Saturday 20 January 2018

Gayle Williamson: We can inherit our parents' trauma

You don't have to have been in a war to suffer PTSD, says psychotherapist Gayle Williamson – it can happen in your own family

Peaches Geldof and baby Astala
Peaches Geldof and baby Astala
Michael Hutchence with Paula Yates.
Edward Byrne, Gay Byrne's father

Gayle Williamson

When Edward Byrne, a member of the 19th Royal Hussars, returned from the front in 1919 after the First World War, his nightmares were so violent they would wake up his family and neighbours on Rialto Street in Dublin.

After his time in the trenches, during which he fought at the Battle of the Somme and saw many of his comrades die, he showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); but as Gay Byrne recalled last week in his moving account of his dad's experience in the TV documentary My Father's War, he never talked about it. Indeed, it became the war no one talked about.

Similarly, US-born psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz writes poignantly in The Examined Life of taking his 80-year-old father Bernard back to Hungary to revisit the places of his childhood, a world he had left in 1940 at age 19, dislocated by the Second World War. Despite previously having given vivid descriptions, when they revisited the homes where his father had lived – which perfectly matched his descriptions – Bernard claimed they were not the right ones. He refused to remember. An explanation was to be found in the fact that almost everyone Grosz's father knew at that time had been sent to the Nazi gas chambers; his not remembering was "out of the impulse to keep such horror from his children''.

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