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Transgenerational Transmissions and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity



Large-group (ethnic, national, religious) identity is defined as the subjective experience of thousands or millions of people who are linked by a persistent sense of sameness while also sharing numerous characteristics with others in foreign groups. The main task that members of a large group share is to maintain, protect, and repair their group identity. A `chosen trauma' is one component of this identity. The term `chosen trauma' refers to the shared mental representation of a massive trauma that the group's ancestors suffered at the hand of an enemy. When a large group regresses, its chosen trauma is reactivated in order to support the group's threatened identity. This reactivation may have dramatic and destructive consequences.
Opening Address
XIII International Congress
International Association of Group Psychotherapy
August, 1998
Vamık D. Volkan
Transgenerational Transmissions and “Chosen Trauma”:
An Element of Large-Group Identity
Ladies and Gentleman, Dear Colleagues,
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to give this opening address at the 13th Anniversary
meeting of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy. Although the focus of much of
your work is on small groups, my talk today will instead concern large groups such as ethnic,
national or religious groups. After colonial powers retracted their direct control over Africa and
the Indian subcontinent, as well as other overseas territories, and after the collapse of the Soviet
Union, many large groups became involved in an exaggerated process of defining or redefining
their identity. Sometimes bloody struggles of differentiation within and between states ensued,
and some continue today. The recent and current events in the Balkans provide only one
example. Unlike the nation-state wars that characterized much of the previous three centuries,
the wars of today seem to increasingly occur within rather than between states, and involve
groups that have many similarities yet insist that they are inherently different.
I recently returned from the Republic of Georgia, for example, which regained its independence
from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions within the
territory of Georgia, simultaneously declared their own independence. Brutal warfare between
Georgians and Abkhazians and Georgians and South Ossetians ensued that remains unresolved
seven years later, and threatens to reignite today. People who lived together for decades were
quickly transformed into bitter enemies who have fought to the death to preserve what they
perceive as their group's threatened identity.
We, group therapists, psychoanalysts, and others concerned with mental health, are very familiar
with the concept of individual identity. Our understanding of this concept has increased in the
last few decades through our work with those who lack integrated identities such as borderline
and narcissistic patients. We began to evolve theories to understand their inner worlds and to
develop new techniques for their treatment. Given the widespread use of the term identity within
the mental health profession, it is interesting that it was not a word that was used frequently by
Freud. When he did use it, it was in a colloquial sense. One well-known reference to identity is
found in a speech delivered by Freud to B’nai B’rith. In the course of his talk, Freud wondered
why he was bound to Jewry since, as a non-believer, he had never been instilled with its
ethnonational pride or religious faith. Nevertheless, Freud noted a “safe privacy of a common
mental construction,” and “a clear consciousness of inner identity” as a Jew (Freud, 1926b,
p.274). It is interesting that Freud referred to a link between his individual and large-group
Erikson (1956), one psychoanalyst who focused on identity, first used the term ego identity, and
then dropped the word “ego” and used simply “identity.” He described it as “a persistent
sameness within oneself ... [and] a persistent sharing of some kind of essential character with
others” (p.57). What Erikson was describing is the individual’s “core identity” which is different
than social or professional subidentities that are condensed in the core identity at a later time.
Unlike character and personality, which are observed and perceived by others, core identity
refers to an individual’s inner working model—he or she, not an outsider, senses and experiences
it. Some authors, like Kernberg (1975, 1976, 1984) and myself (Volkan, 1976, 1987, 1995) use
the term personality organization and differentiate it from the simple word “personality.”
Personality organization refers to the analyst’s theoretical and metapsychological explanation of
the inner experience and construction of a patient’s self representation and the nature of this
individual’s internalized object relationships (person and thing images). Personality organization
parallels the concept of identity, which is sensed by the patient himself, and is used to describe
whether the latter is cohesive or unintegrated.
Following Erikson's description of individual identity, I define large-group identity—whether it
refers to religion, nationality, or ethnicity—as the subjective experience of thousands or millions
of people who are linked by a persistent sense of sameness while also sharing numerous
characteristics with others in foreign groups. In this presentation my focus is not on
phenomenological divisions between various types of large groups, but on the psychodynamic
factors belonging to all of them.
If a person is born into a family in which parents come from different large groups, or if a person
becomes an immigrant voluntarily or is forcibly relocated to a country or region dominated by a
different large group, his or her sense of large group identity may be confused and complicated.
