• Slider1
  • Slider2
  • Slider3
  • Slider4

Transgenerational Trauma Healed by Analytical Therapy Approach; Male versus Female

Prof. Dr. Mihaela Minulescu, Jungian psychanalyst

Prof Dr. Petru Lisievici, Educational counselor

The first years of XX century brings Freud and Jung intuitions and research concerning trauma and the consequences upon the next generations. However, only the scientific data of neurosciences, neurobiology and epigenetics scientifically proved the mechanisms by which the consequences of a major trauma (suicide, abandon, early death of a child/ parent, rape, etc.) influences and changes in a particular way the psycho-physiology of the next generation (R. Yehuda, N.Kellermann, D. Shmotkien).

In analytical terms, the archetypal condition is activated in a particular way in connection with the trauma cores. These peculiar activations will act in the pre- and post-natal embryonic stage upon the way the primary relation will be established, the relations with reality and the ego condition, the way the person will experience and react emotionally.

This paper is focused on the trauma that influence the way we experience the opposed gender in feminine – masculine complementarity, because of physical and psychical sexual abuses, of rapes and war times. The analytical treatment is centered on bringing in the awareness the original family trauma the patient carries on, and the reactivation and experience in Active Imagination of the corporal trauma.

The biogenetics framework

The epigenetic theory and findings of the last 20 years of research in biogenetics tried to explain current phenomenon as: why the second generations of the holocaust are still dreaming images of torture which are not theirs; the second generation of famine survivors died with an average of 6 years earlier comparative with the same generation of people not coming from that trauma history; why the cancers, obesity, diabetes and other systemic illnesses are largely flourishing today; the first and second generation of trauma survivors are caught in anxieties, depression, neurosis.

They may have been marked epigenetically with a chemical coating upon their chromosomes, which would represent a kind of biological memory of what the parents and grandparents experienced. As a result, some suffer from a general vulnerability to stress while others are more resilient. Rachel Yehuda states that human response to stress is shaped early in life, sometimes even in the womb, and explained for example, that the predisposition to PTSD is determined even before they knew who their parents were, when they were still in the womb. Those effects don’t change the genes we inherit, but they do alter their activity, via epigenetic mechanisms. This can determine our risk of mental illness in later life, PTSD or depression, anxiety and other conditions[1].

New research, however, indicates that these transgenerational effects may have been also (epi) genetically transmitted to their children. Integrating both hereditary and environmental factors, epigenetics adds a new and more comprehensive psychobiological dimension to the explanation of transgenerational transmission of trauma. Specifically, epigenetics may explain why latent transmission becomes manifest under stress.

 Any theory explaining transgenerational transmission of trauma must therefore consider the powerful hereditary variations which would explain how parental trauma may be biologically passed on to the child before birth. These theories should explain how children who have not themselves been traumatized tend to manifest inherited emotional problems.

Healing the anger and neurosis: The Legend of the Crescent Moon Bear

…Seeking a wise and calm healing force, accepting the challenge of going into psychic territory the person has never approached before, recognizing the illusions, putting one’s old and obsessive thoughts and feelings to rest, soliciting the great compassionate Self, understanding the ancestral side of the compassionate psyche: To learn that healing is in the process of questing and practice, not in a magic gesture.[2]

The Analytical psychotherapy framework

Symbolic analysis is used to connect dreams and other symbolic expressions of patient psychic condition with family memories and legends of life events of previous generations to identify the root-source of some symptoms difficult to explain using only the life events of the patient. The patient became aware of the of the family trauma lurching inside his psyche.

The second step in the process is to release the embodied emotions intricated in the trauma using active imagination.

The background in European psychic experiences and trauma

The accumulation of Female rage and Masculine rage connected with the last centuries' wars. With our patients, we are frequently going back to the first and the second war worlds. The most common scenery we find in the history of some of our patients: The husband is away, in the battle field.

