterans And Adults With PTSD’. Aaets.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

Stevens, Susan P. ‘Partners Of Veterans With PTSD: Common Problems – PTSD: National Center For PTSD’. Ptsd.va.gov. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.

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