But, here I am focusing on large group identity as it is felt by human beings under routine
Having described briefly what I mean by large-group identity, I will now try to illuminate its role
in the overall psychology of large groups. Freud’s (1921) well-known theory of group
psychology reflects an oedipal theme. The members of the group sublimate their aggression
against the leader in a way that is similar to the process of a son turning his negative feelings
toward his oedipal father into loyalty. In turn, the members of a group idealize the leader,
identify with each other, and rally around the leader. What Freud described is not a full
explanation of large group psychology; he was only speaking of regressed groups (Waelder,
1971). However, Freud’s concepts on group psychology are nevertheless relevant, and the
behavior he described can be seen in regressed groups today. In November 1997, Iraq
temporarily expelled United States inspectors who were assigned, along with other United
Nations experts, to dismantle Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein responded to
the increased tension and possibility of renewed warfare by creating a “human shield” around
his palaces and other important sites, as he had earlier done during the Gulf War: Iraqis by the
hundreds, including many women and children, rushed to various strategic locations to offer
themselves as sacrificial lambs. Their aim was to deter military attacks since it would be
politically damaging to the USA if numerous civilians, especially women and children, were
among the casualties of a bombing raid. Although coercion and propaganda partly precipitated
this activity, most policy analysts also indicated that a majority of the Iraqis genuinely
volunteered themselves as human shields. Hussein’s efforts to promote group cohesion were
successful—his followers were exhibiting, in a literal sense, the ritual of rallying around the
leader under stressful conditions.
Nevertheless, during the last decade or so, there clearly has been a shift in psychoanalytic
approaches to large groups from an emphasis on the leader as an idealized father to the leader as
an idealized, nurturing mother, For example, Anzieu (1971, 1984) and Chasseguet-Smirgel
(1984) perceived unstructured and regressed groups as representing an idealized, all-gratifying
early mother (“breast-mother”) that repairs all narcissistic lesions. The members of such
regressed groups, when given an opportunity, choose leaders who promote such illusions of
gratification. The members become violent and try to destroy external reality that is perceived as
interfering with this shared illusion. Abse and Jessner (1961), Abse and Ulman (1977), and
Volkan and Itzkowitz (1984) observed both feminine and masculine qualities in the
“charismatic” leaders.
Kernberg’s (1980, 1989) observations on small groups, mobs, and large groups led him to
consider that the regression in such groups poses a basic threat to the member’s personal identity.
In group situations, primitive object relations (i.e. those that predate object constancy), primitive
defensive operations, and especially primitive aggression appear. In his re-examination of
Freud’s theories on group psychology, Kernberg states that Freud’s description of libidinal ties
among the members in a group in fact reflects a defense against preoedipal conditions.
Furthermore, he says, “there is always an implicit primitive leadership in the fantasy of small as
well as large group formation, a leadership closer to the primitive maternal ego ideal than to the
father of the primal horde, but even granting this fantasy structure, it already would seem to
defend against the basic threats to identity and from violence in the large group” (Kernberg,
My formulations on large-group identity have evolved from my participation as a facilitator, now
for over 20 years, in psychopolitical dialogues between representatives of large enemy groups
such as Arabs and Israelis, Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks, Estonians and Russians, and
Croatians and Serbians. Such dialogues take place within small group settings and the
psychodynamics of small groups are present (Volkan, 1997). However, my focus has been on the
way that these participants become spokespersons of their large groups. This occurs because of
the “task” (Bion, 1961) that is given to them in these gatherings: negotiating ethnic or national
issues with the members of the enemy group. In these dialogue series, the participants from large
groups in conflict appear to wear two layers of garments. The first one fits them snugly and is
their individual identity that is the basis of their inner sense of sustained sameness. The second
layer is a loose covering made of the canvas of the large group’s tent (the large-group identity)
through which the person shares a persistent sense of sameness with others in the large group—it
provides comfort, belonging, and protection. But because both are worn every day, the individual
hardly notices them under normal circumstances. At times of collective stress, however, such as
economic crisis, drastic political change, social upheaval, or war, the garment made of the tent
canvas may take on greater importance, and individuals may collectively seek the protection of,
and also defend, their large-group tent, which is held erect by the group’s leader (the tent pole).
Freud’s theory on group psychology described the latter relationship between the tent pole/leader
and the people under the tent, i.e. the followers. I consider the canvas as the large group identity.
In fact, what I have observed in international dialogues is that the main task of a large group is to
protect the large-group identity. The more stress they have, the more they become involved in
repairing the wear and tear on the canvas and feel entitled to do anything, sadistic or masochistic,
to protect their large group identity against a threat.
As I indicated earlier, some authors such as Anzieu, Chasseguet-Smirgel, and Kernberg have
implied that the canvas is more important than the pole--they referred to it as “breast-mother,”
“primitive maternal ego ideal” and other similar terms. To describe this canvas with such terms
is not enough. We should consider the canvas as the outcome of may threads woven together, not
only one. A simple metapsychological explanation that the large group functions as a nurturing
mother will not allow us to explain complicated large group processes, conflicts between
neighbors, the role of leaders, warlike conditions, and the rituals that accompany such
conditions. It will not explain why large groups are different from one another or the impact of
the fact that large groups are "born" in different ways and have different histories. Furthermore,
we will have nothing to offer political analysts and diplomats but an abstract metapsychological
concept which they cannot use.
Nevertheless, the concept of the large group as an idealized mother image is not incorrect, but
only incomplete. Mother Russia, the Statue of Liberty, the Queen of England, and many other
examples certainly support the idea that a nation functions to absorb externalized "good" self and
object images of those protected under its tent in a way that is parallel to the relationship of a
nurturing mother and a satisified child. The canvas of the large group tent, however, is made of
components other than idealized self and object images.