The woman at home suffers repeated abuses from the foreign enemy troops passing by the village: she is once or several times raped, abused and cannot help it. The wife, equally helpless as a female against the rapist and violent soldiers, arrived from these traumata to hate masculinity and reconnect inside with the archetypal old women’s rage against abusers even if this male in front of her is not directly guilty but she feels that “all the males are imposing and violent, rapist and barbarian

The husband is coming home after the 3-4 years of confronting the wildness during the war; his wife is cold and somehow having a strange elusive behavior, perhaps a new child, perhaps some gossips around. His mixed feelings, primary emotions as anger (helpless ego) & depression & wild reactions will be also stirred.

A dysfunctional relationship of unconscious anger will interfere in their life and will be psychologically transmitted to their children.

Both are triggered by negative emotions, which cannot be solved in the couple relationships. Anytime the husband acts with violence, the unconscious feminine rage against the other gender comes up!

Anytime the woman seems inconsiderate, the husbands’ emotional reaction will burn up.

They stick together, having no many options, but during their life time they cannot ventilate the emotional traumas and a considerable epigenetic consequence will manifest upon their offspring. This will imprint on both personal and collective level of their offspring psyche.

And they will carry on to the next generation the unsolved emotional cloud manifesting in the way the other gender is unconsciously experienced.

The collective unconscious is more present in the background of female-male encounters with this special tendency toward negative thoughts, expectations and emotions regarding the other gender.

Lots of prejudicial sayings are there in the background culture supporting these negative unconscious feelings. And they are orally transmitted by mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers to their kinds.

And this will work contaminating the self-confidence and the way the other gender is experienced, even if on the conscious level there are still expectations of love… but it is a special kind of love demands, very characteristic to the traumas of the primary relations. It is the expectation of an unconditioned love the deep characteristic for the deep wound.

The opposite will come up any time when the unconditioned love is denied: the anger, the hate, the old hidden rage.

Case study, Male, in his 40ties, CEO

Anthony entered in therapy for his inability to handle family relations. In his third marriage, having already a son and a daughter from the previous ones, with his new young wife and the newborn daughter he encounters the same issues connected with isolation, burst of ravages and hate. Soon the same old issue, his wife transforms into a “which”, an aggressive opponent, and the sexual life was eventually ended. Similar story of hate and cheating in the previous marital relations.

The similarities strike him, as, at the beginning of these respective marriages there was “love, understanding, tenderness and the common expressed ground of “working as a team”. He is in search of an enduring loving relation, with a fairy tale quality idealization (unconditional love demands of the primary mother-infant relation relation).

Personal traumas

Antony was the third child in the family of an authoritative mother, who was not able to express her feelings of tenderness in her relationships with husband and the three boys. She preferred a nurse profession, and the kids were raised from a very early age by an equally authoritative maternal grandmother. The father was equally not present, as he worked most time abroad. The father complex is filled more with idealization of very few encounters and dialogues, versus the aggressive impulsions connected with the quarrels and aggressive scenes between mother and father when together.

He had a week father, instable and jealous, and Antony witnessed, when at home, many instances of fights and verbal accusation between father and mother concerning infidelity. During these scenes, mother was always a trigger for fights as her behavior was aggressive, allusive, and authoritative. Eventually his father died in an accident when Antony was a teenager.

Therapeutic inner confrontations

In the therapeutic process, we faced times when he was able to confront the inner wounds, overcome his feeling of impotency in the relations with a wife more and more inflexible and aggressive at home, but no real sustainable changes occurred.

We introduced in the therapy a mandala drawing, asking him to work with a paper with a large circle, and draw inside whatever occurred when he again and again feels impotent…to draw without a thinking effort to find a topic. Just to wait until some image comes into scene and have a dialogue with it, try to build that dialogue on the paper by colors and forms.

He describes his drawing as clarifying his life: It’s me, driving continuously an old peasant carriage, but there is no horse, there is a stupid animal full of rage, myself; the wheels are an expression of the torture I endure, as being crucified on the wheels, and continuously rolled out on different kinds of roads, difficult roads, and I must endure, and endure and endure. In it, there is still my heart, which I should carry all my life without being able to use it properly. Well, it is during my day life, at work and at home that I feel like that, not able to change. Beneath the earth or maybe at the surface there are invisible but present snakes and holes”.

