Dear Ms Peirano,
I, 53 years old and a social worker, have been struggling with fears, compulsions and worries since my childhood. I have the feeling that these worries are totally unfounded, because I actually succeed in everything. I have a secure job with the city, a steady partner and a small condo. And we are healthy.
But again and again my thoughts revolve around what would happen if I lose everything. I'm currently toying with the idea of starting my own business, but my fears keep preventing me from doing so.
My childhood was pretty carefree. Nothing bad happened to me and I grew up in a safe and financially stable environment. The only thing that comes to mind is that both my parents always had great worries and fears. They always worked a lot and paid attention to safety, we weren't allowed to have any accidents and didn't take any financial risks. My father in particular always drew the devil on the wall and made us very nervous with his worries. He died two years ago. I know little about his childhood, he didn't tell anything. His sister once told me how bad things were for his family during the war. My father was born in 1937, his father died when he was four. The mother raised four small children alone, was bombed out twice and rumor has it that she was raped.
My mother's family comes from East Prussia and was expelled. They lost everything, and here, too, it is said that the women were raped on the run and lost a child.
Can this story have something to do with my fears - and if so, what do I do with it? It bothers me a lot.
Dear Ulrich G,
I think it's good that you're looking for the causes of your inexplicable fear. And I agree with you based on your description: It sounds as if the fear has little to do directly with you and your story, but was possibly transferred to you from your parents.
Imagine that today a child loses a parent at a young age, is driven from their homeland, or their house burns down. The child is starving and freezing, impoverished and has to fear for his safety. A terrible idea. If that were to happen today, the youth welfare office and therapeutic counseling centers would quickly be on the scene to intercept this fate. There were tens of thousands of such fates during the war and after the war. It was almost considered normal to go through something like this. Many feared for their lives, lost their relatives, their property and their homes, and had to fend for themselves and their children.
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. In my PhD, I researched the relationship between relationship personality and happiness in love, and then wrote two books about love.
Do you have questions, problems or lovesickness? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
Back then, you couldn't afford to talk about feelings or process them. You gritted your teeth and thought about surviving. However, the children from that time felt these terrible events unfiltered: the nights in the bunker, their parents' fear, hunger, thirst and cold, the escape. Probably nobody talked to them about it and they encapsulated the traumatic events within themselves. After the war, everyone was glad it was over and looked to the future. Reconstruction, meritocracy, building a new existence. You no longer wanted to look at the horror that lay behind you.
At that time there was hardly any psychotherapeutic offer and trauma therapy had not yet been developed. Today, research and the development and evaluation of effective therapy methods are fortunately a huge step further.
There is now a name for the phenomenon that you can imagine: the passing on of (mostly difficult) life events to the next generation and sometimes also to the generation after that is called transgenerational transmission. Even during pregnancy, stress in the mother can affect the stress level of the unborn child. Also in mouse experiments, mice were treated with electric shocks after smelling cherry blossoms. They developed a conditioned fear of cherry blossoms. This is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is that this aversive response persisted through the fifth generation of offspring from mice conditioned for the first time, even though the offspring were not exposed to electric shocks.
Traumatized parents have been shown to develop a secure bond with their child less often than non-traumatized parents. It is important to know that the transmission of feelings, affects, and moods from one generation to the next is particularly effective when the person concerned has not processed the experiences or conceals them and treats them as taboo. The children absorb these unconscious ideas. However, you cannot decrypt them. They are enigmatic, cannot be integrated, and they cannot explain where they come from and what they mean.
In therapy I always say: know your enemy. I would therefore advise you to familiarize yourself with your fears, your compulsions and the experiences of the war generation. There are two very insightful books by Sabine Bode that illustrate what the war experiences did to the affected generation, their children (you) and even their grandchildren.
Sabine Bode: "The forgotten generation. The war children break their silence"
Sabine Bode: "War grandchildren. The heirs of the forgotten generation"
Once you have read in, the next step is for you to work through your personal impairment in systematic psychotherapy. One goal would be to understand what happened and then separate who the pain actually belongs to and give it back to them.
I hope this will help you better understand and manage your fears and compulsions.
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