At the same time, the metaphor of a canvas tent is obviously not a metapsychological
psychoanalytic construction --it simply illustrates an idea in a useful way. Psychoanalytic
metapsychological concepts are required, however, to fully describe each of the threads that are
combined to form large group identity.
I have identified seven threads that when woven together create the canvas.
1- “We-ness” established in childhood.
2- Children’s shared identifications with parents and significant figures in the group.
3- Projections that define the group in terms of the “other.”
4- Chosen glories.
5- Chosen traumas.
6- Influence of leader and ideology.
7- Symbols that come to life.
I have listed all seven of the threads to illustrate that large group identity is far more
complex in both theory and reality, and to clarify that there is far more to it than a
simplistic and reductionist notion of a tent.
I can only cover one thread today, though it is a very important one, which I call a chosen
trauma. This thread can be clearly seen in a groups' tent when one combines the study of history
and psychoanalysis, and it is woven through the transgenerational transmission of a mental
representation of a traumatic historical event.
I will begin examining the concept of chosen traumas by focusing on individual responses to
traumatic events. Most of us are probably familiar with the pioneering work of Anna Freud and
Dorothy Burlingham (1942) and their observations on the unconscious “messages” passed
between mothers and children during the German bombing of London during World War II.
Sullivan (1962) also provided important material through his own study on the way in which a
mother’s anxiety is conveyed to her child. Mahler’s (1968) observations concerning the
symbiotic phase of child development indicate that the early mother and her child function
almost as one psychological unit. I will not bother with further references to our clinical
knowledge that there is a fluidity between a mother’s and child’s psychic borders and that the
mother’s anxiety, unconscious fantasies, and perceptions and expectations of the external world
and the child pass into the child’s developing sense of self. It is also known that psychicborders
are also permeable in a relationship between a grown child and parent, or between two adult
individuals, when they relate to one another under regressed or partly regressed states.
I would like to offer my own example from a recent trip to the Republic of Georgia while it is
still fresh in my mind. A few months ago I was in a suburb of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia,
called Tbilisi Sea that is so named because it is next to a huge man-made lake. Three large resort
hotels near the lake now house about 3,000 of the 300,000 Georgian refugees who remain
homeless seven years after the wars with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I and two of my
colleagues from our Center were privileged to get to know three generations of one refugee
family housed in a Tbilisi Sea hotel. I use the word privileged because to meet people who
suffered so much and were able to keep their dignity is a privilege.
Georgian refugees:
Doli, a woman in the middle generation, is married and has three children. The youngest is a 17
year old girl named Tamuna. Tamuna and I talked alone for some time on the cluttered hotel
balcony that is part of their cramped home. She told me that, as is typical within refugee families,
she and her mother keep their worries to themselves. "Silence" is a frequent mode of
communication, as if talking about painful things will hurt the other, and therefore must be
avoided. Nevertheless, as again is typical, Tamuna knew of her mother's recurring yet unspoken
worry: Each night Doli went to bed wondering how she would be able to buy food the next day
and be able to feed her children. This worry was reflected in the fact that Doli had lost weight
since becoming a refugee. Tamuna, conversely, was a little heavier than she should be. While
Tamuna was telling me the story of her awareness of her mother's worry, Doli came to the
balcony and told me to do something about her daughter--she would not exercise and was getting
too fat. "Please tell her to exercise," Doli pleaded with me.
I felt I could offer some insights into their relationship, and suggested that Doli ask Tamuna if
she knew of her daily worry about being able to feed her children. The two talked and afterwards
I told Doli that Tamuna had to stay overweight, at least for now, because I believed that by being
overweight, the daughter was trying to tell her mother, "Don't worry about finding food for your
children. See, I am overfed." I suggested that Tamuna was an intelligent 17 year old and that
mother and daughter could share their worries through open and direct communication rather
than indirectly and unconsciously through bodily expression.
I believe this simple but moving vignette is an illustration of the intergenerational transmission
of a mother's worry to her daughter and the daughter's attempt to "repair" and reassure her
mother. Though it is useful in illustrating my point, there are certainly more developed clinical
cases of transgenerational transmission in relation to a variety of far more severe problems and
disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, transsexualism, and schizophrenia.
There is still another type of transgenerational transmission that is more directly relevant to
identity issues on the individual level, and offers more direct parallels to group identity. This
form of transgenerational transmission involves the depositing of an already formed self or
object image into the developing self representation of a child under the premise that there it can
be kept safe and the resolution of the conflict with which it is associated can be postponed until a
future time. The “deposited image” (Volkan, 1987, 1997) then becomes like a psychological
gene that influences the child's identity. The best example of this process is seen in so-called
"replacement children" (Green and Solnit, 1964; Cain and Cain, 1964; Legg and Sherick, 1976;
Poznanski, 1972). Replacement children’s self representations include the image of a dead
sibling or other dead or lost relative that is transmitted to them through their interaction with the
mother or affected caregiver. This "foreign" psychological gene influences or modifies the child's
identity, and manifests in "tasks" the child is unconsciously impelled to perform, such as
conducting the mourning that the mother cannot perform, or repairing the mother so that she will
regain psychological health.