Working on the image we established that not only his mother and grandmother was a poisonous serpent, but his grand grandmother was a female who arrived to hate men, as she was raped repeatedly during the first war when her husband was in the army fighting elsewhere, and the enemy troops entered in the village and raped the females. This event repeated in the II-nd war world, with his mother’s mother. When her husband returned, he himself was in a PTSD condition and he eventually died without recovering.

In that village, many women have been raped and it was a general attitude among feminine population of hating the men and the condition of being a woman.

The grandma raised her daughter with that hate and anger in her soul and heart, and disconnected her daughter from her feminine side and gender, teaching her to be tough, man like, not to “obey”.

That daughter, the Antony’s mother, was not able to raise her sons, as they are men to be hated, and provoked always her husband. The words Antony listens from his mother have always carried the sense of diminishing his self-value. The best she said to him was “you are a good cheese packed in dog skin!” … he is a dog, an animal for his mother, and that animal must ask for permission to exist.

Another dream symbolism was clarifying that transgenerational trauma inherited.

I was in bed with a female, and I see she is a cat. I want to do sex with the cat. But I discover the cat is a Tomcat, and the woman was a man. The cat has a vagina that opened, so you can see some white sores. I rise from the bed, and I see a little boy in a child bed. A perverse thought comes into my mind, to do sex with the child. But I feel nausea, and the repulsion against myself!

The complicated transgenerational inheritance actions as an internal disease and he was caught by the rage, as his mother was caught in the infection from her mother. He is not able to love himself as a boy, without nausea and repulsion given by the rape trauma that happened eighty years ago!

He hates himself being a virtual rapist, dominated as he is by that insane (!) wish for sex. It is an image of the eternal male as the power of Evil, for an impotent/powerless raped female. At list, we know what we should face in the therapy, and why he is carrying all along his life that wounded hurt.

From now on, the symbols in the dreams and in the drawings, were representative of that inner trans-generational truth: The elephant memory of the trauma that infected the inner self image of his mother and her relations with the masculinity, his confused identity and longing for a love the mother was never able to show as she was caught & trapped in the mythology of power against masculinity.

Understanding the roots of his anger against feminine, Antony could grasp the ways in which this trauma and attitude worked in his first marriage and in the second one, pushing his wives towards more and more aggressive fights for power.

Case material: Elise

Elise is a professional ballerina in her middle age.  She came in therapy accusing difficulties to connect with men, after two marriages ending in short times after emotional and physical abuse from the husbands.  She was terrified by a car accident she provoked by losing for some moments the reality contact. For her, the issues were not her psychic instability, but the perspective to be a crippled dancer!  She told me about her lifelong efforts to find her place in society, as her origins were “humble”.

The way she presented her parents was by using accusations and emotional compensative idealization. Father was a hard drinker, coming from a family with drinking issues; but apart from being absent, he was the only parental figure to give her moments of tenderness. Mother was a wounded female, working hard to keep the finances and housing balanced, but cold and anxious. She followed her dream to become a ballerina, and now she is working as a dance instructor for people with disabilities. She has obsessive thoughts, afraid not to become herself a crippled individual.

After some sessions, she brought a dream that opens for the therapist the door to connect with the core profound problem.

t was a fogy cold atmosphere. I see and hear silhouettes pedalling the bicycles. Then to my horror I see that the first bicyclist is crippled, a leg is missing and he was using a kind of prosthetic leg.

He continues to go followed by others. In horror, I decided not to dream anymore, and I woke up!

Why that reaction of horror?

In the dream, there is, to the contrary, a message of the power of human will, resilient to succeed beyond physical condition.

She associated first with her accident and her fears to become crippled. Is there in her life any person who was crippled? She returned in her memories to her first years of life when she was raised by maternal parents (abandoned). She remembers with pleasure the kindness of her grandmother, the way she was comforting the child for the absence of her parents.

And she remembered that her beloved grandmother was the subject of family malicious behaviors. The woman was bullied and mocked by family members as she had remarried with a man who was limping, having lost a leg in the war.

After re-marring with that man, she was the one reorganizing the financial status. The consequence was that my patient’s mother was emotionally cold but channeling her life for money, she became a successful accountant.

Elise herself remained identified with her grandmother loving kindness, and rejected the “impotent crippled grandfather figure as being responsible for the grandma’s sufferance”.

