Transmission of Trauma Across the Generations: The Impact on the Mother-Child Relationship
Robinson, Suzanne (Sue)
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This dissertation explores how the mother-child relationship is impacted by the transmission of trauma across generations. This topic was birthed out of my experience of working in Aotearoa New Zealand with women who suffer with depression and anxiety in their maternity. This experience grew my desire to know what influenced a primary caregiver’s suffering. Using an interpretative hermeneutic methodology, I sought to understand what literature had to say about the existence of trauma in maternity and how it transferred from the mother to the child. Understandings were achieved through a hermeneutic review of mainly psychoanalytic literature. This showed that a woman’s experience of postnatal depression, anxiety, and grief during maternity are symptoms representative of her unresolved conflicts with her internalised mother image (Halberstadt-Freud, 2012). This finding connects maternal representations to historical pain (Stern, 2006). Fonagy et al. (1993) identified that when a mother protected herself from her childhood pain, the likelihood of trauma moving to the next generation increased. Her inability to form a coherent narrative of her childhood experiences was indicative of her inability to reflect and respond appropriately to her child’s needs, reducing their level of security. Further, her limitations increased her child’s protective behaviours which compromised their resilience and ability to ward off future trauma; thus, repeating the cycle. A benevolent and active psychotherapist (Schetzer, 2017) who is able to provide treatment in the early days of motherhood (Mariotti, 2012) is believed to be key in gaining a successful outcome with this client group. While it can be a disturbing time for a new mother, it is also as opportunity to restructure her psyche, grow her security, and find her authentic self. She is then more able to see and respond appropriately to her child’s needs, and thus secure their bond.