Thus, through psychoanalytic inquiry, we have come to realize that there is far more to
transgenerational transmission than a child mimicking the behavior of parents, or developing his
or her own ideas based upon the stories told by the older generation. It is the end result of mostly
unconscious psychological processes that influence the child's identity and unconsciously give
the child certain tasks.
Extensive clinical work has also been conducted on transgenerational transmission beyond the
level of the individual patient. Through studies of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust
survivors (Kestenberg and Brenner, 1996), it is now widely accepted that traumatic experiences
of death camps and genocide were passed down to many thousands of members of one large
group. However, when many members of a group experience a severe and collective trauma, it is
not simply a matter of many individuals of that groups sharing similar symptoms of Post-
traumatic Stress Disorder, utilizing similar defense mechanisms, or exhibiting symptoms of
similar psychological problems. Such traumatic events affect all those under the ethnic or
national tent, and all are subjected to societal processes, many of them unconscious, in response.
With the above introduction completed, I now return to the concept of chosen trauma and its
transformation into an ethnic or other large group marker.
Definition of chosen trauma:
The image of a past event during which a large group suffered loss or experienced helplessness
and humiliation in a conflict with a neighboring group. This term refers to the mental
representation of an event that has caused a large group to face drastic losses, feel helpless and
victimized by another group, and share a humiliating injury. Since a large group does not choose
to be victimized or suffer humiliation, some take exception to the term “chosen” trauma. I
believe that it reflects a group’s unconscious “choice” to add a past generation’s mental
representation of an event to its own identity, and the fact that while groups may have
experienced any number of traumas in their history, only certain ones remain alive over
centuries. A chosen trauma is linked to the past generation’s inability to mourn losses after
experiencing a shared traumatic event, and indicates the group’s failure to reverse narcissistic
injury and humiliation inflicted by another large group, usually a neighbor (Volkan, 1991, 1992,
1997; Volkan and Itzkowitz 1993, 1994).
While each individual in a traumatized large group has his own unique identity and personal
reaction to trauma, all members share the mental representations of the tragedies that have
befallen the group. Their injured self images associated with the mental representations of the
shared traumatic event are “deposited” into the developing self representation of children in the
next generation as if these children will be able to mourn the loss or reverse the humiliation.
Such depositing constitutes an intergenerational transmission of trauma. If the children cannot
deal with what is deposited in them, they, as adults, will in turn pass the mental representation of
the event to the next generation.
Chosen Trauma: Processes and Functions:
Chosen Trauma
Transgenerational Transmission
Change of Function
Ethnic Marker
(a psychological gene of the large group)
Reactivation of Chosen Trauma
Enhancement of Leader-Follower Interaction
Time Collapse
Entitlement for Revenge or Revictimization
Magnification of Current Large-Group Conflict
“Irrational” Decision-Making
Mobilization of Large-Group Activities
As the chosen trauma passes from generation to generation it changes function. The historical
truth about the event is no longer important for the large group, but what is important is that
through sharing the chosen trauma, members of the group are linked together. In other words, the
chosen trauma in woven into the canvas of the ethnic or large group tent, and becomes an
inseparable part of the group’s identity. This thread, however, may or may not be readily evident
at all times; it may become intertwined with other threads or it may lie dormant for a long period
of time, yet can be reactivated and exert a powerful psychological force. Leaders intuitively seem
to know how to reactivate a chosen trauma, especially when their large group is in conflict or has
gone through a drastic change and needs to reconfirm or enhance its identity.
Time collapse typically occurs when a chosen trauma is reactivated. This term refers to the fears,
expectations, fantasies, and defenses associated with a chosen trauma that reappear when both
conscious and unconscious connections are made between the past trauma and a contemporary
threat. This process magnifies the image of current enemies and current conflicts. The sense of
revenge becomes exaggerated. If the large group is in a powerless position, a current event may
reactivate a sense of victimization.
Time collapse may lead to irrational and sadistic or masochistic decision making by the
leadership of the large group and in turn members of the large group become psychologically
prepared for sadistic or masochistic acts, and in the worst case scenario, perpetuate otherwise
unthinkable cruelty against others.
My discussant today, Anne Schützenberger, has contributed a great deal on the importance of
anniversary reactions. Chosen traumas are similarly recalled during the anniversary of the
original event, and the ritualistic commemoration helps bind the members of the large group
together. Czechs commemorate the battle of Bila Hora in 1620 which led to their subjugation
under the Hapsburg Empire for nearly 300 years. Scots keep alive the story of the battle of
Culloden in 1746 and the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie to restore a Stuart to the throne. The
Lakota indians of the United States recall the anniversary of their decimation at Wounded Knee
in 1890, and Crimean Tatars define themselves by the collective suffering of their deportation
from Crimea in 1944.