Elise was struggling with her husbands, “crippled” by their cold and abusing behavior, occasionally turned towards alcohol abuse.

The cold fog in the dream symbolizes the distorted way she identified with a social incapable feminine figure blaming the crippled masculine. A trans-generational wound was still distorting the way she internally reacts in her life. 

During the therapy, she was invited to dance that fear of losing a leg and parts of her the body, and to find movements that can help her to be more flexible and “ride the bicycle”, like the man in the dream succeed to be a guide runner in the row.


The traumatic life events of a grandparent can mold the psychic life approach of the following generations. The analytical containment can provide ways to intervene and help the person to separate from the old wounds and find his/her identity.

The psyche can be the carrier of parental psychic heritage as the dramas in previous generations affect the mental health and the way the second and third generation react to life events. The offspring are carrying an epigenetic charge as the same but more empowering anxiety is active in their lives. Psychotherapy can liberate the carriers, and redeem the ancestors.



Kellermann, N.P.F., 2008, Transmitted Holocaust Trauma: Curse or Legacy? The Aggravating and Mitigating Factors of Holocaust Transmission. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 45(4), 263-271.

Kellermann, Natan P.F., 2009. Holocaust Trauma: psychological effects and treatment. Bloomington, IN.:iUniverse. Google books

Kellermann, Natan P.F. , 2013, Epigenetic transmission of Holocaust Trauma: Can nightmares be inherited? Israel Journal of Psychiatry & Related Sciences, 50(1), 33-39.

Pinkola Estes C., 1999, Women who run with the wolfs, Random House.

Shmotkin D., Shrira A., Goldberg S.C., Palgy I, 2011, Resilience and vulnerability among  aging holocaust survivors and their families, An Intergenerational overview, Journal of Intergenerational Relationship, 9, 7-21

Yehuda R.,  Mulherin Engel S., Brand S.R.,  Seckl J., Marcus S.M., Berkowitz G.B, 2005, Transgenerational Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Babies of Mothers Exposed to the World Trade Centre Attacks during Pregnancy, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 90, Issue 7, 1 July 2005, Pages 4115–4118

Yehuda R., Bell A., Bierer L.M., Schmeidler J., 2008, Maternal, not paternal, PTSD is related to increased risk for PTSD in offspring of Holocaust survivors, J. Psychiatr Res.  Oct; 42(13): 1104-11.


Rezumat în limba română

Vindecarea traumei trans generaționale în abordarea terapiei analitice: masculin versus feminin.

Prof. Dr. Mihaela Minulescu & Prof Dr. Petru Lisievici

Încă de la începutul secolului XX Freud și Jung au intuit și documentat psihologic consecințele trans generaționale ale traumei, dar abia odată cu impactul cercetărilor din neuroștiințe, neurobiologie și epigenetică, s-a putut documenta științific modul cum consecințele unei trauma majore (suicid, abandon, moartea timpurie a unui copil/ părinte, violul etc) reverberează și schimbă caracteristic condiția psihofiziologică a generațiilor următoare (R. Yehuda, N.Kellermann, D. Shmotkien).

În termenii psihologiei analitice, informația arhetipală este activată într-un mod particular legat de esența traumei, astfel încât va influența în perioada embrionară, pre- și post-natală modul cum se constituie relația primară, contactul cu realitatea și condiția eului, modul de a trăi, întâmpina și reacționa emoțional. Această dinamică conduce inclusiv la retrăiri specifice dramei originale a nivelul generației a doua.

Prezentarea se centrează pe traumele cu efect asupra modului de a trăi genul opus în complementaritatea feminin - masculin ca o consecință a abuzurilor sexuale fizice și psihice legate de viol și război. Conștientizarea rădăcinilor în propria familie a condiției de opozanță față de genul celălalt, precum și retrăirea în Imaginația Activă a traumei originare sunt condițiile de tratament analitic.

[1] Surce: research upon the first and second generation of Holocaust survivors (R.Yehuda, 2005, 2008; N. Kellermann, 2008, 2009, 2013; D. Shmotkin, 2011)


[2] Women who run with the Wolves, Clarisa Pinkola Estes