Barry McNamara  |  Published February 06, 2020

Intergenerational Transmission

Psychology professor Jonah Waseberg discusses how trauma can be passed on through generations.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – In the same week that the world observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), Monmouth College psychology professor Jonah Waseberg had the subject come up in his “Abnormal Psychology” class.

TRANSMISSION TRAUMA: Psychology professor Jonah Waseberg at Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jew... TRANSMISSION TRAUMA: Psychology professor Jonah Waseberg at Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. “A student asked me about how the trauma of the Holocaust affected the survivors psychologically and could such trauma be passed on to the present in their family,” said Waseberg, who explained that can indeed be the case.

“It is what we call in psychology ‘intergenerational transmission trauma’ or ‘transgenerational trauma’ – trauma that can be transferred from generations to generations,” said the professor, who, coincidentally, had visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial while visiting family in Germany over Christmas break. Also a practicing clinician in Chicago, Waseberg focused his Ph.D. research on traumatology from a psychoanalytic perspective. He is in the process of publishing his first book, which is related to trauma studies.

“I think this topic of transmission trauma can benefit us all,” he said. “There are some people who get mentally ill due to a trauma that was passed on by their family, even though such trauma never happened to them personally.”

Waseberg said the condition can affect individuals even more when transgenerational trauma is hidden as a belief in the family’s “collective unconscious.”

“Such trauma is short-circuited in people, who become consciously and/or unconsciously stuck in time, memory and narrative, as an emotional bond and collective solidarity is created in the process. The emotional tie between individuals and their ancestors can be foundational to the development of values. These bonds could become part of our identity, and therefore trauma can become part of our identity as well. ”

Related to that psychological condition is how the views held by a family regarding such topics as gender, race, religion and politics are also passed on from generation to generation.

“We all have something passed on in our family, some of it unconsciously,” said Waseberg, who began teaching at Monmouth last fall. “How can we reflect on those things, and what can we do about it? Discovering transgenerational trauma means coming to know a larger narrative of generations. This requires close listening to the stories of our parents and grandparents. Understanding the main source of our transgenerational trauma is the first step of recovery. Psychoanalysis has been a powerful therapeutic method in treating transgenerational trauma through analyzing, reinterpreting and reframing the historical trauma of families or individuals. ”

Waseberg said that while some of what a family transmits is traumatic or negative, many of the morals and worldviews passed on generationally are virtuous.

“There are also transmitted values from generation to another generation that can be called transgenerational values,” he said. “You also learn good models from your parents or grandparents and beyond.”

Ultimately, said Waseberg, it is up to individuals to reflect upon and discern what they believe and what they value.

Waseberg was moved to reflection after his sobering visit to the Berlin Holocaust site, the full name of which is Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

“At the Holocaust museum, most of the people there were foreigners from all over the world, but they were all as moved as I was by what they saw,” he said. “That kind of human connection, we can feel it together, we’re moved. We all have common ground we can stand on. It doesn’t matter what nationality we are, what race we are, what religion we are.”

Waseberg believes that all individuals can benefit from counseling, noting that counseling is not only for persons with mental illnesses. He also stresses that you do not have to be a counseling professional in order to help those who suffer from certain traumas, an idea he explored in recent articles on the Monmouth College and Galesburg Register-Mail websites.

“It can be as simple as showing support for the person who is struggling,” he said. “Friends or family members can help them find their worth, to find it within themselves.”

Starting Feb. 11, Waseberg will offer a weekly supportive group therapy session called “Wellness Group” for all Monmouth students who are going through mental struggles related to anxiety. The group will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Back to News & Events

Did you know?

  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an educational garden and 6.7 acre farm. Students grow and harvest fruits and vegetables to sell at the local farmer’s market. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Garden & Farm</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College covers the cost for all current students to get a U.S. passport. Unlock access to over 198 different countries! We’ll even help with the paperwork :)</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/study-abroad/" target="_blank">Study Abroad</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College has an active Pipe & Drum Band. Each year on Scholar’s Day in April the bagpipers wake students up at 6:00 a.m. by playing in the residence halls!</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/music/pipe-band/" target="_blank">Pipe Band</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers unique academic minors in Global Public Health and Global Food Security for students who want to use their education to address global challenges. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-public-health/" target="_blank">Global Public Health</a></li><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/global-food-security/" target="_blank">Global Food Security</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College offers several international trips each year during 2-week Scots Terms in January and May. Recently students have traveled to Botswana, Greece, Scotland, Japan, and more. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Scots Term</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> Monmouth College is proudly test optional. Applicants may choose whether or to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission and scholarship consideration. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/admission/apply/test-optional/" target="_blank">Test Optional</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 98% of Monmouth graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/wackerle-center/career-services/" target="_blank">Career Preparation</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We’re no stranger to winning. Last year the Fighting Scots won Midwest Conference championships in Football, Women’s Soccer, Women’s Basketball and Men’s Track and Field. </p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_urls"><a href="" target="_blank">Fighting Scots</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p><strong>Monmouth College is the birthplace of the women’s fraternity movement. Pi Beta Phi, the first such collegiate women’s organization, was founded at Monmouth in 1867. It was followed three years later by Kappa Kappa Gamma. The two pioneering organizations today boast a total of 275 active chapters nationwide.</strong></p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/student-life/sororities-fraternities/" target="_blank">Sororities & Fraternities</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> 99% of Monmouth students received some type of scholarship or financial assistance.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/offices/student-financial-planning/types-of-aid/scholarships/" target="_blank">Scholarships</a></li></ul></div></aside>
  • <aside class="factoid-item"><div class="factoid-item-text"><p> We offer a certified Peace Corps Preparation program that gives Peace Corps bound graduates a leg up in the application process.</p></div><div class="factoid-item-links"><ul><li class="lw_related_page"><a href="/academics/peace-corps-prep/" target="_blank">Peace Corps Prep</a></li></ul></div></aside>