An excellent example of the activation of a chosen trauma in this decade can be seen among the
Serbian people. The Serbs’ chosen trauma played a major role in the atrocities in Bosnia-
Herzegovina, and anniversary reactions associated with one event, the Battle of Kosovo in 1389,
featured prominently in uniting Serbs against those they perceived as enemies.
After becoming independent from Byzantium in the 12th century, the kingdom of Serbia thrived
for almost 200 years under the leadership of the Nemanji dynasty, reaching its climax under the
beloved Emperor Stefan Dusan. Dusan died in 1355, and the Nemanji dynasty came to an end a
short time thereafter. In 1371, Serb feudal lords elected Lazar Hrebeljanovi as leader of Serbia,
though he assumed the title of prince rather than tzar.
The decline of Serbia that followed is primarily attributed to the expansion of the Ottoman
Empire into Serb territory, culminating in the Battle of Kosovo on June 28, 1389 at the Kosovo
Polje (the Field of the Black Birds) in the southern part of today’s Yugoslav Federation.
There are various versions of the "historical truth" of the Battle of Kosovo (Emmert, 1990). We
know that the Turkish Sultan, Murat I, was fatally wounded by a Serb assassin during or after the
battle. We also know that the wounded Sultan or his son Bayezit ordered the execution of Prince
Lazar, who had been captured during the battle. Chroniclers have disagreed on other outcomes of
the battle. Lazar’s body was then mummified and he was canonized.
Seventy years after the Battle of Kosovo, as the Ottomans consolidated their control over Serb
territory, Lazar’s body was moved from its monastery near Kosovo to a safer location in the
north near Belgrade. During this same period the Battle of Kosovo slowly began to evolve into a
chosen trauma for the Serb people. Mythologized tales of the battle were transmitted from
generation to generation through a strong oral and religious tradition in Serbia, perpetuating and
reinforcing Serbs' traumatized self images.
There is ample evidence to support the fact that the “interpretation” of events at the Battle of
Kosovo among the Serbian people went through various transformations over the centuries. I
have described these transformations elsewhere in detail (Volkan, 1996). Briefly, under Ottoman
rule the Serbs held onto an identity as “perennial mourners.” The image of Lazar as it appeared
in icons and folk songs was Christ-like. Lazar, a true martyr, had died for his people, and Serbian
victimhood was idealized.
Icons of Lazar:
With the awakening of nationalism in Europe in the 19th century, Lazar’s image was transformed
from martyr, victim, and tragic figure to hero and then ultimately to avenger.
Avengers of Kosovo:
In 1878, after much political scheming as well as many wars, the Serbs (as well as
Montenegrins) were declared independent from the Ottoman Empire by the Treaty of Berlin. The
treaty placed them under the control of Austria-Hungary, which in turn tried to suppress Serbia's
Kosovo spirit. Serbia soon found itself in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, through which it was
finally able to "liberate" Kosovo after over 500 years. A young soldier later recalled this
Each of us created for himself a picture of Kosovo while we were still in the cradle. Our mothers
lulled us to sleep with the songs of Kosovo, and in our schools our teachers never ceased in their
stories of Lazar and Milosevic
My God, what awaited us! To see a liberated Kosovo... When we arrived on Kosovo ...the spirits
of Lazar, Milosevic and all the Kosovo martyrs gaze on us (From Vojincki Glasnik, June 28,
1932, reported in Emmert [1990, pp.133-134]).
Less than two years after Kosovo's liberation, on the 1914, Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo,
a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his
pregnant wife in Sarajevo, thereby signaling the beginning of World War I. What is known about
Princip is that as a teenager he, as most other Serb youngsters, was filled with the transformed
images of Lazar as avengers (Emmert, 1990). Although Serbia was now free, the Austro-
Hungarian empire exerted significant influence over much of the region after the Ottomans. In
Princip's mind, it is possible that the old and new "oppressors" were condensed, and the desire
for revenge was transferred to the Austro-Hungarian heir apparent.
Time does not permit me to give you a summary of Serbian history between the liberation of
Kosovo and the collapse of the Soviet empire. Many people are already familiar with the history
of this part of the world between World War II and the end of the Communist era. I will therefore
focus on the reactivation of the Serbs’ chosen trauma in the 1980s.
In April 1987, Slobodan Miloseviç, present president of the “new” Yugoslavia (the Serb-
Montenegro federation) and then a Communist bureaucrat, was attending a meeting of 300 party
delegates in Kosovo. At the time only 10 percent of the population in Kosovo was Serb. The
majority, as they are today, were Albanian Muslims. During the meeting a crowd of Serbs (and
also Montenegrins) tried to force their way into the meeting hall. They wanted to express their
grievances about the hardships they were experiencing in Kosovo. The local police blocked and
prohibited the crowd's entry into the meeting hall. At that moment, Milosevic stepped forward
and said: "Nobody, either now or in the future, has the right to beat you." In a frenzy, the crowd
spontaneously began singing "Hej Sloveni," the national anthem, and shouted "We want freedom!
We will not give up Kosovo!" In turn, Miloseviç was excited; he stayed in the building until
dawn--a 13-hour period--listening to the tales of victimization. Serbs living in Kosovo
complained that the Muslims of Kosovo were treating the Serbs badly.
Milosevic came out of this experience a transformed person, wearing the armor of Serb
nationalism. In a speech, he would later declare that Serbs in Kosovo are not a minority since
"Kosovo is Serbia and will always be Serbia."
One story in particular illustrates how Milosevic and a few others in his circle unleashed Serb
nationalism. In 1889, the 500th Anniversary of Kosovo, plans for moving Lazar's mummified
body back to the Kosovo region were discussed, but never materialized. As the 600th Anniversary
approached, Milosevic and others in his circle were determined to bring Lazar's body out of
"exile." Lazar's mummified remains were placed in a coffin and taken "on tour" to every Serb
village and town, where he was received by huge crowds of mourners dressed in black and
religious leaders dressed in their religious costumes. As a result of the time collapse of 600 years
initiated by Serb leadership, Serbs began to feel that the defeat in Kosovo had occurred only
yesterday, an outcome made far easier by the fact that the chosen trauma had been kept alive
throughout the centuries. As they greeted Lazar's body, they cried and wailed and gave speeches
saying that they would never allow such a defeat to occur again.
What interests us here is that Milosevic apparently reactivated Lazar's image in Serbs’ minds so
that grieving his defeat at the Battle of Kosovo could at last be accomplished, and the reversal of
helplessness, humiliation, and shame could be completed. In any case, affects pertaining to
traumatized self images were felt freshly; sharing this invisibly connected all Serbs more closely,
and they began to develop similar self images in which there was a drastic change: a new sense
of entitlement for revenge, although it is unclear whether this is what Milosevic intended.
Nevertheless, Miloseviccontinued to stir nationalist sentiments. For instance, he ordered the
building of a huge monument on a hill overlooking the Kosovo battlefield. Made of red stone,
representing blood (Kaplan, 1993), it stands 100 feet over the "grieving" flowers and is
surrounded by artillery-shell-shaped cement pillars inscribed with a sword and the dates 1389-
1989. On the tower is written Lazar's battle cry that every Serb man come to the Field of Black
Birds to fight the Turks. If a Serb fails to respond to this call, Lazar's words warn: "He will not
have a child, neither male or female, and he will not have fertile land where crops grow." By
building the monument and linking 1389 with 1989, Milosevic was re-sending Lazar's ancient
message in the present. The message to Serb men was clear: "Either you fight against the Turks
or lose your manliness!"
On June 28, 1989, the 600th Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, a helicopter brought Milosevic
to the Field of the Black Birds. He "took the podium from dancing maidens in traditional folk
costume and transported the crowd to heights of frenzied adoration with a simple message:
'never again would Islam subjugate the Serbs' " (Vulliamy, 1994, p.51). In one photo of this rally
I noted that Lazar's ancient call to battle against the Turks was imprinted on the T-shirts of many
of those present. Riding this wave of nationalism, Milosevic's prominence increased. In 1990, the
six Yugoslav Republics held elections in which the Communists were defeated everywhere
except Serbia and Montenegro. In Serbia, the Communists were now called the Serb Socialist
Party, and Milosevic was elected as party head. In 1991, Milosevic summoned
RadovanKaradzic, the then Bosnian Serbs' leader, and others to meet with him to discuss the
future of the Serbs. Like my knowledge about Slobodan Milosevic, what I know about Radovan
Karadzic is not extensive. Therefore, I will limit my comments about Karadzic to those that
relate to one of the themes of this chapter--to the internalization of a past trauma in a person who
is born in a generation after the original trauma took place.
In 1998 in Croatia I spoke with a group of psychiatrists who had known Karadzic as a student or
classmate. As you may know, he was trained as a psychiatrist. Except for some comments on the
uniqueness of his physical appearance, no one I spoke with sensed anything unusual about him.
In 1985, Karadzic was convicted of fraud (misuse of public funds) and was put in jail where he
remained for eleven months until he was freed by a Serb judge. He is also a poet, and after his
prison experience he published Crna Bajka (The Black Fable), a collection of new poems in
1990. In one of his poems entitled "A Man Risen from the Ashes" one can detect the effect of
imprisonment on him (Deklava and Post, 1995). In another poem in the same book he refers to
Serbs being trapped in a fortress surrounded by advancing Turks and waiting for the Tzar (Lazar)
to come to their rescue. I suspect that his imprisoned self image was condensed with the
imprisoned self image of his ancestors which had been transferred down through the generations.
Karadzic was not immune from being a carrier of the Serbs' chosen trauma.
In June 1992, after disposing of his "friend" and mentor Ivan Stambolic, then the State President,
whom he had accused of betraying the Serbs in the province of Kosovo, Milosevic was elected
president of the third Yugoslavia.
Before the ethnic cleansing and systematic rape of Bosnian Muslim women began, Serb
propaganda increasingly focused on inflaming the idea that the Ottomans, now symbolized by
the Bosnian Muslims, would return. Serbs even referred to Bosnian Muslims as Turks. There is,
of course, some basis of truth to this perception since Bosnian Muslims played a significant role
in Ottoman Turkish history. As part of the Ottoman system of taxes and tribute known as
devşirme, teenage boys were taken away from their families, indoctrinated as Ottomans, and
trained as soldiers that were named janissaries. Modern Serbian propaganda warned of a return
of janissaries, their rape of Serbian women and propagation of non-Serbs, and their ultimate goal
of recapturing Serbia. This fantasized threat was countered by the Serbs’ own tactic of raping
Bosnian Muslim women in which a conscious strategy of intimidation was condensed with an
unconscious one of reversing the devşirme through the underlying assumption that the child
produced by the rape of a non-Serb woman would be a Serb, and not carry any of the traits of the
mother. Questioning this belief, Allen (1996) noted, "Enforced pregnancy as a method of
genocide makes sense only if you are ignorant about genetics. No baby born from such a crime
will be only Serb. It will receive half its genetic material from its mother" (p.80). This fact hardly
seems to need explanation, yet the author clearly was focusing on logical thinking and biological
reality, although in the case of inflamed ethnic animosities, it is the "psychological truth" that is
more important. Thus Serbs sought to both kill young Muslim men and replace them with new
"Serb" children and truly avenge Kosovo. Fact and fantasy, past and present were intimately and
violently intermingled.
By speaking of Bosnia-Herzegovina I do not mean to reduce what happened there only to the
reactivation of a chosen trauma. I wanted, however, to give a detailed account of a chosen
trauma, and how it becomes an inseparable ethnic marker. Today the Battle of Kosovo continues
to exert an influence over Serbian people and their policies toward the Albanians who today
comprise a majority of the population of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Awareness of the
chosen traumas of groups in conflict can enlarge our understanding about how they may become
the fuel to ignite the most horrible human dramas and/or keep the fire going once hostilities start.
I also hope that my talk today will encourage some of you to apply your experience with small
groups to the understanding of large-groups psychology and how it effects relationships at the
individual, group, national and international level. As political scientists and diplomats are
struggling to understand this thing called ethnicity—the large group identity—I hope that those
who understand psychodynamics can contribute to mutually interesting and useful discussion on
such important interdisciplinary subjects.
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... Scholars such as Yehuda and Lehrner [7], Gottschalk [8], and Danieli et al. [3] advocate the existence of TGT and the role it plays in future conflicts as massive traumas are passed from one generation to the next. It is theorized that when traumatic memories dominate the mental life of victims, behavioral re-enactments emerge at the societal and interpersonal levels [9]. The consequences of large-scale trauma may be a collective mental representation of traumatic events that are re-enacted in the social domain [9]. ...
... It is theorized that when traumatic memories dominate the mental life of victims, behavioral re-enactments emerge at the societal and interpersonal levels [9]. The consequences of large-scale trauma may be a collective mental representation of traumatic events that are re-enacted in the social domain [9]. This phenomenon became an area of academic interest in the 1960s, focusing largely on the children of Holocaust survivors [1,10]. ...
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An acknowledgement that the legacy of apartheid lives on in the minds of South Africa’s born free generation necessitates an exploration of psychologists’ interventions for transgenerational trauma. This research aimed to contribute to research on this subject by interviewing South African psychologists with the ultimate objective of assisting professionals who formulate interventions. Firstly, the ways in which psychologists identify transgenerational trauma were explored. This provided a foundation for exploring the psychologists’ interventions for transgenerational trauma and contributed to a discussion of how interventions could be enhanced. Thematic analysis of the semistructured interviews revealed that stuckness paired with guilt, grief resulting from silence and certain manifestations of identity and relationship issues are identifiers of transgenerational trauma. The findings also pointed to the utility of certain approaches to individual, group, family and community interventions. Recommendations for enhancing psychologists’ interventions for transgenerational trauma in Gauteng’s born free generation revealed the imperative for psychologists to actively engage in professional and personal growth, predicated on the complexity of the challenges within.
... To elaborate, the concept of the social unconscious was initially formulated by Fromm (2001) and subsequently by Foulkes (2018), Hopper (2002), Volkan (2001), Dalal (1998), and Weinberg (2007), amongst others. In his work, Beyond the chains of illusion: My encounter with Marx and Freud, Fromm (2001) sought to link Marxist ideas around ideology and the psychoanalytic concept of repression, to grasp how social constructs -which are historical and conditional -can be experienced as natural and inevitable. ...
... Weinberg (2007) highlights factors such as shared anxieties, fantasies, social defence mechanisms (Jaques et al., 1955, Menzies-Lyth, 1961, myths, and memories as key to the operation of the social unconscious. In his work he focuses on the traumagenic nature of the social unconscious by drawing on Volkan's (2001) thoughts around 'chosen traumas'. Here, Volkan describes how, within large groups, there exists an un-mourned or unresolved psychological representation of a shared trauma in relation to loss. ...
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Traditional approaches to postgraduate psychological education are inherently reductionistic - drawing on positivist theoretical models designed for understanding our physical bodies rather than our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Taking a decolonial stance, and advocating for critical reflexivity, this paper argues that theatre holds a potential space for students to engage with selfhood in complex ways. Positioned within critical pedagogy, theatre strategies can present vital opportunities to personalise historical eras, enabling intertwined psychodynamic, cultural, economic, and ideological factors to impact sensuously, emotionally, and cognitively on students. Such immersive opportunities can foster students' awareness of the social embeddedness of subjectivity, prior to their engagement with clinical practice. Drawing on Fugard's political tragedy, 'Sorrows and Rejoicings', possible guidelines are suggested as to how theatre can educate students about the impact of taken-for-granted socio-political attitudes, norms, and values on selfhood.
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NANKING MASSACRE 1937–1938 AS A SOURCE OF CHINESE NATIONAL CULTURAL TRAUMA The Nanjing massacre is today one of the most important historical events for the Chinese national identity, however, until 1982, the topic of the massacre did not enjoy much interest. This paper, using Jeffrey C. Alexander’s theory of cultural trauma and the example of the Memorial Hall for the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre, shows how the Chinese authorities gave the initially unknown massacre the rank of a national trauma. Symbolic representation, trauma narratives, and the institutionalization of trauma were crucial in this process.
Chapter 2 laid the conceptual foundations for the treatment of communication and observation as well as group communication. Chapter 3 dealt with the concepts of group and identity. The differences between collective identities, group identities and individual identities were discussed, in the process of which a distinction was made between practical and objectified identities for both group identities and individual identities. Chapter 4 was devoted to identifying eight environments of identity fabrication. This chapter now concretises and extends the conceptual framework created so far by bringing it to bear on the results of empirical studies. Numerous examples plausibilise the conceptual devices introduced earlier and, conversely, are integrated by them into the framework presented. To this end, we first revisit the distinction between precommunicative and communicative processes (Sect. 5.1), as it can now also be discussed in terms of its relations to the environments of identity fabrication. Subsequently, the fabrication of collective identities is examined in more detail (Sect. 5.2). The main focus of the chapter is on the fabrication of group identities (Sect. 5.3). The relationship between narratives, historicity and change, the relations between practice and objectification, possible elements of objectified group identities, the role of external groups and individuals in group identity fabrication, and the dynamics of group identity fabrication are discussed.
Drawing on contemporary research on the nature and treatment of trauma in psychology, neuroscience and the emerging field of art therapy, this article adopts a psychosocial approach to examine the role that the arts may play in assisting individuals and societies to recover from the trauma of violent conflict and contribute to the establishment of sustainable peace. Taking a broad understanding of the arts to include a range of creative endeavours, it primarily focuses on non-verbal art forms, including but not restricted to music, painting, sculpture, drawing and dance, as well as traditional arts and crafts. It demonstrates that many art forms have the potential to make specific contributions to the amelioration of conflict-related trauma by addressing pervasive non-verbal memories that typically stand outside the remit of more conventional psychosocial practices, such as truth-telling and storytelling. They do so, it argues, by providing a means of expressing, evoking, regulating and transforming the emotions in ways that allow individuals and societies to confront and acknowledge their violent pasts, develop supportive relationships in the present and draw on their creativity to imagine a better future.
This chapter provides an overview of major historical and cultural traumas experienced over the last century by several generations of families in Russia that may affect relational and individual well-being. These events include wars, repressions, and drastic socio-economic-political changes throughout the past three decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Drawing on autoethnographic notes from reflections on her family therapy practice during Russia’s 2022 “special military operation” in Ukraine, the author explores the reactivation of collective trauma and how mental health professionals can help individuals and families process old traumas and internalized conflicts in the context of current social challenges such as low institutional and interpersonal trust, gender and generational disparities, and collective emotional processes of denial, loss, and guilt.KeywordsMultigenerational traumaCollective traumaInternal family systemsRussiaGender
In this article, I will present a personal journey of making sense of the experience of sibling abortion under China’s Once-child Policy and transgenerational trauma related to China’s Cultural Revolution in a group analysis training group. The first part of this paper will reflect on and analyse how groups helped me to claim the identity as a mourner, allowed both the presence and absence of my unborn brother to become real, and offered me reparative family relationships when I dealt with my grief. Drawing on the concept of large-group identity and transgenerational transmission, the second part of this paper will explore how experiences in groups enabled me to discover and understand the transgenerational transmission of trauma related to the Cultural Revolution in my family.
A classic study which, by synthesizing the approaches of psychoanalysis and group dynamics, has added a new dimension to the understanding of group phenomena.
Some of the clinical and theoretical issues thought to be involved in the psychology of "replacement children" are discussed. A developmental framework is proposed within which to view such children. The replacement child is becoming an identifiable clinical syndrome, and a developmental framework is sorely needed to encourage more systematic research. A replacement child perceives his status differently on both a cognitive and emotional level within the context of each developmental phase, and the affective and associative links need to be reworked each time. We view the status of being a replacement child as a developmental interference insofar as demands are placed on the child's immature ego which he might not yet be equipped to cope with.
Address to the Society of B'nai B'rith
  • S Freud